The Problem of Knowledge: Brains Can’t Fix It All

What is the problem of knowledge? Why is knowledge a bad thing in Taoist philosophy?

The problem of knowledge is the Taoist concept that having knowledge doesn’t amount to wisdom or a joyful life. Simplicity is better than accumulating information.

Read more about the problem of knowledge and how it is explained in The Tao of Pooh.

Owl and the Problem of Knowledge

In the world of Pooh, Owl represents the Brain, or scholar. In Chinese culture, the scholar is the embodiment of knowledge and signifies the way of Confucianism. The scholar seeks knowledge simply for the sake of having it and guards it closely. The knowledge problem is that it is disseminated to the general public using pretentious or overwrought language to create distance between the reader and the information. If we can’t understand what the scholar is saying, they can remain superior and unchallenged. The priority is to prove their own intelligence, not enlighten others. 

But looking at life through the lens of academic dissertation is like getting to know someone by looking at their wax replica in a museum. Scholarship loses the spirit of life and often expresses things in a way that differs from lived experience, which makes the concepts more difficult to grasp. Knowledge and experience are not equal, and not everything can be named or identified by category or genus. There are many useful applications for the characteristics and activities of scholars, but there is more to life than what can be intellectually understood. 

Taoists refer to the tendencies of scholars as an inability to see the good parts of life. In Taoism, “the wise are not learned, and the learned are not wise.” Intelligence is beneficial for analyzing certain aspects of life, but it is limited in understanding the deeper and grander meanings held within nature. The limitations of knowledge restrict the scholar’s scope of the world. 

Example of the Limitations of Knowledge

An example of the problem of knowledge is expressed when Owl attempts to teach Pooh how to spell Tuesday. Musing that everybody knows that Tuesday is spelled Twosday because it falls on the second day of the week, Owl exclaims that the day after Twosday is Thirdsday. Owl uses logic based on a narrow scope of knowledge to come to the wrong conclusion, rather than accepting reality for what it is or seeking to understand what he cannot explain.

The knowledge problem is that it affects the Uncarved Block when it manipulates the natural Way of things. When you stop trying to cajole life into bits and pieces of useful information, the simple inherent power of the universe shines through. Pooh is lovable because of his simplicity. He has no ego, complexity, arrogance, or self-interest and sees life with childlike wonder. This is the essence of the Uncarved Block and when life becomes fun and joyous.

The Problem of Knowledge: Brains Can’t Fix It All

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