A Quote for Your Life #1

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. — Socrates

Many people have heard this quote, but not many people know the remarkable story behind it. The story commences at Delphi, home of the Pythia- a priestess oracle whom was consulted before any major decision in ancient Greece. This Pythia, also known as the ‘Oracle of Delphi’, was one day questioned by an acquaintance of Socrates. He asked her if there existed anyone who was wiser than Socrates; to which she replied that there wasn’t.

Delphi: Considered by Ancient Greeks to be the Center of the World

When Socrates received this news, he was left unsettled. You can probably deduce from the quote above that Socrates was a modest man. Consequently, he made it his objective to speak with fellow Athenians who were perceived to be wise. He went around, speaking with various politicians and poets. He noticed that all of these people would make confident claims on subjects of which they had very limited knowledge. Socrates was unable to find anybody who would falsify the claims of the oracle. As a result, he concluded that he was wiser than all those he had questioned for the simple reason that he understood how little knowledge he had relative to all the knowledge that could exist. In the process of speaking with the so-called ‘wise’ Athenians, he often highlighted their ignorance. This resulted in him offending a lot of powerful people, which would eventually become a key component in the subsequent trial that would lead to his death.

This quote applies just as much today as it did during its creation. Despite the fact that maths and science has advanced greatly in the last two thousand years, there is still an abundance of absent knowledge in every human being. Many people find it difficult to admit when they don’t fully know or understand something. However, the quest for knowledge can only begin once we cleanse ourselves of our ignorance. Socrates teaches us that the way to do this is to concede how very little we actually know. Human beings have not been seeking knowledge for a very long time. In another 2000 years, assuming humans still exist, we will have obtained new knowledge that may very well disprove some of the things we accept as ‘facts’. Yet even then, we will still understand very little of our ever-expanding universe.