Happy New Year to everybody! I hope this year brings you joy, and new knowledge and experience.
Apropos knowledge, I remember coming across a “law” of life some time ago, similar to Murphy’s Law:
Roger Lincoln’s 2 Rules for Success:
1. Never tell everything you know.
It’s a good joke, but nowadays, hoarding knowledge is greedy, arrogant and, ultimately, insane.
It’s greedy because knowledge doesn’t belong to anybody. Oh, I know that there is proprietary information, like the exact form and contents of a company’s databases, or their communications protocols. Even their contracts and internal documentation belong in this category. This is all well and good, and is useful for holding your own in the competitive world of business.
However, there is a second area of knowledge that cannot be contractually limited: know-how. The knowledge how to design and construct databases, how to communicate between subsystems, and so on, cannot be limited to a particular company. God knows that enough employers and clients of mine have tried. I even had one client who tried this, after I had become involved in his project, designing an interface between mobile phones and other equipment (this was in the early 80s, when such interfaces didn't exist). He tried to force a contract on me where I could never design any kind of communications or control program again, nor could I build any embedded projects using the same microprocessor or communications protocols. I laughed in his face and told him that no court would uphold his claim, and it would only cost him a lot of money to try. The very attempt to limit knowledge transfer and use in this way smacks of scarcity thinking.
Hoarding knowledge is also arrogant; you're acting as if you were the only one who has any right to have and to use the knowledge. This is a symptom of weakness, because you think you will be seen as feebler if you let others have access to the knowledge. Letting others use knowledge is a sign of strength in my eyes, because the more knowledge there is out there, the more knowledge will be created, as people make new connections between otherwise disparate topics. This leads to the beginning of extelligence, where the connections between different pieces of information become divorced from the need of a human mind to make said connections. Google and other search engines may very well be the beginnings of extelligence.
Thirdly, hoarding knowledge is insane. No matter how you try to hide knowledge, Nature is a blabbermouth. Somebody else will discover what you are hiding. Darwin’s work was being paralleled by Wallace; Wallace deferred publication to Darwin because Darwin’s work was further developed than his own. Even works by a single person, such as Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity, would eventually have been developed by someone else, although it might not have occurred until years later. When the time has come for information and knowledge to become known, they will, no matter what anyone does to try to prevent it.
This relates to the Hundredth Monkey phenomenon. On an island off Japan, scientists studied the behaviour of troupes of monkeys. They were given food regularly, but it simply lay on the ground and became dirty. One old female monkey discovered that washing the fruit in seawater not only removed the dirt from the surface, but the salt in the water added something extra to the flavour. With difficulty, she taught another monkey the same trick. They then went on to teach other monkeys who in turn taught others until, suddenly, after around one hundred monkeys, every monkey could do it, even without being explicitly shown how. Even more interestingly, monkeys in other troupes and on other islands suddenly learned the trick. It was as if a threshold had been penetrated, and the knowledge became common to all the monkeys.
This confutes social Darwinism and the “survival of the fittest” thinking so prevalent today, where the common position is that everyone and everything is, and has to be, in conflict and competition. Phenomena like this are proof that Nature is ultimately cooperative.
Cooperation in the spreading, use and learning of knowledge is the way to go. People keep talking about this being the Information Age; let’s work together to make this the Knowledge Age, where people work together to increase the level of knowledge in the world. This all links back to the book The Go-Giver I mentioned in an earlier post, in which the characters talk about adding value to whatever you give others. If enough people are prepared to add valuable knowledge to others, there will be a breakthrough, a threshold will be breached, and that knowledge will belong to everybody. This is a personal dream of mine, and I have it for the most selfish of reasons: I want to be part of that breakthrough and have access to all that knowledge.
We do need to keep the difference between information and knowledge in mind. Information is simply data with a meaning; knowledge is knowing how to use that information, as well as the information itself.
So let’s all go out and spread knowledge as far as we can, because only in that way will we be given new knowledge in return.