The certainty of Ignorance


In our earlier essays we have pointed out that all our experiences are the result of three connectors (Knowledge, Bias and Ignorance) and their relative proportions. Hence self-realization at its very basic level is the exploration of the occurrence of these three connectors and their inter-play.  We all recognize that such effort towards self-realization is easier stated than accomplished in day to day life. All our efforts through education, reflection, meditation, rituals and religious practices, social aspects, friendship, counseling, etc. are the many means we use to focus our mind towards the exploration of these connectors to better understand and relate to our “experiences”.

Each of these connectors becomes evident, thanks to the diminishing role of the other two! The dominance of one connector over the other two can also be identified through the inputs leading up to the experience.  The observations on the outcome of an experience also shed light on the dominant role of the connector in that situation . Details on all these analytical aspects of exploring our experiences can be found in chapter fourteen of Bhagawath Geetha.

But, certain aspect of each connector is unique and profound. For example, it is futile to desperately want to increase our knowledge! The more we study or learn about a subject matter, our ignorance about that subject decreases. The more we reflect and explore the alternatives and the causal relations behind that subject, our bias on the reasoning, logic and understanding of that subject matter decreases. In due course it leads to our better understanding of the subject matter. As a result, we become better informed or become more “Knowledgeable”! In other words my effort is not to become an “expert”,  but “expertise” evolves as a result of decreasing ignorance and bias about the subject matter of choice! The more I empty the pot of its ignorance and bias,  it appears that the pot gets filled with knowledge. It is like the space, which is recognized by the negation of everything that is other than space! While space is everywhere, it is recognized only by its use! A room is a confined space is recognized only when it is in use. Knowledge is also recognized more through the evidences of its use rather than by mere acknowledgment of its presence.

Bias on the other hand seems to me more like a “balancing” act. I am not totally ignorant, but I am not sufficiently informed. In this situation, I have to make a choice, a trade off. While all events are due to the course of nature, some are to my liking (and I am happy) and some are not (and I am unhappy). I am aware that the words and their choices are based on the connectors of the speaker. Instead of focusing on the totality of the conversation – the speaker, the words spoken, intent, context, circumstances, etc. –  I like a few words and react positively. I don’t like few others and I recoil. I choose to react or pretend not to react. I can go on forever, but you get the point, about the choices, I hope!

But, what fascinates me the most is the degree of certainty associated with me, when I am totally ignorant! I am reversing my car, with absolute certainty until I bang the rear of my car against the garage door that has not been opened. The moment my car hits the door, my ignorance (that the garage door is not open) has vanished. Now as my ignorance has vanished, I become better informed! I am more knowledgeable!

This certainty of ignorance also has its strange consequences. It is almost impossible to argue with anyone who is ignorant on a subject matter. One of my colleagues frequently mentioned to me the advice from his father: “Don’t argue with a fool, since there are two in the room by then”! It appears that only through facilitation and engagement in activities that requires pertinent use of the knowledge that the certainty of ignorance can be replaced. This is easier said than done. The certainty which masquerades the ignorance creates huge barriers for engagement that challenges the ignorance. As an example, I believe I am an expert in a given field. The more certain I am of this belief, the more ignorant I will become on that subject matter! My expertise needs to become evident through constant exploration and engagement and a willingness to learn. Such a person never believes that he is an “expert” with the degree of certainty that someone else of lesser knowledge feels. This certainty of ignorance also creates barriers for our learning to dispel such ignorance. If I find myself in a situation, where everyone speaks only kind words and compliments and do not wish to be critical or offer ideas or alternatives, then I feel that my certainty of ignorance may be playing havoc for my own good! By creating a climate where only compliments are welcome, we are also creating a situation where our ignorance grows like the mushroom (shielded away from the warm glow of reasoning, logic and debate).  Failure is not the outcome of ignorance. Unwillingness to challenge ourselves and allow others and circumstances to challenge us may indeed be a sure sign of the certainty of ignorance!

Success and popularity has its price in terms of promoting the certainty of ignorance. This is illustrated through an ancient Sanskrit poem: “Oh, King! It is easier to find people who will always speak nice and kind words to you. It is difficult indeed to find people who would either listen or speak harsh but necessary words, at the appropriate time”. Our Sanskrit teacher asked, “Do you know why this poem is addressed to the king?” Then he answered, “the more successful, powerful and influential you are, less likely that people are going to tell you directly on matters you are ignorant about”! As I grow older I am beginning to find that each and every one of us is successful, influential and hence powerful in our own limited ways!

Sadly ignorance cannot be diminished by oneself and on one’s own accord! It requires external inputs, stimuli, engagement and experimentation. There is a tendency to avoid helping others to get over their ignorance in the pretext of being nice to each other, not to be too critical or “let me mind my own business”! These are indeed tradeoffs – the bias – we need to deal with. Sometimes one may need to be proactive and at other times we may need to let the course of nature play it out. But, consistent reliance to only either one side of these trade-offs, may reflect the certainty of our own ignorance!

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