In the thirteenth century Ibn Yamin classified men into four categories. The basis of his classification was what one does and does not know. The wisest is the one who knows and knows that he knows. The dumbest is the one who does not know and does not know that he does not know. In-between are the ones who know but don’t know that they know, and the ones who don’t know but know that they don’t know.
There is another way of looking at people. Some people think they know more than others. Some people think they know nothing, compared to others. One is arrogant, and the other is humble. One implies excess and the other deficit. Too much of both traits are not desirable. Arrogance and humility up to a certain extent are desirable. Self-description is a good idea provided one knows where to draw the line. Over-describers are not liked by the crowd. Under-describers are lost in the crowd. Of course, there are exceptions. No one can describe Shahrukh Khan better than Shahrukh Khan himself. Dev Anand’s best moments are when he is in front of a mirror.
We like to know what is already known. We borrow the thoughts of others even when we own similar thoughts. The way to know, however, is changing. It is changing because of the internet. We are using the Internet as our external memory storage space. We no longer need to remember facts. The Internet is shifting our cognitive functions from searching for information inside the mind towards searching outside the mind. Some of us even prefer to rely on the internet to recall our thoughts. The challenge for us is to know what we want to know. The Internet is making us more dependent on others, as we want to know beyond our abilities. Many of our decisions are shaped by people whom we know through the web pages. There is a view that says that everything worth knowing is already known. Instead of discovering the unknown, we should learn how to manage the vast quantity of information that already exists.
Even if everything is known, knowing the known shall remain. Don’t we read a known story? We read the story because we want to know how the story unfolds. “It seems terms like an original genius and creative writing are fading, while terms like ‘unoriginal genius’, ‘uncreative writing’ are becoming popular”, writes Kenneth Goldsmith. ‘Unoriginal genius’ (those who possess the mastery of information and its dissemination) are like programmers, writes Marjorie Perloff, who can conceptualize, construct, execute, and maintain a writing machine. Goldsmith says, plagiarism in the digital age has become ‘repurposing’ and the operators of the writing machine are no longer shy of ‘intentional plagiarism’. There was a time when body, brain, and knowledge were all bound up in one reality. It was reasonable to call such a body ‘me’. Now things are different. “The words I am writing now are far less ‘mine’ than they were”, says Sue Blackmore. There was, and there shall always be the possibility of using someone’s ideas, irrespective of one’s capability of originating ‘original thoughts’.