Unaware of Extent of Ignorance

From Wikipédia

L’ignorance est un décalage entre la réalité et une perception de cette réalité, décalage qui est la conséquence d’une croyance, d’un préjugé, d’une illusion ou d’un fait avéré de ne pas savoir. C’est une notion importante du bouddhisme, de l’hindouisme et de la philosophie occidentale.

Approche orientale

Dans le bouddhisme, l’ignorance (avidyā) est la première étape de la chaîne des causes de la souffrance (dukkha) et est considérée comme un des Trois Poisons. Elle induit les passions et cause les renaissances.

Dans l’hindouisme, c’est d’abord l’ignorance de sa véritable nature recouverte par les obscurcissements successifs de la conscience pure (le Soi) produits par le désir et l’attachement.

Monde contemporain

Depuis le XXe siècle, ce concept joue un rôle important en économie, en particulier dans le domaine de la veille stratégique et de l’intelligence économique.

On distingue :

  • L’ignorance savante, c’est celle de celui qui « sait qu’il ne sait pas »
  • L’ignorance profonde c’est celle de celui qui « ne sait pas qu’il ne sait pas ».

Dans la langue allemande, on distingue l’ignorance fortuite, « das Nichtwissen » (le non savoir), de l’ignorance volontaire, « das Totschweigen » (le fait de passer sous silence). Cette proposition est discutable. En allemand, “Ignoranz” peut signifier aussi une sorte d’inculture assumée, entachée d’obscurantisme et de trivialité.

Des travaux ont contribué à l’élaboration d’une épistémologie de l’ignorance qui montre que ces deux types d’ignorance entretiennent des rapports complexes, y compris chez les chercheurs scientifiques. Ainsi, une conceptualisation des ignorances et de leur gestion intellectuelle a été entreprise dans Les ignorances des savants, par Roger Lenglet et Théodore Ivainer.

Dans l’industrie, l’application d’un coefficient d’ignorance permet de garantir la sécurité de tout ou partie d’un système technique.


When I first started doing personal development training, I encountered a lot of resistance and a great deal of ignorance. People thought that they knew it all. They thought that their planning and execution skills were top notch. Yet give a bunch of intellectually able, arrogant and pushy young things a simple task with a mild element of personal danger and time after time it would result in a chaos with people talking over each other and puffing out their chest. Ego does not facilitate brilliant interpersonal skills. These people had never seen a truly slick and coordinated team in action, but they assumed that they were slick and coordinated. Their opinions were inflated by the Montgolfier brothers.

I must have done two dozen of these residential team development courses. Before the course people assumed that they didn’t need it, some even told me this, after the course they almost invariably had some benefit if not a road to Damascus experience. In general, I did not have to push to get a crisis and I never was really severe. I could easily have ramped things up. Usually at least one person would have a big drama “look at me” meltdown. And this would be a turning point for the group.

Many people consider themselves intellectuals and perhaps have a wide knowledge base. But there will be gaps. If you are good at science, it does not mean a priori that skills base is transferrable. My sister used to bemoan the ineptitude of science graduates, some from top universities, entering her profession. People might have heard of Buddhism and even claim to have some Buddhist leanings. Hell, they may even have bought a Buddha statue at the garden centre. But unless they made the effort, they would be largely ignorant at the depth and extent of Buddhist thought and literature in all its 57 varieties. They are unaware of that which they do not know.

I have worked in higher education and as a consequence have met some intellectually arrogant and downright pompous people over the years. Some of these have near zero idea that there are vast gaps in their knowledge. They do not care. Why should they? I have met people who have no idea what an academic from an august institution is capable of assimilating. I asked an ex-student not so long ago, “how good is your maths?”  He replied cagily because he knew, by experience, what people like me can be capable of. The CEO of the company we formed was a man of little intellect and was basically a follower of fashion, he could not give a reason other than that is where everyone else is going. People have been smug about outsmarting me, in their eyes. Which end of the stick might they have?

In general, if I say I have looked into something it does not mean that I have asked Google or Wiki. It is so often, in my case, by way of a statement mis-perceived as a glancing exploration. I like to fathom.

Many people assume they know more than they do. I once found a graphic which said something along the lines of “Instant Expert Just Add Beer / Wine”. I could not find it today.

This brings me back to the title. It leads to an interesting thought form.

Has it ever occurred to you {oh omniscient one} that there might be gaps in your knowledge?

Is it possible to be fully aware of the extent of your ignorance?

If so, how might you quantify that extent?

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