Knowledge is not just intake, but the integration of information into one’s very being.
From any remote spot, one can access information electronically: the library at Oxford, interactive exchanges about mathematics, the latest news from anywhere in the world is immediately at hand. But this is not the same as knowledge.
We have answering machines, fax machines, and e-mail. But people seem to be not so much communicating as dumping. As long as they have sent a message, they feel absolved of all responsibilities with a minimum of inconvenience, social contact, or feedback.
The ancients had a very different attitude toward knowledge. Many of them were swordsmen and, as the word shi implies, they had to truly know the sword before they were ready to stake life and death on it. The ancients taught that one did not truly know something until that knowledge was part of one’s very own soul. So before they ever ventured out with a sword, the swordsmen trained to put skill into the fiber of their muscles. Then they trained further, until their skill became intrinsic to their minds. Then they emptied their minds, so that their skill was part of their spirit. Only then would they say that they knew enough to go to battle.
What is knowing today? True, we have an unprecedented amount of information available on an unprecedented scale. But the resolutions to the true questions of life come not through mere communications, no matter how quick or how vast. They come from knowing itself. And knowing comes only when we have made the answers part of ourselves.