Ask me Anything: The Knowledge Edition

Knowledge is power. It’s trite because it is almost trivially true. After all, knowledge is the foundation for technology, and technology gives your power. The  world depends on knowledge, and on so much of it that no single person can know it all; therefore the division of knowledge (which is implied by the division of labor that is at the heart of economic prosperity) becomes critically important.

Isaac Asimov recognized that knowledge is also a source of joy. “Knowledge is not only power; it is happiness, and being taught is the intellectual analog of being loved.” Isaac was a master in the knowledge and teaching business.

In the Indian tradition, the teacher is held in very high regard. The teacher is the transmitter of knowledge and wisdom, and therefore indispensable for attaining enlightenment. An ancient Vedic hymn goes:

Gurur Bramha, gurur Vishnu
Gurur devo Maheshwaraha
Gurur shakshat Para Bramha
Tasmai shri guruvey namaha

Guru is Bramha (the creator), guru is Vishu (the preserver)
Guru is Maheshwara (another name for Shiva, the destroyer of ignorance)
Guru is the incarnation of the Supreme Being
I bow in reverence to the guru

Knowledge is really very important in the Hindu world. In the Yogic tradition, there are four principal paths to moksha (liberation.) Karma-yoga is the path of action; Bhakti-yoga is the path of devotion; Raj-yoga is the path of meditation; and Jnana-yoga is the path of knowledge.

Yoga is, of course, not easy; if it were, everyone would have become enlightened. I think jnana yoga is the hardest path of all. This is what the English poet, George Gordon Byron (aka Lord Byron) had in mind when he wrote:

Sorrow is knowledge, those that know the most must mourn the deepest, the tree of knowledge is not the tree of life.

I always remember that quote as “knowledge is sorrow” — but of course being a poet Byron had to write it in the inverted form as “sorrow in knowledge.” Anyway, it’s a profound insight that knowledge is not all fun and games; it can devastate the knower. Those that know the most must mourn the deepest.

Anyway, c’est la vie. Ask me anything.

Bonus.  My Sweet Lord. George Harrison’s album “All Thing Must Pass” — around 3:40 mark, the chorus sings the Vedic hymn to the guru:

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

5 thoughts on “Ask me Anything: The Knowledge Edition”

  1. Anti-free-market attitude is deeply embedded in our collective psyche. Religious texts seldom favour free market. The teachers generally do not operate in free-market scenarios and have an anti-free-market bias. The kids imbibe these anti-free-market values. It may take a non-trivial amount of effort to make somebody see the pros of free-market in the grown-up stage.
    What should be done to introduce free-market concepts/values to kids in early stage? Is it required at all? Will it be overwhelming for the kids? I tried searching on the Internet. I came across a website recommending ‘I pencil’. Is there a better ‘course’ to introduce free-market in a kid-friendly way? What is your recommendation, Atanu?

    Like

  2. I have never been able to understand what it means when people say “Exceptions prove the rule”. Can you please explain with some real world examples; perhaps in the context of economic development?

    Like

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