The Value of Ignorance

Stuart Firestein, the author of Ignorance: How It Drives Science uses the word ignorance, at least in part, to be intentionally provocative.  But let’s take a moment to define the kind of ignorance that Firestein is referring to it, because ignorance as many bad connotations, especially in common usage, and he doesn’t mean any of those.  That “kind of ignorance is willful stupidity; worse than simple stupidity, it is a callow indifference to facts or logic.  It shows itself as a stubborn devotion two uninformed opinions, ignoring (same route) contrary ideas, opinions, or data.  The ignorant are unaware, unenlightened, uninformed, and surprisingly often occupy elected offices.  We can all agree that none of this is good.”*

Knowledge is built on facts. We know a lot because there is considerable knowledge out there for all of us to benefit from.  AND there is a lot we don’t know yet.  It may seem strange to suggest that NEW knowledge is often built on the edges of our ignorance.  Thinking deeply about our ignorance becomes a potentially productive endeavor.

Firestein makes the point that: “The facts serve mainly to access the ignorance.  You use those facts to frame a new question . . .  In other words, scientists don’t concentrate on what they know, which is considerable but also minuscule, but rather on what they’d don’t know.  The one big fact is that science traffics in ignorance, cultivates it, and is driven by it.”**

Being the positive person I try to be, I have to admit that I find ignorance to be a powerful driving force.  I am the kind of person who wants to move forward and make a difference for the common good.  That means that to effectively serve the common good we have to be willing to go to the edge of our knowledge and explore the possible next steps for change.  That means we will not know if all our actions or even what we may focus on, related to forward movement, will prove to be fruitful for the common good.  Yet, being willing to move into the  edges of ignorance  is where potential lies.

*Page 6 of  ** Page 15 of Ignorance: How It Drives Success

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