Sunday, June 03, 2012

Great and Universal Ignorance

The Internet is full of experts, people busily self-branding themself as the go-to person for whatever is the current marketable bit of technology or business or academic fashion. Personally, I've never had much interest in passing myself off as an expert, I'm more fascinated by the huge and ever-growing ensemble of things that I don't know than what I actually do know. To get Rumsfeldian about it, there are the known unknowns – the things I know I don't know (but would like to, if time were infinite), and even at my advanced age there are unknown unknowns, knowable things I am not even aware exist.

Anyway, this passage from a curious little cult book I read in my youth has always stuck with me (emphasis added):
Discoveries of any great moment in mathematics and other disciplines, once they are discovered, are seen to be extremely simple and obvious, and make everybody, including their discoverer, appear foolish for not having discovered them before. It is all too often forgotten that the ancient symbol for the prenascence of the world is a fool, and that foolishness, being a divine state, is not a condition to be either proud or ashamed of.

Unfortunately, we find systems of education today which have departed so far from the plain truth, that they now teach us to be proud of what we know and ashamed of ignorance. This is doubly corrupt. It is corrupt not only because pride is in itself a mortal sin, but also because to teach pride in knowledge is to put up an effective barrier against any advance upon what is already known, since it makes one ashamed to look beyond the bonds imposed by one's ignorance.

To any person prepared to enter with respect into the realm of his great and universal ignorance, the secrets of being will eventually unfold, and they will do so in measure according to his freedom from natural and indoctrinated shame in his respect of their revelation.

– G. Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form

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