Knowing Versus Thinking

Knowing Versus Thinking

Knowing Versus Thinking

Recently one of my students brought an interesting article he was using for one of his assignments.  The article discusses knowing and thinking.

It reminded me of a number of philosophies I had studied in the past including Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. (More about that in another blog.)

Sometimes, we feel that thinking and knowledge are identical, but they are not.

Knowing includes the facts, accepted knowledge, or things we “know” to be true. (You will see why “know” is in quotation marks shortly.)

Once memorized this knowledge tends to remain stable - sometimes too stable.

ThinkingFaceThinking, on the other hand, is the activity of gaining knowledge.  This requires more effort.

Having knowledge is great because it allows us to spend time and energy on thinking about things we don’t know.

For example, knowledge includes rules and patterns.  You don’t really have to think about your morning routine.  You probably simply go through the steps almost automatically.

When you first learned how to ride a bike, you had to think quite a lot about balance, pedals, steering, etc.  Now, you simply jump on and go.  

Having knowledge frees us up to think about things we don’t know or that we need to know more about.

Often beliefs are substituted for knowledge.  For example, women are not intelligent enough to vote or too frail to run for a political office. 

Touching a person with aids will give you aids.  

Yes, people were adamant that such things were true. 

Here is another: The earth is the centre of the universe.

Many people believed this and continued to believe this despite more and more evidence to the contrary.

In 1600, a man named Giordano Bruno was convicted of being a heretic for believing that the earth moved around the Sun. (He also thought that there were many planets throughout the universe where life existed.) Bruno was burnt to death.

In 1610, Century Italian astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei used a telescope he built to observe the solar system, and deduced that the planets orbit the sun, not the earth. (Using calculations, Copernicus figured  at least some of this out around 1514.)


Before the Inquisition, Galileo was found suspect of heresy for saying this.  He had to recant his comments and remained under house arrest for the rest of his life.

In 1992, the Vatican formally and publicly cleared Galileo of any wrongdoing.

Talk about justice being slow!

Situations like this reveals that belief turned into knowledge can be counterproductive.

We need to challenge knowledge with thought. Even scientific “facts” need to be retried in the realm of thinking. That is why replication is so important.

Just because we think we “know” something does not make it objectively true knowledge. 

What does this have to do with tutoring, students, or you?

We can learn many things with rote learning or memorization. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  (That would be kind of mean when you think about it!)

But learning is far more than the ABC’s and the 123’s. 

Memorization is great, getting the facts down is helpful – but, in my opinion, this is not education, at least not the whole of it and not the most important part. That is more like training. 

I want my students to be able to think.

I want them to be able to readdress “answered” questions and to know why they are reworking the information and gathering new facts or changed data, etc.


It is important to look again, turn the evidence around, and double-check from time to time.

Is there another way?

I want my students to learn to discuss intelligently, with thought – thinking.  I do not want simple regurgitation.

The value in thinking is not only (and in fact only rarely) to correct mistakes of the past, but rather to engage the brain in different ways and to exercise it into a truly thinking machine – real intelligence rather than simply a container that we fill.

No matter what age we are as learners, being able to truly think about a wide variety of topics and give each one our full attention is beneficial to ourselves. 

We grow, we gain from this exercise.  We discover how everything connects with us and how we can engage with the world and others in it.

We can all be life-long learners who are open to new ideas.

Not only that, but thinking (rather than just knowledge) seems to improve happiness, longevity, and possibly even reduces the chances of suffering from dementia.

There you have it – lots to think about! 

Why not let me know what you think? 

Video – Knowing vs Thinking:


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