Is it better to think than know?

thinking better than knowing

The more time I spend thinking, the less I seem to know. I’ve always found myself questioning people who have too much confidence in what they say.

It is better to think than to know because when you know, you don’t need to think. When you visit a mechanic, you want them to be confident, but you also want them to investigate and think about what is wrong with your car before they try to fix it.

We are drawn to people who have confidence in what they say. At the same time, we want simple answers to our complicated questions. The problem is that we need to be careful when we let our knowledge get in the way of our understanding.

If you’ve ever wondered if thinking was better than knowing, then keep reading.

Thinking Maybe Better Than Know, But How?

Goethe said, “Thinking is more interesting than knowing but less interesting than looking.” Although this quote helps put the question in perspective, it doesn’t tell us why. Goethe was a philosopher and artist from 300 years ago, so his thinking might have been different from ours. But what he is saying seems to be in line with how we think about the world today.

The first thing to keep in mind is that thinking is more interesting than knowing because if you know something, you have no reason to think about it.

In some cases, this makes sense; who wants to think about every red light that they come across. We all know that we need to stop our cars because if we don’t we might hurt ourselves or someone else. With this perspective in mind, we could think of thousands of things we do every day without thinking, and for the most part, this serves us well.

However, as this is true for most things, there are always edge cases where it will actual cause us harm. In our kitchen, we have a ceramic electric stove, usually, when an element is hot, it turns red, this lets us know that it is hot and we should keep our hands away. But if we know this to be true, we might unwillingly touch the element when it is black, because we assume that it is not hot.

But herein lies the problem, if we know something, we don’t have to think about it.

If we know that the element isn’t hot, then we don’t have to worry about burning ourselves, but what if we are wrong? What if the element being black doesn’t mean it isn’t hot. What would help us is to think about the situation, was someone else just in the kitchen? Does it smell like something was cooking? Better yet, if we think about the risk of the element being hot, even if it isn’t red, then we avoid the whole problem of potentially burning ourselves.

The above example is a little extreme, but it helps us get to the point, when we are sure, or when we know, we don’t need to think. But the truth is, there are lots of times when we can or should be confident, but there are other times where it is better to be careful and thoughtful.

In many ways, knowing things create blindspots; it gives us confidence that we shouldn’t always have.

Let’s think back to the mechanic; if you show up and say, “my car is making a weird noise.” Indeed the mechanic has lots of experience, but you don’t want him to know what is wrong with your car before he asks you any more questions. You want an expert to use their experience to ask questions and think about the situation before giving you an answer.

Thinking is better than knowing because thinking takes knowledge and applies it to the current situation.

Thinking back to Goethe, thinking is more interesting than knowing. Consider a piece of art; if you know it is beautiful, then you won’t be able to truly see it cause your mind has already been made up. But if you take some time to think about what makes the art beautiful, you will appreciate the details and focus on the technique and style of the painting.

We always want to make the best possible decisions, so we need to be careful that we don’t let our confidence get in the way.

If we know something, we won’t think about it, and for things like stoplights and breakfast, that is a safe bet. But when it comes to complex or unknown situations, it is better to think about things first because our previous knowledge might not always apply.

When Is Knowing Better Than Thinking?

Despite everything we have said so far, sometimes knowing is better than thinking. Going back to the mechanic example, say the mechanic has asked you lots of questions and ran a few tests. At this point, they have gathered enough evidence to make a sound judgment on your car’s situation that is based on their experience.

At this point, you can be confident in the mechanic’s assessment and now, when he recommends a repair or replacement, you can feel safe. In this case, you would want to know that the mechanic knows what is wrong with your car and knows what they can do to fix the right part and have the car running like usual again.

When something requires action, you want to be sure that you know what is best and can act in the most useful way.

At the beginning of any problem, thinking is better than knowing because you want to make the best assessment with the knowledge available. But once it comes time to take action, knowing becomes better than thinking because confidence is critical when it comes to performing the right actions.

Why Is Knowledge More Than Just Knowing The Facts?

When you find yourself at school or work trying to solve a problem, it is often easy to know the facts. If we are talking about a physics equation, it is easy to look it up on the internet and see what all the different parts of it mean. These facts layout what you have, but they say nothing about using the equation or even making sense of what it means.

Thinking of it in a different way, experience helps us understand the relationships of the different parts of the equation. This means that we can use our expertise to make better use of the facts. From this perspective, experience and facts give us knowledge.

Facts by themselves are useless because without context; they are just words.

Thinking is better than knowing because it means you have looked at the facts and thought about what they mean. You build knowledge through experience, and in time that information can lead to understanding, but you need to go through all the thinking first.

People Who Know Everything Make Lots of Mistakes

Do you know someone who is overly confident about everything they do? If so, you can probably see why they make the mistakes they make. When we are sure of things, we don’t ask questions. But if we don’t ask questions, then we can never genuinely understand what we are dealing with.

For some people, asking questions is a sign of weakness; it shows that we have flaws and aren’t perfect.

But we shouldn’t let our fears drive us into making poor decisions, we always want to make the best choices, even if that means we have to ask questions.

Having too much confidence in our knowledge can create blind spots, if you know the answer, you don’t have to think about it. If you don’t have to think, you don’t need to pay attention to the situation’s facts. When you aren’t paying attention, do you have any chance of making the best decision? The answer is obviously no, it is always better to ask questions and think before taking action.

But once it is time to take action, you want to know that you are making the right choice rather than thinking you are making the right choice.

Next time you need to make an important decision, be willing to think about it first. Once you understand and have asked all the questions you have, it is ok to know what actions are the right ones to take.

Do you take time to think or are you confident in everything you believe?

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Robert Carr

Over the years, I've learnt to see things in a different light. This website is my place to share those insights and give my unique perspective on living a meaningful life.

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