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On Reaching My Maximum Ignorance

March 3, 2009

NOTE: Rather than post something new today, I thought I’d release this one from the drafts. It was formerly called “Denial of Sanity Attack (Part 1)”, but upon reflection I think the above title is more fitting.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link at Ace of Spades! Be sure to click through for the whole Kevin Kelly post I found through Vanderleun.

October 26, 2008 “Denial of Sanity Attack” (Part 1)

The blitz of comments and factoids here at the society for the politically incontinent has reached epic proportions. There’s no way to respond to them all, especially for someone with my limited time resources. I do have a life.

The thing that strikes me the most is the sense of counterfeit logic; what seems like a well-thought out response turns out to be riding on major unproven assumptions, logical fallacy, denial of common sense etc. It’s wearisome beyond belief. Not that my own process is beyond reproach (although I certainly do my best to dispel that notion).

Call it a Denial of Sanity Attack. Factoid after study after survey after poll after campaign statement after news report comes day after day. . .every freakin’ day. I can’t get enough, yet I’ve had enough.

This is not a defense of anti-intellectualism nor a rejection of science. It is, however, approaching a mathematical certainty that this is a product of science and a certain kind of intellect- soul killing, untroubled, and ultimately anti-human. Consider Exhibit A, a chart by the brilliant Kevin Kelly from “The Expansion of Ignorance”:

Here you can plainly see the ignorance gap is growing rapidly. Kelly observes:

Thus even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially faster. And as mathematicians will tell you, the widening gap between two exponential curves is itself an exponential curve. That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially.  In other words, science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge.

We have no reason to expect this to reverse in the future… In fact, it’s a safe bet that we have not asked our biggest questions yet.

Or, to put it another way, we have not yet reached our maximum ignorance.

Yet the march towards “progress” marches on, ever confident of fixing all ills with new technology, new approaches, certain that one day we will finally get to our “biggest questions”. When those are answered, we will… what? What’s the purpose of it all?

Dick Meyer at NPR expressed some of these frustrations in a political context; after wondering about the contradictions of the respective campaigns he notes:

Figuring out what empirical data — which facts, what reality — to weigh seriously is vexing.

The problem is what Daniel Boorstin calls “pseudo-events”:

A pseudo-event is something so pervasive in public life now that it is invisible: campaign ads filled with lies, financial claims by corporations that are false, beer ads that are 10 paces past absurd or reality shows that are as real as Santa’s elves.

The tragedy of it all: We’re on to it. We know the phoniness of political campaigns, for example. We might not know exactly what “reality” is, but we know an illusion when we see one.

In other words, we’re aware of the Kelly curve above, especially in regards to politics. Never before have we had so much information on which to judge a candidate- and never before have the “pseudo-events” and media driven narratives weighed so heavily on us. We know it’s an illusion. We know the gap between questions and answers is widening.

Meyer has no faith he knows either candidate- a first for him. I personally think he’s in denial about the truth of Barack Obama and doesn’t want to admit it. There are a great many disturbing facts about him which have not been pursued in a diligent way by the media, but they point to a great swath of ignorance about him that is truly horrific for a man seemingly about to become the President of the United States.

•••

There it is, with minimal edits. The financial crisis has only deepened my sense of suspicion of “the narrative” espcially the one being given by the current administration. To be suspicious of others is not to know yourself though, and I am still struggling to come to a decent understanding of what and is happening.

The questions are mounting, as is my maximum ignorance.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Timmy C. permalink
    March 5, 2009 7:56 pm

    I agree with this observation:

    “That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially. In other words, science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge.”

    An analogy I’d heard of that seemed apt to me was this: Think of our growing knowledge about well, everything, as being similar to a Hawaiian volcanic island growing quickly each day/month/year.

    Now think about our new questions and the new (and old) things that we don’t understand as understand as the shoreline of that island. Our ignorance is at the “edges” of what we know or think we do.

    So by it’s nature: the more we know and the “bigger” the island of knowledge gets by definition, the larger the “shoreline” of our new questions gets.

    If that analogy is a good one, then the chart you showed of growing knoweldge but also growing questions and ignorance of new things while true, may not be negative process at all. It may just be how learning things works.

    But the one negative I think you are calling out is being so awashed in facts and fact-like products, that it just confuses everting. I do agree with the fact that the more information we create, the more facts that we are awash in, the more the need for good context.

  2. March 6, 2009 8:40 pm

    This is a very concise and accurate view of where we stand.

    The good news is that it provides a ray of hope that we’ll be able to pull ourselves out of our current problems with as yet undiscovered technologies because our understanding of the universe and everything in it is so primitive at the moment.

    We are like ants crawling around the sidewalk at the base of the Empire State building trying to comprehend what a skyscraper is, yet all we comprehend is basically two dimensions because all we can do is crawl

  3. March 7, 2009 11:57 am

    Making their case. You’ve been cited. Now, please correct this immediately before the There Police arrest you for public pillory.

  4. March 7, 2009 6:35 pm

    I’ve searched this post for the problem but theres nothing I can do about it…

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