What Do You Know?

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“For this discovery of yours [writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember for themselves”

– Plato

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato lived about 2,400 years ago. The above quote expresses his concern that when something is written down, people may take it – whatever it is – to be a fact;  they won’t think on the issue, they won’t ponder or pontificate. They won’t expand their understanding through those “lightbulb” moments we all experience from time to time.

How amazing that Plato’s simple question is more relevant today than it was then. Today we don’t need to think, we don’t need to discover our knowledge; we don’t need to learn.

We can just “Google” it.

We now “own” knowledge – practically all of human knowledge can be accessed from our devices in our hands or pockets. Everything is just a click away. The sheer volume of information is mind-boggling, all available at the touch of a few buttons. But have we sacrificed quality, truth and fact, for volume?

We think we know something because we “Googled it”, but how do we know if it’s the truth? How do we separate fact from fiction? How do we separate the light from the dark? Wikipedia, as an example, is a very helpful resource, but as any user can add or edit content, it is prone to errors. Some get corrected but many don’t.

Perhaps Plato’s point, made all those years ago, still stands. How easily we can stop thinking, analysing, questioning.

If something is presented as a “fact” we are in danger of simply accepting it, filing it away mentally as a “fact” and then moving on. Piece by piece we build up our opinions about the world around us, about people, races, gender, sexuality. Creating our own “truths” based on what we assume to be facts.

With so much information readily available, how do we establish fact from fiction? Truth from lies? How do we know what to base our opinions on? In the end, do we only pay attention to,  and believe in,  the “facts” that confirm what we already believe.

We can all question more, we can all learn more, we can all want more. But we have to be willing to actively think, critically assess and fearlessly engage our minds every day. Be curious about the world and have the courage to question what you think you know to be “fact”.

I’ll leave you with another quote from our friend, the giant of ancient philosophy:

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.”

– Plato

Image credit: Startup Stock Photos | stocksnap.io

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