The More I Learn and the Older I Get the More I Realize I Don’t Know

by | Feb 8, 2011 | The Writing Life | 84 comments

So does this mean I’m getting smarter or dumber?


  1. Phil

    Neither smarter nor dumber but wiser and humbler.

  2. Chris Phillips

    There is nothing worse than to have to ask what something is at the age of >25 and have people act like you're crazy for not knowing.

  3. Rane

    The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. -Socrates

  4. Laura Campbell

    I'll piggyback on Phil. You are wiser. Just think about teenagers who think they know everything. We laugh at their naiveté. Learning is through experience and objective understanding. The best part for me is knowing there is always something new my brain can feast on.

  5. Munk

    Just older.

  6. Diane T

    As my grandpa always said, getting older is better than the alternative….

  7. Misha

    Wiser… definitely wiser.


  8. Bittersweet Fountain

    Basically you're getting smarter but realizing you're actually dumb. That's sort of how I feel every day. The more I learn about the subject of my research the more I realize I know absolutely nothing about the subject of my research. But I do know more than I did yesterday, so I figure that counts for something.

  9. Caroline Gerardo

    You have more appetite for knowledge and realize the limits of time…
    C G

  10. Ulysses

    Munk has it right. Perspective is something that shifts with age.

    Truth: As long as you're learning, you'll never stop growing.

    More truth: there's a limit to knowledge, but no limit to ignorance.

  11. dwkazzie

    “Ray, pretend for a moment that I don’t understand anything about metallurgy, engineering or physics, and just tell me what the hell is going on.”

    Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters

    This pretty much sums it up.

  12. Cookie

    I go through this all the time. I like when you can look back at your younger self and laugh at your own naivety.

  13. Hillsy

    Well, I don't know about wiser or smarter, older or dumber…but your posts are certainly getting shorter

  14. Ben


    Just wiser.

  15. L.C. Gant

    Yep. That's called wisdom. It would be far worse if you grew older and became more convinced that you knew everything. Young fools are sad, but old fools are even sadder.

  16. Barbara Kloss

    I'm just laughing at what Hillsy said!

  17. Ted Fox

    There was a great Calvin and Hobbes strip to this effect. The family's house was robbed, and Calvin's dad, not able to make sense of it, says something like: "I always just assumed when you got older, you knew all the answers."

  18. Josin L. McQuein

    Neither. It means you're spending too much time on the Internet with its endless "facts".

  19. Henri

    Sounds like you're breaking even.

  20. John Jack

    The sum of all knowledge doesn't know all knowable knowledge. When knowable all is known, it'll all be over. And not until then.

    An individual's knowledge fulfillment comes from contributing a noteworthy new iota to the sum.

    What will or does Nathan Bransford contribute to knowledge?

  21. Charlie

    The older I get and the more I learn, the less I remember whatever is was that I forgot.

    The I.R.S. finds that unacceptable.

  22. Charlie

    The more I realize about the things I've learned are the things I should've already knew unless they are new. Except for things I never knew; them I don't remember.

    Yes, I've chosen wine as my writing drink today.

  23. b2995b98-33a5-11e0-9840-000bcdcb2996

    A few of my grandmother's sayings come to mind:
    "There's no fool like an old fool," and
    "Be thankful for growing old, many are denied the privilege."

    So wiser or dumber, who cares? I am just happy to be granted the blessing of growing older.

  24. Janice

    It means your reality is getting closer to the truth.

  25. D.G. Hudson

    Wisdom is something we acquire through experience, and recognizing that you 'don't know everything' is just the first step.

    Learning is something that should be a lifelong path.

    Does this mean you don't believe in Peter Pan anymore?

  26. February Grace

    "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing and that is that I know nothing." ~Socrates

  27. Pen and Ink

    I'm with Mark Twain on this issue. I think you get smarter "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. " – Mark Twain "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." ~Mark Twain

  28. Doug Pardee

    Knowledge is expanding faster than we can learn it. When I was young, all I needed to know was "fire hot", "no pooping in cave", and "watch out for sabretooth tiger". That's not enough any more, although fire is still hot.

  29. Avery June

    Oh my goodness, all of that extra time you gave yourself when you switched to basic cable is paying off!

    Wiser. I think wiser. I hope wiser because I love to learn and I'm getting older too.

  30. Chuck H.

    Don't know for sure but, since I am much, much, much older than you are, I'm definitely getting it more. Of course, I'm voting for smarter.

  31. Brendan

    Hire a teenager while they still know everything.

  32. S.Smith


    Wise and dumb are the same coin, me thinks?

  33. Tahereh

    you're getting wiser, nathan.

  34. stephen matlock

    I'm not sure. Could you give us some examples so we can make a better decision?

  35. puppy-sariel

    "Truly wise men know that they are not truly wise."

  36. abc

    It's a frustrating thing, getting older. I find myself questioning if I even know grammar at all.

    But I do appreciate Prince and Stevie Wonder more.

  37. Martinelli Gold

    From very early on, my Grandfather informed me that he ages backwards, like Merlin. He just looks older. I usually greet him by asking, "so where are we now, 28, 29?" Then he gives me a quarter.

    You're only as young as you feel 🙂

  38. elephanta

    I have been thinking this so much lately! Every time my little Judge inside starts to judging, I must remind myself how often in the past I have been wrong.
    I think this is the way life is supposed to go. We need to develop generalizations and compartments for what we see around us in the world to somehow understand. Then as we age it is a process of letting go previous assumptions, while gaining fresher perspectives. (Later to be defunct)

  39. J. T. Shea

    This is what comes of sitting around all day debating philosophy with those CNET people. What next? Martial arts?

    To partially answer John Jack's question, Nathan has already contributed a vast amount to my knowledge.

    Charlie, better not try to deduct the cost of the wine…

  40. Fawn Neun

    Like Munk said – just older. By the time your my age, you'll be a complete moron. At least that's what my kids tell me. 😉

  41. Elaine AM Smith

    With greater awareness comes the appreciation that the knowledge you possess is but a fraction of all that could be known.

    Knowledge is the weaker tool: knowledge of the world as it is understood now.
    Imagination is the greater tool: the wherewithal to question, and to imagine what lies beyond our current understanding.
    Zen Smith

  42. Marilyn Peake

    As others have said, it doesn't mean you're getting smarter or dumber. It means you're getting older and experiencing two benefits of aging: wisdom (not the same as being smart) and humility. It's all good.

  43. Aimee Bea

    "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." – Confucius

  44. Mira

    Wiser, definitely.

    However, I regret to inform you, Nathan, as someone older than you, that it gets worse.

    Around 40, I suddenly realized that although I knew little, at least half of what I DID know was wrong.

    Now that I'm approaching 50, I'm starting to suspect the other half is even wronger.

    See what you have to look forward to? 🙂

  45. John Jack

    What then from what he's learned does J.T. Shea, or Nathan Bransford, or anyone, newly contribute to knowledge?

  46. Liesl

    Maybe a little of both but mostly confused.

  47. Hart Johnson

    I'm a researcher by day and my old office used to have a sign that said, "We regret to inform you that we have not answered your questions. In fact we have generated MORE questions. But we believe these questions are on a higher plane and will lead to greater understanding."

    In otherwords… yeah… you know MORE if you are more aware of all you don't know…

  48. Christina

    I officially want to find/make a sign that has the quote from Hart's office sign. It seems like the inner-working of my mind put down in a quotation.

    As to your question Nathan, I'd say it makes you wiser. If you picture a wise elderly person, do you picture someone still convinced that they know all or someone convinced that they know very little regardless of their wisdom? I always picture the latter. Those who think they know all things are called adolescents. It's part of why I love my students, they are both unsure of themselves personally and incredibly sure of everything they think they know.

  49. Michael G-G

    At least you've realized this. Some people never do.

  50. salima

    Smarter and wiser!!! Have a listen to Dylan's "My Back Pages." He says it beautifully.:)

  51. Bryan Russell (Ink)

    The older I get, the more I lie to myself. It saves a lot of trouble.

  52. Marsha Sigman

    I was going to be all zen and tell you it means you are wiser…but 50 peeps told you first so nevermind!

  53. Rick Daley

    It's like that scene in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" when they meet Socrates.

    It says here: "True wisdom lies in knowing that you know nothing." That's us, dude!

    So therefore, according to Socrates, you are getting smarter. Dude.

  54. Anne R. Allen

    Salima beat me to it, but I'll fill in with the Dylan quote: "But I was so much younger then; I'm younger than that now."

    Teenagers are immortal and know everything. Then they start to actually learn stuff.

  55. Nicole L Rivera

    Smarter. You are realizing something new, thats a step in the right direction 🙂 Now you can tackle some of the stuff you don't know and make it stuff you do know.

  56. Other Lisa

    There's some quote that I can't exactly remember, might be Einstein, to the effect that, the greater your sphere of knowledge, the larger the boundaries of your ignorance.

    Something like that, anyway!

  57. Arianne

    It's hereditary- remember how little your parents knew when you were a teenager?

  58. Arianne

    It's hereditary- remember how little your parents knew when you were a teenager?

  59. R Elland

    Wiser. Now you get to figure out more stuff. Oh and enjoy the aches and pains as the body whines about the next class.

  60. J. T. Shea

    Another good question, John Jack. And we have just the guy to answer it on the Bransforums. Polymath.

  61. Andi

    It means neither, but only that as open-minded as you are, it (your mind) continues to expand and let more possibilities in.

  62. jef


  63. Anonymous


    It means you're getting better.

  64. wendy

    I like what Phil said. Well said, Phil. Also, wonderful quote from Socrates given by Rane.

    It's funny how, as teenagers, we all go through a phase of intoxication with our own self-perceived cleverness. But it's only when we get to the stage you've mentioned, Nathan, that we start to see the enormity of the whole picture. Awareness is everything.

    I realise I know little when it comes to technology, especially. Just received a new android phone, and the learning curve is off the scale…for me. On my old phone I only needed to key in the number. Now I need a Google account and to master many tricky manoeuvres before I can just ring someone. When I was wrestling with the settings, I was given the option of tapping into someone's network down the road. I wonder if someone down the road has been given the option of tapping into my network, too.(Password protected, I know.) However, now I can download ebooks and read them on the phone. Woo.

    Move over, Dick Tracy.

  65. Amy Talbot

    Hopefully, wiser.
    (Proverbs 17:28)

  66. Transparent Mama

    I say we get smarter because we are less arrogant, more humble. All good.

  67. Lucinda Bilya

    Could it be?

    Maybe it is like sailing off the end of the world thinking the world is flat…relief that you didn't fall off the end of the world, and there is a whole new world to be discovered.

    "Awareness helps us see more than we could before."

    word ver: nonqua (is that like a desert?)

    "When we know more, we see more."


  68. Heidi

    I don't know, but at least now I know I'm not the only one.

  69. Paullina_Petrova

    Just more thirsty for knowledge

  70. mkcbunny

    I think that's because the older you get, the more you realize how much there is in the world. No one can possibly know it all. Not that this stops some people from thinking they do. As long as you keep thinking you don't know it all, you're still learning. It's when you stop learning that you're in trouble.

    And like the other "old folks" have commented, this feeling just seems to grow with age. Nearing 50, I just feel more and more like I don't know enough. But maybe that's because I'm job-hunting, which tends to amplify all of this in a depressing way …

  71. Tura Lura

    Yes. You are getting one of the two. ^_-

  72. Patrick

    To me, it doesn’t matter. As long as I can still see a pristine fluffy snow bank and want nothing more than to do a somersaulting flip into it, I know I’m doing just fine (regarless of whether I physically can or not). Let the questions about wisdom come and go, because they will do so forever, but never leave a pristine snow bank behind.

  73. Bryce Daniels

    It happens. After a half-century of hanging around, I can sometimes realize I don't know where I left the car keys, what day my anniversary falls on, and if I remembered to take my pills. I can provide you with the name of someone who can vouch for this if you need it.

  74. Terin Tashi Miller

    Unfortunately, it just means what it is…you're getting older…:)


  75. Samantha G

    There are two possible explanations to this saying:

    1)You are smart enough to understand you don't know enough- unlike those who are extremly "dumb" to think they know everything.

    2)Everytime you learn something new, you realise how much you will never know about that particular subject.

    P.S- you're only 25? Or are you older and am I having my leg pulled by some of the commenters?

  76. Lucy

    I take comfort in knowing that no one knows very much. But collectively, we know enough.

  77. Gillian Perrett

    Not smarter, sorry friend. But more experienced and more aware.

  78. Sheila Cull

    I keep thinking about what you said, "in my old job as a literary agent…" that you enjoyed reading when you weren't forced to.

    That means that the books that we read, usually published from bookstores, are indeed perfect. Hence the enjoyment. What you got as a lit agent wasn't perfect. That's intersting to me.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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