The Personal Website of Mark W. Dawson

Containing His Articles, Observations, Thoughts, Meanderings,
and some would say Wisdom (and some would say not).

Knowledge, Experience, and Wisdom


Rather than explain the difference between knowledge and experience, I would illustrate the key differences between knowledge and experience in the following diagram:

      Knowledge & Wisdom                        

The original is from cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, who came up with such a brilliant way to express a concept that's often not that easy to grasp.

Generally, knowledge is the creation of dots of facts, while experience allows you to connect the dots of facts. Both knowledge and experience are required to make wise choices in life. Wisdom is the ability to apply your knowledge, your experience, your understanding, your "Common Sense", and the insight you have acquired into your words and deeds. And if you should decide to listen to the advice of others, you should be sure that they have knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and wisdom before acting on their advice. I believe that I have all these prerequisites to comment on the items within my Chirps, Articles, and Observations. Where I didn’t believe I have the knowledge and experience to comment, I have remained silent or explicated stated so, and that is also why there are many topics not covered in my Chirps, Articles, and Observations. Hopefully, I have also gained wisdom that I can impart to the readers of these Chirps, Articles, and Observations.

Knowing vs. Understanding

To know something does not necessarily mean that you understand something, and conversely, to understand something does not necessarily mean that you know something. A perfect example of this is from the Maya.

Mayan Astronomers were very good at predicting the times and locations of moon and sun rising and setting, as well as predicting lunar and solar eclipses. Through simple calculations, they were highly accurate in predicting these events. They knew when and where these events would occur. Yet, they had no understanding of why these events occurred. They did not, nor could not, understand that these events occurred due to the motion of the Earth revolving around the Sun and the Moon revolving around the Earth. They did not conceive of this possibility, nor were they not interested in explaining why these events occurred. They were only interested in determining when and where these events occurred. Even if they did conceive why these events occurred, they did not have the mathematical knowledge to predict these events based on this understanding.

This dichotomy between knowing and understanding is true not only for science but for all areas of human activities. The more you understand something, the more likely it is that you will be able to gain accurate knowledge of something. It does not mean, however, that if you understand something that you have complete knowledge of something. The human quest for knowledge is about gaining a more complete knowledge and understanding of how and why something occurs.

Therefore, it can be said that when you know something, you are intelligent, and when you understand something, you are learned. Learned people are important in guiding human activities, but intelligent people are necessary to actuate human activities. This is why:

"Knowing why is often more important than knowing how."
 - Mark Dawson

Knowledge with Experience

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."
 - Benjamin Franklin

Knowledge alone is insufficient, for experience connects your knowledge and exposes the gaps in your knowledge. And the best experience is obtained in the non-academic world, and the best experience is often failure. Experience in the academic world is often constrained to a subject matter and to others who are often so constrained.

Experience in the non-academic world is the experience of learning what knowledge that you may not possess and which areas of knowledge you need to obtain.  It also teaches you how to interact with others outside of your knowledge base. Other people that will have less knowledge and experience, or more knowledge and experience, or different knowledge and experience. In any of these cases, you will expand your knowledge and experience and learn how to interact with people who are different from you, which will also add to your wisdom.  

Failure is often the best experience as all failure, upon examination, teaches you what you may not have known, which adds to your knowledge. It also prepares you for future success as you have expanded your knowledge and experience. The examination of your failures also adds to your humility, which will increase your wisdom.

As I have pontificated in my “Pearls of Wisdom” - “Do It Well”, if it is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Doing it well also adds to your knowledge and experience, and doing it well adds to your wisdom. And if you do something well, it may not be great work, but it will be something that you are proud of and reflect back upon and have the emotional satisfaction of knowing that you did your best and did it well.


Many people are very knowledgeable and/or very experienced, but not very wise. This is because wisdom is the ability to know if, when, where, and how to apply your knowledge and experience. This is also why:

"Experts ought to be on tap and not on top."
  - Irish editor and writer George William Russell

Wisdom is the ability to apply your knowledge, your experience, your reasoning, and your common sense into your words and deeds. And wisdom is also the ability to listen to others who are intelligent and wise and incorporate their intelligence and wisdom into your own. But you should remember that obtaining advice from a person who is neither intelligent nor wise in that particular subject is obtaining worthless advice (i.e., don't ask the opinion of someone who does not know what they're talking about). Wisdom can also be obtained by other means as:

“True Wisdom Most Often Comes from Bitter Experience... Considered!”
 - Mark Dawson

And the more bitter experiences that you consider, the wiser you can become. But do not let your bitter experience turn into bitterness but utilize it to become a wiser person. Doing so will alleviate the bitterness and lead to a more contented life.

Not all intelligent persons are wise. An intelligent person knows what to say, and a wise person knows whether or not and how to say it. You should try to be a wise person. You should always mean what you say and say what you mean. This requires that you use the proper word in their proper context. Many people use words expansively rather than narrowly. If you use a word expansively, it can lead to misunderstandings and obfuscations. If your goal is to communicate knowledge or wisdom, then you must utilize words narrowly to avoid these problems. You should also try to obtain the truth, as the truth will help you obtain wisdom.

When attempting to discover the truth, you should also make sure that you have all the facts of the situation, for, without all the facts, it is most unlikely that you can uncover the truth. In this, it is best to remember one of my quotes:

“There are three sides to every story: one side, the other side, and the truth. And it is always best to determine the truth before voicing an opinion.”
- Mark Dawson

It is not always possible to discover all the facts, but you should try to gather as many of the facts as possible when you are adding to your repository of knowledge. You should also keep in mind another of my “Truisms”:

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions,
but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
 - New York Senator Danial Patrick Moynihan

Therefore, be careful to distinguish between the facts and the opinions, and make sure the facts are correct before utilizing them.

A wise person is also not afraid to change their mind based on new, corrected, or better information, or upon further reasoning, as Benjamin Franking so wisely pointed out:

“For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.”
 - Benjamin Franklin

And a wise person realizes that they could be wrong. A wise person, after reasoning on a subject, will consider the positive and negative consequences of their conclusion and then incorporate these consequences back into their reasoning to reach a better conclusion. A wise person will also pay attention to other reasoning. They do so by first carefully reading or listening to another's reasoning, then afterward critique the reasoning before they respond to another's reasoning. Very rarely will a wise person interrupt someone during an intellectual discussion or debate as they realize that the reasoning of the others needs to be fully stated, then critiqued, to respond appropriately and intelligently. This non-interruption of others may be a good indicator, but not always, that you are observing a wise person. Only when the other is making an outrageous claim or is patently disseminating false information will a wise person interrupt them.

A wise person always keeps in mind that they may be wrong. Therefore, a wise person always incorporates into their words and deeds the following “Truism”:

“Doubt a little of your own infallibility”
 - Benjamin Franklin

If you apply all of the above to your own life, you may discover that wisdom can be a burden. A burden because you will recognize your own, others', and society's shortcomings. You will no longer accept excuses for yourself and others but will recognize the reasons for what is happening in your life and society. This wisdom will help you to better understand how to improve your own life and society if you should decide to apply this wisdom. And applying this wisdom will help set you free to experience life to its fullest and assist you in discovering the truth.

You should also remember the following quote as you obtain wisdom:

“Man is always prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them.”
 - Albert Camus

Therefore, be warned, once you incorporate the above into your life, you cannot be free of them.