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Is ignorance really bliss?

ignoranceAccording to the age old saying, “Ignorance is bliss”. This implies that we can hope to stay blissfully happy if we remain ignorant of life’s inevitable pitfalls… or so the saying would want to make us believe. To be honest it sounds correct on the surface. After all, when you don’t know how ruthless and unfair the world can be, you are in effect shielded from the mental torment that such knowledge brings. When you don’t know how hard becoming a surgeon or mastering a musical instrument really is, you are more apt to paint a pleasurable vision of these accomplishments with a naive disregard for the intense hard work and drudgery these disciplines require over extended periods of time. When you don’t know how hard it is to love the same person for 30+ years, you are more likely to fetishize the idea of holy matrimony. On the other side of the coin, knowledge of a potentially negative outcome can make us fearful and skittish. For instance, fighters who have previously been knocked out in a combat sport become less likely to take the calculated risks needed for victory in future battles. People who have been fired from previous jobs refrain from asserting themselves at the next one for fear of repeating the same fate. Athletes returning from a serious injury sustained in their competitive sport of choice often lose the verve that once made them unstoppable. At first glance all these points seem to validate the “ignorance is bliss” cliche… but is this really true? Does the saying – ignorance is bliss – really stand up to intensely thoughtful scrutiny on a deeper level?

The idea of blissful ignorance simply does not hold up in this four dimensional reality we exist in. It doesn’t take much deep thought for the notion equating ignorance to bliss to fall apart like a house of cards on a windy San Francisco day. The truth is that ignorance can be downright disastrous for both the individual and for our species as a whole. So what if you or I don’t know that the amazon river is home to deadly flesh eating fish called piranha? “Blissful” ignorance won’t stop you or I from turning into piranha lunch if we dared to go swimming close to a school of them. So what if we are good and kind people who choose not to acknowledge the force of gravity? The blunt truth is that if either of us stepped off the top of a tall building, gravity will have no qualms pile driving you or I into the ground at a constant rate of acceleration (9.8m/s2 to be precise) regardless of how well liked or nice we are. Ignorance doesn’t protect any of us from the harsh realities of our fleeting existence… on the contrary, ignorance actually seems like a dangerous handicap rather than pure bliss.

Over the years I have come to see ignorance as the root cause of many problems throughout history. Ignorance isn’t something to be embraced as a form of bliss. Rather, it is something we should all actively rebel against. If we consider most of the worst aspects of human nature down to their very essence, we will inevitably find ignorance as one of the causative factors. Some of the most deplorable things that we humans have done to one another and to our beautiful planet spring from this insidious and seemingly inexhaustible well of ignorance. In earlier times, wars were fought and lives were lost over farm land because people didn’t know that year over year crop rotation maintains soil fertility for much longer periods. This knowledge would have obviated the need for neighboring villages to go to war with each other over fertile plots of land, saving many lives as a result. In my home country of Nigeria, tribes in the state of Calabar used to kill twins at birth because my people erroneously thought it was a sign of demonic witchcraft until Mary Slessor (1848–1915) set us straight. Racism only exists because people don’t know that the same 4 nucleotides (Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine) are the building blocks of all human DNA regardless of race. As a matter of fact, the more you realize how similar we are to one another on the fundamental level of our genetics, the more you realize how silly racism is. We only burn fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere because we don’t know how to effectively harness more sustainable sources of energy yet… thank goodness for Elon Musk who looks well on his way to solving that puzzle. Even envy is another twisted form of ignorance because those who are jealous of another’s talents or abilities aren’t aware of how truly special they themselves are and are perhaps blind to the gold mine of talent that lies within them. If only we all resolved to look within and get so involved in cultivating and building ourselves into better people, the world would be a much better place and no one would have time or energy to waste on envy. The problem is that a lot of us haven’t done enough introspection and study to know that we can evolve to higher and higher levels of excellence in all aspects of life because we have become collectively distracted by technology.

It is a glaring paradox that this technologically advanced information age that we live in has collectively dimmed our intellectual faculties. We no longer do any math in our heads because calculators do that for us. We no longer know anything by heart because, well, Google knows everything. We no longer strive to develop social intelligence or learn more about our world because most of us are too busy watching season 5 of “Breaking Bad” for the fifth time, or staring at addictive cat videos on YouTube to make an earnest effort. Let me say that I have absolutely nothing against technology… I actually have immense respect for the tremendous power it has given our species. However, anything can turn detrimental if used in the wrong way or out of all reasonable proportion. The truth is that technology is neither good nor bad, it is only as good as the folks who make use of it. Succumbing to our natural human laziness and completely deferring to technology will help none of us in the end. We simply cannot rely solely on technology to solve all our problems without any effort on our part. Instead, we must all go in the opposite direction of this troubling trend and see technology as an invaluable tool for educating ourselves on the issues affecting our fellow brothers and sisters and the wider world. We must use the “samurai sword” of technology to ruthlessly slice through the thick film of ignorance that constantly threatens us on all levels.

Although actively fighting against ignorance is a critically important first step, the ultimate end goal must be a practical application of the knowledge gathered for the sustenance and advancement of the world. I leave you with the following quote from the incomparable martial arts master and icon, Bruce Lee.

“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” ~ Bruce Lee (1940-1973)
Without Wax
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.
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4 thoughts on “Is ignorance really bliss?

  1. ” If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion ”
    – Noam Chomsky

    At times it is necessary to live in this world, because our mind cannot continually cope with the harsh realities of existence; it is a defense mechanism.

    With that said, I believe that true strength can only be obtained by resisting the temptation to stay ignorant and “blissful” and to face the unknown and uncomfortable

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here William. I understand where you are coming from and support your thought process in part. As you are alluding to, I also believe technology and other worldly distractions are good ways to turn the brain off and give it a rest for ~1-2 hours a day. That being said, a constant return to reality and a deep grounding of oneself in it is for me the ultimate goal for a healthy state of being. Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Moyede… I appreciate your support. Glad this resonated with you, and thanks for stopping by!

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