A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

In 1709, English writer Alexander Pope wrote one of his very best poems: “An Essay on Criticism”.

An Essay on Criticsm


A little learning is a dangerous thing
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
And drinking largely sobers us again

Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind

But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky

The eternal snows appear already past
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way

The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes
Hill peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise

Something along similar lines have been written in a previous post about how knowing the fact that we don’t know much is a humbling experience. One of the most amusing facts about life is that the persons who know much are less certain in their views as compared to those who don’t. So it is common to find persons with rigid opinions — which is a direct result of not devoting time to gain more knowledge.

It is difficult to draw categories as humans are so diverse creatures but if I absolutely have to, I would divide the people into two types:

  1. those who think in black and white (or 0 and 1), and
  2. those who entertain a continuum of possibilities between 0 and 1.

Something similar was said by one of the greatest thinkers in human history, Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

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