… is from page 3 of Thomas Sowell’s magnificent 1980 book, Knowledge and Decisions; it’s the book’s opening line:
Ideas are everywhere, but knowledge is rare.
DBx: We humans should be thankful for the fertility of our imaginations and the power of our minds. But we should also have a more sober appreciation than many of us have of these blessings. Among the most common of human errors is to mistake ideas for knowledge.
It’s no great achievement for a human being to get into his or her head some beautiful idea about how society or the economy should be ‘organized’ and ‘run.’ And because one’s ideas aren’t constrained by most of the scarcities that are inescapable in reality, one’s ideas are always at risk of being unrealistic.
One of the rarest of ideas is the idea that ideas are not knowledge.
Knowledge, unlike ideas, bears a necessary connection to reality. Knowledge – true, genuine knowledge – isn’t free-floating. And so knowledge does not become what the mind desires simply because the mind desires it or implicitly assumes it to exist. Nor is the knowledge necessary to make any idea ‘work’ rendered optional or unimportant by the idea-holder’s failure to realize the kind and extent of knowledge that is necessary for his or her idea to work in reality.
The world has far more ideas than it has knowledge. And despite the dreams and implicit assumptions of utopians of all stripes, ideas never spontaneously spawn the knowledge necessary for them to work in reality. Nor are ideas substitutes for knowledge.