Has the Increase of Human Knowledge given us Wisdom? Let’s start the dialogue


By Paul L. Jones, Founder,
Director, Financial Advisory Services for Emerald Skyline Corporation

Muhammad Ali is quoted as saying: “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

It makes sense that as we experience life, we learn from our experiences which changes our view of the world – we call it many things – like growing up or becoming mature. Throughout each of the stages of our lives, we experience life differently which causes us to act differently. Those changes can be infused from our personal lives through the loss of a loved one, the survival of a major illness, the overcoming of addictions or the recovery from a bad marriage or relationship. Or they may be through our education and career, through the rise and fall of a business, the lessons of a new course of study, the influence of colleagues and clients. And they may be spiritual – developing a deeper relationship with our God – however we conceive Him/Her to be, and what becomes important in the service of God and humanity. Ideally, we mature through all of these experiences and we move into Wisdom.

Wisdom is defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgment; the quality of being wise; the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge and good judgment; or the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.”

The process of maturation in an individual can be viewed as the evolution of a person. And just as a person evolves, so does society: humanity as a species is dramatically different now than it was just 30 years ago – pre-internet, pre-smart phone, pre-nanotechnology, pre so many things that have changed how we experience and view the world.

In fact, the pace of human advancement has been accelerating throughout time. you can select many gauges by which to measure progress and change, patents for instance; but, there is one yard stick that I think gives us the greatest insight into the pace of change which is R. Buckminster Fuller’s Knowledge Doubling Curve which he introduced in his 1982 book, Critical Path.

A futurist and inventor, Fuller estimated that if we took all the knowledge that mankind had accumulated at the time of AD One, or One CE (Common Era), as equal to one unit of information, which took humcurveans nearly 198,000 years to accumulate, and used that as the benchmark; the amount of human knowledge would take another 1,500 years to double. With the introduction of the printing press, the pace of growth in human knowledge started to accelerate with another doubling occurring in about 250 years. By 1900 (around 150 years), human knowledge had doubled again. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years. At the time Critical Path was published, Fuller estimated that human knowledge was doubling every 18 months. Now, Human knowledge is estimated to double every 13 months. With the internet and other advances in human communication and data storage, IBM predicts that human knowledge is soon to double every 12 hours.


This growth in human knowledge has lead to great advancements in the quality of life for much of humanity with scientific and technological advancements leading to improved hygiene, literacy, agricultural production, mass production, and medicine.

Further, these advancements lead to the first real increase in global per capita GDP which has been estimated to average $158 per annum (adjusted to 2013 dollars) from pre-history until the Industrial Revolution.   (According to a 1998 academic paper entitled “Estimates of World GDP, One Million BC to Present” by J. Bradford De Long of the UC Berkeley Department of Economics, GDP per capital started escalating around AD 1600 with consistent growth occurring after 1800).

The growth of knowledge and information accelerated in the 18th and 19th Centuries with a doubling of human knowledge translated into improved opportunities for a better life: People were empowered with knowledge which lead to the end of the feudal system and the introduction of democracy in politics, social structures and economics.

With the pace of human knowledge and the changes that it brings to our daily lives increasing exponentially, the natural reaction is to hold onto the bar and try to slow down the ride – like we do in a roller coaster or a vehicle traveling faster than is comfortable….

All this information and knowledge and experience should also lead to wisdom, right?opportun

Unfortunately, however, billions of people – including many of our political, religious and social leaders – still live as if they were in the Middle Ages.

The changes have made our lives better in many ways – but they have come with a price.   The following diagram from Wiki-books on “Economic History” is a diagram of societal development: hunter/gatherer, pastoralist/horticulturalist, agrarian, industrial, and post-industrial. It also ties each stage of development to the important consequences of societal development, namely: surplus, denser populations, specialization, technology and inequality (As a dramatic example of this inequality, the Toilet Board Coalition just reported that over one billion people live with no alternative to open defecation while 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to proper sanitation which is in stark contrast to the standard of living experienced in the First World.) See:



As noted in an October 2012 article by Samuel Arbesman in BBC Future, “our lives are governed by centuries of advances that haven’t been random….there’s a pattern that reveals how our knowledge has changed over time….”

Understanding this pattern, Mr. Arbesman states, “helps us to understand something fundamental to our success as a species.”

In technology, Gordon Moore, a retired chemist and physicist who was a co-creator of the Intel Corporation, wrote a paper in 1965 entitled, Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits. In this short paper, Moore predicted that the number of possible components that can be placed on a single circuit for a fixed cost would double every year. This thesis, based on just four data points, has been proven true and is known as “Moore’s Law.”

If you generalize Moore’s Law from integrated circuits and chips to information technology, it explains extremely regular changes in technology over the past few centuries.

A primary reason that everything from the growth in knowledge to the advances in science and technology follows this pattern is related to the concept of cumulative knowledge.   All advances are built on the information available already. Like this article is based on the information and research that has been done by many people and is available now on the internet.

Mr. Arbresman continues:

” So, while exponential growth is not a self-fulfilling proposition, there is feedback, which leads to a sort of technological imperative: as there is more technological or scientific knowledge on which to grow, new technologies increase the speed at which they grow. But why does this continue to happen? Technological or scientific change doesn’t happen automatically; people are needed to create new ideas and concepts. The answer is that in addition to knowledge accumulation, we need to understand another factor that’s important to knowledge progression: population growth.”

In an August 1993 academic article published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Michael Kremer presents the case that the growth in knowledge and technology is directly linked to population growth and that technological growth is proportional to population growth.

There are now over seven billion humans on this earth – which both fuels innovation, the growth of knowledge, scientific discovery and technology while also causing an extreme demand on natural capital – the stock of finite resources which includes geology, soil, air, water and all living things from which humans use to sustain life.

Now, the question is – with 200,000 years of history and all this data, information and knowledge, have we grown wise?

What would Ali think? What do you think?

To be continued…..