Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Ignorant Ignorant of Ignorance

Why must people pretend to know more than they do? Is it some kind of weakness or some sort of criminality?

I just had a fight with a friend who seemed to know every subject there is to know: as an engineer, her mastery of the subject invited my deference. But when she makes a casual remark on a solitary sentence of mine that has taken five or more years of study, one wonders if one is dealing with a friend or a charlatan.

Most people are experts on social science, political philosophy, psychology....The man who spends year after year pursuing a single thread through the Minoan labyrinth finds it galling when his most well-thought-out statement is dismissed by an appeal to (fake) 'common sense'.

Why is it that we can't acknowledge our ignorance? I am reminded of Socrates who was regarded as the wisest of men because he knew that he knew nothing. Perhaps this is a very painful position to hold, like grasping a sword the wrong way: but the edges must be grasped even if the spirit bleeds.

If only my fine friend had had the humility of wonderment, the child-like bafflement before an incomprehensible universe, the primitive piety before an inscrutable cosmos, totally insecure in the knowledge that what we know is as nothing compared to what we do not know, not alone on the individual level, but on that of the collective. For the collective lends the individual a spurious pride, as though he is the receptacle of the enlightened ages, when all we know is that we, and I, know nothing.

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