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.

19 Replies to “Types of ignorance”

    1. You may be right, it’s all inter-related. Does the learned ignorant see things sub specie aeternitae? [roughly=from the aspect of eternity] well, maybe. I think that one might call the Dalai Lama a learned ignorant (remember, learned ignorance is a _positive_ thing.) and venture to guess that he may (often) see things sub specie aeternitae.

      A problem though is that, in Xenophanes’ words, “it takes a wise man to find a wise man,” we may try to think of the matter through thinking of possible examples, but if we are not wise ourselves (and I’m not, I’m just merely clever) then we are not going to know the real thing, _as_ the real thing, when we see it.

      It’s been awhile since I’ve read Spinoza, I once in group tried to tackle the Ethics in it’s original Latin, but we only got a few pages in. I have fond memories of Spinoza.

      Nietzsche said something like, ‘at first I thought Spinoza was a hobgoblin, now I think he was a saint.’

      Kind regards,


  1. Nice essay. I am working on a book on pattern recognition and the fallacies of experts. This is nice summation of some critical points. It’s interesting to notice that at least where it comes to science, the Catholic Church seems to have learned from its own errors and now actively encourages specialists within the priesthood to actively pursue careers within science so that the institutions of the Church remain informed about cutting edge science. Most antagonism to evolution, for example, seems these days to emanate from Protestant churches or parishioners that failed to learn the lesson’s the church drew from the bad press it got over the Galileo affair etc.

    1. I’ve wondered if the Church’s interest in the subject of LENR might be piqued? If such a development could lift so many out of poverty and suffering it would seem naturally be in within their purview. They might not be so dismissive as are the Popes of physics.

  2. Ignorance, so what are you saying I’m ignorant cause I don’t believe (yet) I believe the people with their heads in the sand are the ones who choose to ignore the scientific problems with Rossi machine.

    1. You act as if “scientific problems” has some meaning as a phrase. It has none. Those who have kept an open mind about the possibility that Rossi’s claims might be valid are hardly ignorant of the “scientific” reasons for rational skepticism. On the other hand, it is apparent to me from reading widely in the dispute on the internet, that many “skeptics” of Rossi are in fact ignorant of the larger scientific context of his claims. You may wish to do some research yourself. If you do, you will find that there is no longer any reasonable basis for doubting that LENR itself is real. Did you know that?

      That being the case, talk of “scientific problems” with “the Rossi machine” is essentially an empty statement. The only question about Rossi’s machine is whether he’s managed to render a well-documented scientific process, duplicated in labs all over the world, commercially viable. I’m not saying he has. I’ll leave the dogmatic positions to those on the other side. But I and others who hold this view are saying that the tea leaves definitely point to an imminent LENR revolution, for many reasons above and beyond Rossi’s particular claims.

      If you want some good links beyond those offered here, check out the posting and discussion on my own.

      1. scientific inconsistencies –

        the unlikelihood of a chemical reaction being strong enough to overcome the Coulomb barrier
        the lack of gamma rays,
        the lack of explanation for the origin of the extra energy,
        * the lack of the expected radioactivity after fusing a proton with Ni,
        the unexplained occurrence of 11% iron in the spent fuel,
        * the 10% copper in the spent fuel strangely having the same isotopic ratios as natural copper
        the lack of any unstable copper isotope in the spent fuel

        Rossi had refused to perform several tests that could verify his claims

        He kept the MG set running for the whole test and never checked for current flow in the neutral wire

        Yes LENR is real but Rossi didn’t find it.

        * show stoppers, that I am firmiliar with

        1. “Yes LENR is real.

          I’m glad that you understand that. As for the rest you

          a) imply that the process and therefore its chemical and nuclear constituents can be readily predicted without (for example, there’s a great deal of experimental data and theoretical speculation that the coulomb barrier can be overcome (how can LENR exist — as you say it does — without that being possible?)
          b) are second guessing test protocols that no actually on-site observer with the possible except of Steve Krivit considered a basis for rejecting a positive conclusion;
          c) Ignore the clear logic of Rossi’s position that, with investors available and commercialization proceeding, he doesn’t care what you think. He cares about succeeding.

          I do not find these reasons sufficient to rule out some doubt. But your position seems contradictory to me, and at least some of your arguments beside the point.

          But I’m glad we agree that LENR is real.

        2. At some point Rossi is going to have to put up, or shut up. Of course, there is a middle ground, where he is not able to put up for reasons other than science, and he does not shut up, but goes on (rightfully or wrongfully) about how good the science is, or that it is not his fault.

      2. We may well be on the tipping point for cold fusion, but at the same time, it hasn’t happened _yet_. We should be a little leary about counting our chickens before they hatch. Cold fusion is at an interesting point, but there are many reasons why it might not happen.

        We may be at a very interesting time period _before_ the wave. To me, that is the exciting time, when it seems like it is in the air, but it has not happened yet. We might wake up the next morning and it’ll be on top of us, a matter of course. On the other hand, it might not. It is not just a matter of science, but also of business and politics. One world tyrant could ruin the whole thang. As Yogi Bera said, it ain’t over until it’s over. To me, it won’t happen until it has been out in the marketplace for awhile and people no longer doubt, because it’ll just be another fact of life.

        But, we should be thankful to honest skeptics for letting us bring up the issue of cold fusion. Cold fusion is not just a scientific issue, it is a societal one as well. Personally, I don’t care if someone disagrees with me (especially since it let’s me pontificate more;) ), as long as we can come to agree to disagree.

  3. Good contribution John.
    My God is “not the god of the gaps”. My God is the God of the Yawning Chasms.
    A true scientists dances along the edge of the Chasm. The rest are mere technicians.

    A sceptic is one who wants to see the evidence. My favourite sceptic is Doubting Thomas.

    A pseudo-sceptic is someone who does not want to see the evidence. A trite mantra of pseudo-sceptics is “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Three minutes of concentrated thought will convince you that this is just a comforting homily.

    The God of the Yawning Chasms has set limits to our understanding. Here are a sample from the set of limits. Quantum uncertainty, Quantum foam, anything beyond a distance set by the speed of light multiplied by age of the universe and Event Horizons(Singularities)

    The problem is that the function of our left brain is to create models of reality for the right brain to integrate. The Corpus Callosum’s function is to inhibit transfer of information between the hemispheres. The Corpus callosum has shrunk with the development of the human brain and the model making left now inhabits it’s own world. It thinks that it’s models are reality. It is a characteristic of Left (model dominated) thinkers to be pseudo-sceptical in thinking. It is only from the holistic Right that new evidence can cross the bridge to the Left.
    Here is a nice little animation to illustrate this model.

    1. Nietzsche talks about staring into the abyss and the abyss staring back. I enjoy your style, very poetic, scientific and theo-philosophical at the same time.

      My favorite skeptic is David Hume. David Hume once fell into a bog, an old woman came along and wouldn’t pull him out until he said the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe she thought he was a witch. David Hume was too much of an atheist for Scotland, and too much of a theist for France.

      I’m glad you liked my article.


  4. Wow, John. You really break it down man.

    I’ve been wondering the level of ignorance in legislators on energy policy. But I have to remember that we’re a mixture of all three.

  5. The upside to all of this is that people are very trainable.
    Just like most domesticated animals. Historically the majority have always had their thinking done for them. Most people will never understand the concepts of net energy and how it will affect their way of life. You can’t save people that don’t wanna be saved.
    How will they feed 9 billion on an ERoEI of 1.6? The answer is, they won’t.

  6. One type of ignorance is watching a demonstration and having the demonstrator says “Ok now we are going to measure the input power” and whipping out a clamp on amp meter. If you do not know on how many levels, that is wrong I cannot help you.

  7. An excellent overview of why we have so many parrots on the blogs clinging to Randifarian gimmickry like Aussi stuntman Smith. The parrots flock to the blogosphere trying to sound like disparate, independent voices. This betrays the lockstep propaganda they spout – readily detected by simple pattern recognition.

    Indeed, willful ignorance tries to preserve an outdated orthodoxy vested in its own desperate claims to expertise. It took the Catholic Church nearly 400 years to apologize for simple-minded arrogance. One hopes the lessons learned – have been learned.

  8. Your article reminded me so much of a speech made by Donald Rumsfeld the former Secretary Of Defense 2001-2006 of the Bush Administration. The context was an attempt to estimate the length of the proposed American intervention in Iraq, before the invasion. Ultimately his estimates were wildly wrong, he said:-

    ” And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months”

    But getting back to his original quote that reminded me of your article, this is what he said

    “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

    It seems that LENR falls into that third category unknown unkowns. The scientific establishment has drawn a curtain over this phenomenon, and refused to peer behind it. Any researchers who attempted to do so, paid with their reputations and careers.

    So for the past 22 years we have endured the willful ignorance of establishment scientists, as millions of people have died in unnecessary wars for oil, millions more perished from lack of access to potable drinking water. It is a tragedy that I have watched with growing horror and disbelief, ever since the original announcement by Pons and Fleischmann. I can only pray that I shall live long enough too see this wonderful new discovery to set us free from poverty and war, and peace and abundance will reign throughout the world.

    1. Another thing about Rumsfield, is that he collected newspaper cartoons about himself and hung them up (framed?) in his bathroom. Therefore, some poor cartoonist would have a heart attack when Rumsfield called him about the cartoon, Rumsfield wasn’t going to yell at the guy, he just wanted the original. Poor guy probably at first thought that Rumsfield was calling because Rumsfield had it out for him. Nothing was further from the truth.

      It’s one of the great classics of American political philosophical quotes. That and Clinton’s ‘depends on what you mean by is.’

      cold fusion is not what is meant by an unknown unknown, although the ‘scientistic’ community would like to all go away and vanish from memory. cold fusion is right now barely sticking its nose out as a possibility. We are just starting to realize that it _may_ be there. Even if all the scientific/engineering bugs had already been worked out, as a social/cultural phenomenon it would just be starting.


  9. Good article, my faith has been a little restored that there actually are a few people out there that have the capability to think and not be led by the nose.
    The trick is how to proceed so that people have a simple code to improve awareness and understanding.
    May I suggest a major first step would be to show people to clearly distinguish in all possible cases the difference between fact and opinion.
    Science is a case of irrational logic where facts should be god and yet is run almost exclusively under opinion and Dogma.
    Cold Fusion in point, was delayed by irrational skepticism and opinion that would never have occurred without a belief that “experts” have knowledge beyond the facts.

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