Does recognizing the limits of our knowledge and understanding serve us equally well as acquiring new facts and information, as the speaker asserts? While our everyday experience might lend credence to this assertion, further reflection reveals its fundamental inconsistency with our Western view of how we acquire knowledge. Nevertheless, a careful and thoughtful definition of knowledge can serve to reconcile the two.
On the one hand, the speaker's assertion accords with the everyday experience of working professionals. For example, the sort of bookish knowledge that medical, law, and business students acquire, no matter how extensive, is of little use unless these students also learn to accept the uncertainties and risks inherent in professional practice and in the business world.
Any successful doctor, lawyer, or entrepreneur would undoubtedly agree that new precedents and challenges in their fields compel them to acknowledge the limitations of their knowledge, and that learning to accommodate these limitations is just as important in their professional success as knowledge itself.
Moreover, the additional knowledge we gain by collecting more information often diminishes-sometimes to the point where marginal gains turn to marginal losses. Consider, for instance, the collection of financial-investment information. No amount of knowledge can eliminate the uncertainty and risk inherent in financial investing. Also, information overload can result in confusion, which in turn can diminish one's ability to assimilate information and apply it usefully. Thus, by recognizing the limits of their knowledge, and by accounting for those limits when making decisions, investment advisors can more effectively serve their clients.
On the other hand, the speaker's assertion seems self-contradictory, for how can we know the limits of our knowledge until we've thoroughly tested those limits through exhaustive empirical observation that is, by acquiring facts and information. For example, it would be tempting to concede that we can never understand the basic forces that govern all matter in the universe. Yet due to increasingly precise and extensive fact-finding efforts of scientists, we might now be within striking distance of understanding the key laws by which all physical matter behaves. Put another way, the speaker's assertion flies in the face of the scientific method, whose fundamental tenet is that we humans can truly know only that which we observe. Thus Francis Bacon, who first formulated the method, might assert that the speaker is fundamentally incorrect.
How can we reconcile our experience in everyday endeavours with the basic assumption underlying the scientific method? Perhaps the answer lies in a distinction between two types of knowledge-one which amounts to a mere collection of observations (i.e., facts and information), the other which is deeper and includes a realization of principles and truths underlying those observations. At this deeper level "knowledge" equals "under-standing": how we interpret, make sense of, and find meaning in the information we collect by way of observation.
In the final analysis, evaluating the speaker's assertion requires that we define "knowledge,'' which in turn requires that we address complex epistemological issues best left to philosophers and theologians. Yet perhaps this is the speaker's point: that we can never truly know either ourselves or the world, and that by recognizing this limitation we set ourselves free to accomplish what no amount of mere information could ever permit.