The Formula That Isn't

To turn information into knowledge, identify it, verify it, and integrate it with all previous knowledge. That's the formula.

Or is it?

Knowledge is your grasp of the facts, from observation and reasoning. Thanks to Ayn Rand, it is now possible to analyze the process, perfect it, and have confidence in the result—unless you make the mistake of thinking of the process as a formula.

To follow a formula, you do one step, then another, until a task is done. You think of the steps as sequential. When analyzing a thought process, you can break it down into steps, and consider the relationships among the steps. But the steps are not sequential. Thinking is not done as elements in sequence, but as elements in combination. A thought process is not like a manufacturing process, where steps are accomplished in line, but like a golf swing, with all elements working together to achieve accuracy.

You observe something that crawls. While observing it, you identify it as a bug. You feel interest, or revulsion. While observing and feeling, you compare what you see with what you know about bugs. While observing and feeling and comparing, you project where the bug is headed and how fast it will get there. While observing and feeling and comparing and projecting, you pick up the bug spray. In other words, you think about the bug, and take action.

If, while listening to some information, you identify it as useful, then while listening, you consider what is needed to verify it, and how it fits in with what you already know. You combine the steps of turning information into knowledge, as an integrated action. You think about what you hear.

Phony gurus have made millions from the mistaken idea that mental actions are done one at a time in sequence, and so can be learned by following a formula. It is as if a pianist tried to learn all the notes for one of his fingers, then all the notes for another, and so on through ten fingers. Unless the fingers learn to work together, no music gets made.

If a pianist wants to strengthen his little finger, he plays exercises which work all fingers together, while emphasizing the little finger. If a golfer wants to improve his swing, he studies grip, stance, preparation, stroke, and follow-through—while he practices the entire swing. If a thinker wants to improve his use of logic, he studies rules of logic, while combining logic with other elements into thoughts.

The real recipe for turning information into knowledge is this: take sensory evidence; add reason; think.

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