The Quest for Real Knowledge: Do We Truly Want What We Say We Want?

Alessio Frateily

Hatched by Alessio Frateily

Sep 15, 2023

3 min read


The Quest for Real Knowledge: Do We Truly Want What We Say We Want?


In our pursuit of knowledge and desires, it is crucial to understand whether we truly want what we claim to want. Nick Wignall suggests that the intensity of our desires is directly proportional to the sacrifices we are willing to make for them. To determine the authenticity of our wants, we must examine the trade-offs required and assess our willingness to make them. This article combines Wignall's insights with Charlie Munger's distinction between real knowledge and pretend knowledge, highlighting the importance of seeking genuine understanding rather than superficial information.

The Two Types of Knowledge:

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett's business partner, shares an anecdote that illustrates the difference between real knowledge and pretend knowledge. The story involves Max Planck, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and his chauffeur. The chauffeur, having memorized Planck's lecture on quantum mechanics, offers to deliver it while Planck assumes the role of a chauffeur. The chauffeur's limited understanding becomes apparent when he fails to answer a complex question, demonstrating the contrast between real knowledge and mere recitation.

Real Knowledge vs. Chauffeur Knowledge:

Munger's anecdote highlights the distinction between two types of knowledge. Real knowledge is earned through hard work and experience, while chauffeur knowledge is superficial and lacks true comprehension. Those with real knowledge have paid their dues, possess aptitude, and genuinely understand the subject matter. However, chauffeur knowledge is acquired through imitation and lacks the depth necessary to answer complex questions or predict consequences.

Recognizing Chauffeur Knowledge:

Differentiating between real knowledge and chauffeur knowledge is essential. Rolf Dobelli, in "The Art of Thinking Clearly," emphasizes the need to identify individuals who possess genuine expertise. True experts acknowledge the limits of their knowledge and confidently admit when they do not know something. Chauffeurs, on the other hand, rely on shallow information and often resort to jargon or vague terms. It is vital to be cautious of individuals who generate clichés or convey snarky and self-satisfied tones, as they may lack true understanding.

The Quest for Genuine Knowledge:

In our information-driven society, it is easy to be misled by those who possess chauffeur knowledge. To navigate this challenge, we must prioritize seeking real knowledge. This involves dedicating time and effort to truly understanding a subject rather than relying on surface-level information. By recognizing our own limitations and being willing to admit when we do not know something, we can foster a culture that values genuine expertise over superficial showmanship.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Assess your desires: Take the time to reflect on the things you claim to want. Examine the trade-offs and sacrifices required to achieve them. Determine if you are genuinely willing to make those sacrifices or if you are merely giving lip service to your desires.
  • 2. Seek real knowledge: When pursuing knowledge, prioritize depth over breadth. Avoid falling into the trap of acquiring superficial information. Dedicate yourself to understanding a subject thoroughly, and be willing to put in the necessary work and effort to gain true expertise.
  • 3. Be discerning: Develop the ability to differentiate between genuine experts and those with chauffeur knowledge. Look for individuals who humbly acknowledge the limits of their knowledge and confidently admit when they do not know something. This will enable you to learn from those who possess real knowledge and avoid being misled by those who rely on imitation.


In our quest for knowledge and the pursuit of our desires, it is crucial to assess the authenticity of our wants and prioritize seeking real knowledge over superficial information. By differentiating between real knowledge and chauffeur knowledge, we can cultivate a culture that values expertise and genuine understanding. Let us strive to be individuals who are willing to put in the work, admit our limitations, and continuously seek true knowledge.

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