Monday, November 25, 2013

Ignorance is (almost) never bliss!

The phrase "Ignorance is bliss" is frequently disputed, but I see no reason for argument in its defense. Why would ignorance be considered bliss? What personal calamity could possibly come about from knowing something? (Granted, the corrupt needn't know certain forms of science or means of persuasion, but here I will focus on the good of oneself - and not society at large - for argument's sake.)
Some would argue that happiness is more important than knowledge. Admirable as this idea is, it is not guaranteed to last long. For as a good friend of mine said, "[Ignorance is] far easier to break than the possession of knowledge." Being disillusioned of a false notion may not always be pleasant, but information can help to avert future harm. For instance, I would not relish knowing that an assassin was stalking me, but I would rather be scared into action than be temporarily content.

Aforesaid friend also alludes to characters in Orwell's Animal Farm as an example of this heavily and dangerously flawed form of thought. I agree, for the most part, with this comparison. But even if one lives to be very old and dies without ever discovering an appalling truth, others around one suffer endlessly. If one argues that being blind to the strifes of one's neighbors for the sake of one's own peace, then one is simply egocentric. The metaphor I often picture here is of a drunk driver who may retain no immediate bodily damage, but causes plenty of physical harm to fellow drivers. Ethics aside, I must emphasize that for safety reasons, one cannot rely on other drivers to swerve away, because if more than one party is intoxicated, the likelihood of a twisted highway wreck increases. It is imprudent and unsafe to assume or hope that others in any scenario will watch out for one, because they just might possess that same demented idea.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson said something along the lines of "I cannot think of a single time when not knowing something is better than knowing it." (Paraphrased from memory.) Kudos, Dr. Tyson, for your attempts to dispel so many people's stubbornly clinging to unenlightened and selfish elation. However, I can think of a few examples for when ignorance could be better than knowledge; however, all of them are temporary.

Coming to a conclusion in many fields - including mathematics - requires a deductive process. Being told in the beginning that the "x" equals five is generally useless because giving away the final answer tends to spoil the learning of an experimental approach. The same applies to watching a film or a play, or reading a novel: knowing the ending - particularly if there is a plot twist - can ruin the anticipation of the storyline's buildup. (The latter is subjective; I don't particularly mind spoilers at this point, but I understand why people do.)

But as I said, these are both temporary ignorances. In the long run, so I'd say that Dr. Tyson's statement still holds true for this reason.

When one relates to another a description of something unsavory such as a bodily function, the second person is likely to respond with "T.M.I.!" (too much information) or "I don't want to know." I can usually get over gross-outs fairly quickly, but I don't condone them if they are merely relayed for the sake of reactions. Medical professionals are one thing, but in general, these details provide no use in advancing society.

That brings me to my final point: While knowledge is not bad, it is not always good, either. Some things are just irrelevant. Admittedly, I am a glutton for enlightenment, but I do not expect all to share my same passions. Due to the mortality of our species, it sometimes behooves one to learn particular things over others before dying. While I cannot picture myself studying something too narrow for half a century before retiring, neither do I wish to aimlessly skip stones across the surface every edification I see while delving into none. It's all about time management in my case, but ultimately, I believe that everyone should be able to make his, her, or their own choices regarding knowledge, though I sincerely hope that those choices do not hinder others.