We human beings like to know things. Oftentimes, we believe that we know more about a particular topic than we actually do. No one person can know everything about a topic. That's why you must always educate yourself.
Always try to take in new information every day. Make it a point to learn as much as you can every day, in as many different topics as you can. Having a breadth of knowledge in a wide array of fields can come quite in handy no matter what you're doing.
The French poet & essayist Paul Valery was talking about how sometimes knowledge is not exactly what we think it is. Life is full of many paradoxes, but the mere discovery of these paradoxes is not enough to truly understand what the paradox actually means. So many things in life seem to contradict each other, and there are many Catch-22 situations that exist within our society. Sometimes, it's very hard to put a finger on why exactly these paradoxes exist.
For example, you must have a college degree to get particular jobs. But to get that job, you also need prerequisite work experience that you lack from the time and effort spent to acquire that degree. If you spend all your time getting the degree, you'll most likely lack the job experience.
Of course, it's possible to try and work internships at the same time as getting a degree. Still, internships rarely pay well, if at all, and the debt incurred from most degree programs is mind-numbingly large - not to mention the burn-out factor. And you wonder why people wash out after intense programs...
Then, you have those with the work experience but no degree unable to land jobs. But even then, those with degrees can't get the jobs because they don't have the work experience. And, even those that get the jobs often have the piece of paper saying they're qualified, but then can't do the work.
This is because practical experience in most lines of work beats book knowledge any day. We’ve created a generation or two of memorizers. Critical thinking isn't taught nearly as much as it once was. It's a really messed-up paradox: you need the schooling, but with the schooling you lack the necessary experience, and vice versa.
Confusing Metaphors for Proof
Just because you read something in a book does not mean you understand something. You might know something's individual parts. But, when asked how and why they work together, you will find those that supposedly have the qualifications to know these things get stumped. They can memorize facts and figures and know how to sound intelligent when drafting papers and taking tests. But in real life applications, there are so many supposedly well-educated folks who fail. This is, of course, partly the fault of the education system for not allowing as much on-the-job training as there should be - because of that whole not having the job experience required to get the on-the-job experience.
So, what happens? You get lots of graduates getting degrees that they aren't truly qualified to have, go into the job market, and fail at doing their jobs properly. Some will eventually succeed, of course. But more often than not, they don't and find themselves job-hopping. That degree doesn't mean as much as you might think it does.
As someone who has worked in recruitment research, I know this to be absolute fact. Most of the best candidates don't have degrees or went to school a long time ago. A lot of the more recent candidates sell themselves as intelligent workers until they get to the interview. On the day of the interview, they reveal that they don’t the first thing about the job, despite trying to convince others that they know it and that they are seemingly qualified to perform at it.
Confusing a Torrent of Verbiage for a Spring of Truths
So, we get into the third part of Valery's quote: confusing "a torrent of verbiage for a spring of truths." Just because a professor might be a great orator and make things sound engaging and educational does not mean that professor knows what he or she is talking about. People like to talk, and many have the assumption that they truly do know what they're talking about.
From my own experience, I can't tell you how many teachers and professors I've had that had no true understanding of what they were actually teaching. There were also others who did, but didn't know how to teach it properly. Others seemed totally apathetic to the idea of actual teaching methods. This is why so-called “talking heads” are rarely the best sources of knowledge. Many of them are simply getting paid to talk and making people think that they're learning something and being informed.
On the Folly of Mistaking Oneself an Oracle
The last part is the saddest part: "the folly of mistaking... oneself an oracle..." Many human beings are convinced that they know all that they have to know about certain things. The way to acquire true knowledge is to question your assumptions and understand why what you know is actually what you know.
Questioning what we understand as truth is the only way that we can truly develop intellectually. Gaining knowledge through books and the like is fine. But, we have to remember how to think critically about things. People have just become information sponges due to the massive overload of information available to humanity nowadays.
The last thing you want to do is consider yourself an oracle. But it's okay if you didn't realize it. Most people don't. These follies, as Valery says, are inborn within each of us. We are all curious creatures, after all. Sometimes we mistake our own assumptions as universal truths, not bothering to question why we do it.
People like to use metaphors to sound more intelligent and like to talk and talk to make it sound like they have plenty to say. Some people do indeed use metaphors cleverly and do in fact have a lot to share. Yet, you have to be sure to ask yourself is true knowledge is coming from someone's mouth.
Valery said these things in the late 1800's, but this quote is more relevant than ever now. People need to realize these common follies. Hopefully, you can recognize these follies in those you deal with daily, as well as seeing if you commit any of them yourself. You will very likely discover most people don't know as much as they think they do. In fact, you might even discover you know more than you think!