Types of ignorance

I am going to talk about ignorance, so that in the process of doing so, we will all become a little less ignorant of ignorance;)

One might say that there are three types of ignorance. Ordinary ignorace which is the ignorance of not knowing something.  Ordinary ignorance can be answered with ordinary knowledge.  This knowledge is factual and except in particular circumstances, usually trivial.  By trivial, I mean that it is one thing to passively know something, it is another to turn that knowledge into action.  Ordinary knowledge gives an answer for ordinary ignorance, what it does not do is give a heuristic with which individuals can discover things by themselves.

Galileo's telescope
Galileo's telescope 1609

Willful ignorance is “a paradoxical condition in which we are aware there is something we do not know, but choose not to know it. It is assuming an ignorance when there is no ignorance.”  Think of it as someone putting their fingers in their ears and yelling, “la, la, la, I can’t hear you.” But it also is exemplified by Galileo’s opponents who refused to look into the telescope, or when they did, proclaimed they saw nothing. With ordinary ignorance. people are unaware of a topic but can informed.  Willful ignorance, however, is much more insidious. There is actually something (propaganda) blocking knowledge from forming.  In Catholicism, “propaganda” is for the propagation of the faith and that is what propaganda does, propogates a faith, religious or political or maybe cultural.  Propaganda is typical of a one party system.  In the American political system we have a variant on the one party rule, we have two parties trading off with each other.  We should not fool ourselves,  American propaganda is as strong as any other system of modern propaganda and more subtle than most.  The problem that cold fusion faces is not a matter of ordinary ignorance, although that is there too.  It is a matter of willful ignorance in different degrees.

Internal view of a cold fusion cell.
Internal thermos- sized cold fusion cell.

Some people do not have anything against cold fusion per se, they just don’t want to stick there heads up and get shot at.  And who can really blame them, one has to pick one’s fights.  Others bargain in bad faith, they presuppose the outcome of the investigation and want to stop it from ever happening.  Our society likes to think that the truth cannot be suppressed (and perhaps in the long run it cannot), but then some people diabolically reverse this and say that therefore, if something is suppressed, then it must notbe “the truth.”

Of course, the opposite can happen, people can believe in something because it is suppressed.  This usually traces a grand conspiracy back to the Templars/Illuminati/Trilateral commission etc. etc.  In a truly liberal society, there would be no suppression, and one could weigh such a topic more fairly.  With suppression, the issue can neither come to fruition, nor can it really show itself as empty.  With propaganda blocking the way one cannot realize an issue, nor can one, if it is a bad idea, let it go.  I tend to not believe in grand conspiracies.  Small ‘c’ conspiracies, yes, pettiness, arrogance and just sheer meanness explain alot.  Big ‘c’ conspiracies, not so much.

The third type of ignorance is learned or higher ignorance.  Nicolas of Cusa states that,”every inquiry proceeds by way of a comparative relation, whether an easy or a difficult one.  Hence, the infinite, qua infinite is unknown; for it escapes all comparative relation.”  Higher ignorance whether it be towards God or creation must be learned.  It has a sincerity to it, it is intellectually honest unlike willful ignorance.  As Aristotle said, philosophy begins in wonder.  Wonder is not an answer, but rather a question, the question, that uproots the self, along with everything else (aporeia).  Socrates engaged in that kind of wonder, although he focused only on the human realm, and shirked natural philosophy (physical world).

Galileo, on the other hand, engaged in the physical world with such wonder.  He formulated new questions where there previously had not been recognized topics of study.  Galilean moons, the phases of Venus and sunspots.  He saw them and asked about them before anyone else did.  He blew the lid off of the order of things and in the process the Church lost control.  He was not trying to make the Church lose control, he was just actively and openly looking at the world.  It is amusing to think that the Catholic Church lost control, precisely because the Church thought it had control, and that if the Church had not thought that it was in control (and tried to enforce it on Galileo and a whole slew of astronomers on the one hand, and Martin Luther and a whole bunch of reformers on the other), then the Church would perhaps still have control.  Like a song says, “if you hold on too tightly, you’re going to loose control.”

Pd-D cold fusion cell
Pd-D cold fusion cell.

We not only have different kinds of knowledge (as I’ve said before) playing off of the topic of cold fusion, we have different types of ignorance as well.  One type of ignorance, learned ignorance, allows the pure researcher to come up with new questions and thus also, explore new answers for cold fusion.  This type in my ‘book’ is positive in nature.  It is active and, ultimately, creative.

Another type, willful ignorance, blocks inquiry, trying to preserve an orthodoxy.  It is negative.  It is active, but rather than creating, it protects a rather limited vision of the status quo.  It is like a conservatism for past that never really existed.  It is reactionary and if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that to some degree, it is in us all.

Last of all, ordinary ignorance is the ignorance of the individual not involved and unconcerned.  This type is neither positive nor negative in its nature because it is passive.  If it becomes interested, it becomes interested in knowing “that,” rather than doing.  Of course, there are all kinds of different degrees of involvement or openness inside these three types of ignorance, but you can figure out the different shade on your own if you desire.

Quotes and general background from James P. Carse, The Religious Case Against Belief, (Penguin Press, NY, 2008), 12-15.