Who Owns Knowledge?

"Knowledge is not what you see, but what I say."

If I said that, your answer would likely be, "Oh yeah?" You'd wonder who gave me the right to decide things for you. But what if I said the same thing differently? "The storehouse of knowledge is too vast for any one man to comprehend, so we must accept what the experts tell us." Or, in other words, "Knowledge is not what you see, but what the experts say."

Your knowledge is your grasp of facts from observing them and reasoning about them. Neither the observation nor the reasoning can be done for you. All others can do is tell you where to look and what methods might help.

An expert is one who has good knowledge in some area. It is not your knowledge, but his. He has observed, identified, confirmed, and combined evidence into a grasp of the subject. If he tells it all to you, then he has informed you of his knowledge. You have been given information. To make the information into knowledge, you must observe, identify, confirm, and combine it into a grasp of the subject.

"I know how to get there," says a friend. "Take the Central Freeway south, get off at Main, and turn right." "Okay!" you say. "Now I know how to get there." If you are already familiar with the area, you do know because you can mentally verify the information by checking it against your observations. If you are unfamiliar with the area, you must take the drive to verify the information. Otherwise, what you have is not knowledge but directions.

If you think that you can gain knowledge by simply remembering what an expert says, then ask yourself if you could learn Russian by memorizing a Russian dictionary. Your knowledge is your own, because you arrive at it yourself by making your own observations and drawing your own conclusions. What to do with information provided by experts is: check it out.

Pretending that experts implant knowledge in you is tempting when it seems like a quick way to get smart. In fact, it is a quick way to get dumb. It is confusing information with knowledge. It is reciting lines and doing what you are told.

To see why, ask yourself how you picked the expert.

Anyone can claim to be an expert, and many do. If knowledge is owned by experts, then there must be an expert with the knowledge of who the experts really are. But anyone could claim to be that expert, too. In the end, it will always be up to you to decide for yourself who knows what they are talking about and who does not. How do you do that? You check it out.

To check out information, you trace it to its base in sensory evidence, and fit it in with everything else. You see where it came from, and how it relates. If it came from the unsupported word of an expert, then it is not knowledge but opinion. Informed opinion tells you where to look for evidence. It cannot tell you what to think, no matter how much it may want to.

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