An Essay Featured In The Map Is Indestructible by O.G. Rose
The Phenomenology of (True) Ignorance
What’s it like not to know what we’re talking about? Unfortunately, it’s often like knowing what we’re talking about. Ignorance feels like knowledge, and we, informed about this but uninformed about that, usually participate in “civil debate” unaware that destroying democracy and contributing to it feel the same. In each of us, ignorance is certain.
What does it feel like to operate in the world while not fully knowing the world in which we operate? Problematically, it feels like operating in a world that we fully understand. If we truly don’t understand something, we don’t even understand that we don’t understand it. If we understand that we’re ill-informed, we’re on the road to understanding. But if we’re not on that road, we don’t even know we’re standing off to the side.
The True Isn’t the Rational by O.G. Rose is filled with reflections on how ideology is experienced, how no one experiences an ideology as “unjustified” or “incomplete,” how “the map is indestructible,” and more. This paper will focus particularly on the experience of ignorance, which is always located within an ideology (and hence surrounded by a system that hides the ignorance within/behind a sense of “knowing”). We will discuss how we don’t experience true ignorance in ourselves, only ignorance we know about (which isn’t true ignorance). Similar to “On Critical Thinking” by O.G. Rose, this work concerns itself with our ignorance about ignorance, and how this has hurt us, our societies, and our relationships. When we don’t know that ignorance feels like knowledge, suffering soon follows.
Usually when someone uses the word “ignorance,” it comes with a connotation of the possibility of knowing we’re ignorant, for this is the only kind of ignorance we can comprehend: to think of “ignorance we don’t know as ignorance” (“true ignorance”) is to suddenly translate it into “ignorance (which we know of as “ignorance”).” We cannot know ignorance in its “native tongue,” per se: the only ignorance we can comprehend is a state of “knowing we don’t know,” for the moment we begin trying to know a state of “not knowing what we don’t know,” we attempt the impossible. Hence, we have no experience or idea of the state which defines most of our lives. For our “knowing” is always an island located within a much vaster ocean of “ignorance,” and that ocean is part of a much larger world of “true ignorance,” and yet, necessarily to us, that island is the world.
When we look at a bookcase, we don’t experience a sense of ignorance, but of “knowing” and/or “grasping.” If we thought “that’s a bookcase,” we would experience a sense of knowing, more so than a feeling of “not understanding all there is to know about the bookcase.” We may not know how the bookcase was made, who designed it, which books occupied the selves, etc., but those additional ideas wouldn’t typically dawn on us unless we took the time to think about them. If we’re just glancing at the bookcase (which is how we tend to “take in” most things in a day), we feel like we’re taking in all there is to take in. And why would we even take the extra time to recognize we know little about the bookcase, seeing as our experience of it gives us no reason to dive into these additional thoughts? Unless the bookcase falls or breaks or we’re amazed by the artistry, we have no reason to wonder about who designed it. If the bookcase doesn’t “stand out” from our everyday life, we experience it as if “grasping” it, and then we move on without a second thought. After all, no second thought seems needed.
We don’t experience the world with a sense of “not grasping” but of “grasping,” and this feeling is a reason why we are so primed to not recognize what we don’t recognize. If we don’t understand fully what constitutes a bookcase, it is not the case that when we look at it, we naturally and immediately see red letters over it screaming, “You only understand 67% of this entity!” Rather, we experience the bookcase as we would if we were an expert on bookcases: it stands there, holding books, affirming our “grasp.” We glance over it and, again, continue on with our business, and unless for some reason it “stands out to us,” we don’t even begin to inquire into the level by which we understand the object. We move on, “grasping” all the way.
Generally, we only stop and “grasp” that we didn’t understand the bookcase fully if it ceased working in the way we thought it should; otherwise, we don’t take the time to think about to the degree we “grasped” the object. To use Heidegger’s brilliant point, as we don’t notice a doorknob until it breaks — it’s “invisible” to us until the dysfunction — so little in our experience “stands out” to us unless it ceases to function within our experience in the manner we think it should and/or are habituated to (beauty, for example, “stands out” because most things are just aesthetically “normal,” per se). But in this circumstance, our mode is still “grasping,” for we “grasp” that the bookcase isn’t functioning properly, and/or we “grasp” that we don’t fully understand the object. “Grasping” still occurs and “leads the way.” If we look at the bookcase and think we need to add a book to it, it “stands out,” and that’s because the idea of what the bookcase should be (in this case, “that which holds more books”) doesn’t match its current actuality: there is a discontent, a kind of brokenness. But still, we “grasp” this discontent: we know it (as itself).
“Grasping” basically is experience: we cannot experience (via a mode of) “not grasping.” Even if we are listening to a professor and don’t know what he’s saying, we know we don’t understand the professor — we “grasp” our misunderstanding — hence, what guides our experience is “knowing.” If we experienced things in the world with a guide of “not knowing,” we practically couldn’t engage with anything in the world (we’d likely freeze up). When we look at a thing and don’t know what it is, we know we don’t know what it is (we know that we’re experiencing something that we’re not fully experiencing), but if we looked at a thing and didn’t know we were experiencing it, we’d act as if nothing was there. We’d act like a senseless person walking through a city, approaching objects but not seeing or hearing them, appearing to recognize the things by how we walk toward them but into them. We’d be in constant danger and practically indefinable from an inanimate object, though we would have every appearance of animation. We’d be in the world and last not every long at all.
It is deeply unnatural to experience a thing and recognize “I don’t know that I don’t know everything about this thing,” but even if we did engage in this thought, we would still know that we “didn’t know that we didn’t know.” It is impossible to experience, think, or feel without “grasping” leading the way. We never experience a true state of “not grasping,” and this not only primes us to naturally preserve ideology (as discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose), but also to never experience true ignorance in ourselves, only in others.
To be blunt, we are incapable of experiencing our true ignorance.
As far as I can tell, there are four possible states of awareness:
We don’t know we don’t know.
We know we don’t know.
We know we know.
States 2, 3, and 4 are what humans (can) experience, while they can’t experience State 1 (directly). To experience is to “grasp,” and so when we experience x, we experience either a(n) (unconscious) sense of knowing it or not knowing it: a “knowing we don’t know” or “knowing (we know).” Hence, experience is such that we can never experience State 1, and which means our experience is such that we are always hidden from our true ignorance. For if our “grasping”-mind were to turn and gaze upon what we are “truly ignorant,” suddenly and all at once, we would experience only “ignorance,” a “knowing we don’t know.” In other words, if our mind’s eye were to gaze upon a State 1, it would suddenly transform into a State 2, as if it was always a State 2 (a “flip moment,” as discussed in The Conflict of Mind by O.G. Rose).
Yes, from this new State 2 of premise x, we can retrospectively recognize there was a time when we were in a State 1 relative to premise x, and hence recognize the existence of State 1 (as we are in this paper), but we still won’t experience State 1. In other words, we will come to “grasp” the existence of State 1 situations (within a State 2 or 3), but we will not experience a State 1 as a State 1: that experience is forever inaccessible.
Additionally, this retrospective recognition of the existence of State 1 won’t happen naturally, meaning experience itself won’t lead a person into this revelation. Rather, as thinking “hides” perception (as discussed in “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose), experience itself will (invisibly) transform a State 1 into a State 2 and let the observer continue on with life as if nothing happened. At best, experience will naturally lead an observer to experiencing a change of a State 1 into a State 2 as “learning,” which may unfortunately contribute to us having more confidence in our understanding of reality (seeing as we “learn,” as do intelligent people), rather than a more profound realization of the presence of ignorance in our life (as needed for intellectual humility).
To experience is to “grasp,” which means State 1 is always experienced as State 2. However, while we cannot experience ourselves within State 1, we can experience others in State 1, but this unfortunately just sets us up to believe we would recognize State 1 if we were to enter it. When we never then enter State 1, we have reason to believe we’re right about what we believe, and when we experience others in State 1, we have “reason to believe” they’re wrong about what they believe. And perhaps we’re right, but our experience of the world makes this difficult to say either way.
When it comes to ignorance, experience itself places others at a disadvantage to us. If we don’t know we don’t know premise x, then we within ourselves are incapable of ever learning that we don’t know premise x; we must encounter something outside ourselves to make us realize that we are in State 1. But immediately we translate our State 1 into a State 2 and experience it as such, and so even though something outside of ourselves can theoretically “awaken us” to our true ignorance, in a sense, it cannot make us experience that true ignorance as true ignorance: that experience is forever beyond us. However, experience doesn’t place beyond us the “true ignorance” of others; in fact, the only possibility we have of experiencing true ignorance (at least indirectly) is through everyone else.
We learn what general ignorance is through others more so than through ourselves, not necessarily because other people are more ignorant, but because their ignorance is more “visible.” When we experience our own ignorance, we experience it as “acknowledging our ignorance,” which is an act of wisdom. Hence, when we experience our ignorance, we almost always experience it positively, as a testament to our intelligence and “knowing” (for it is smart to recognize what we don’t know). When we “grasp” our own ignorance, we perceive ourselves as being enlightened, but when we “grasp” the ignorance of others, we don’t experience it (positively) “as the other ‘grasping’ their ignorance” (as we necessarily experience ourselves encountering our own ignorance). Rather, we experience external ignorance precisely as “the other ‘not grasping’ their ignorance — how we experience external ignorance is virtually the exact opposite of how we experience it in ourselves. This is a problem that contributes to tribalism, political turmoil, and worse.
Though we necessarily experience our State 1 as a State 2, we experience the State 1 of others as a State 1 (for we don’t experience the world through the “grasping” of “the other” — that would require inhabiting their consciousness — only through our own “grasping”). Worse yet, we experience the other’s State 1 so clearly and obviously that we naturally believe “the other” is intentionally trying to keep out the truth (especially since the brain struggles to think in terms of non-intention, as discussed in “Meaningful and Metaphoric Tendencies” by O.G. Rose, since thinking itself is an intentional act) — we tend to think the other “grasps” that he/she is ignorant and yet does nothing about it. This gives us both the impression that we have “higher intentions’ than others, and that if we were in a State 1, it would be obvious to us. Deluded into believing this, we likely see no reason to attempt “critical thinking,” believing we already “critically think” (as discussed in “On Critical Thinking” by O.G. Rose).
Lastly, another reason we can experience “true ignorance” in others but not ourselves is because we don’t experience the system of rationality, experiences, impressions, etc. that supports (like scaffolding) the ideas and ideologies of others; rather, we experience others through our system of rationality, experiences, impressions, etc. In other words, we encounter “the other” through our lens, not theirs, and our lens is only really understanding “of” us (it’s how it’s calibrated). When we encounter a Conservative who is against lowing coal emissions, we don’t experience the memory of the person seeing his best friend suffer poverty after losing his coal factory job; rather, we experience a person who we were told about on MSNBC who denies hard science, and we instead experience a memory of our time in China when we couldn’t breathe because the air quality was so dreadful. The justifications supporting the ideas of “the other” are hidden from us behind our impressions and interpretations of those ideas. However, when we consider our ideas, we experience their justification(s) (their “scaffolding”), which means we necessarily experience our ideas as “more informed” than the ideas of “the other,” priming us to experience “the other” as more ignorant than ourselves. We necessarily experience our ideas and premises as much more supported than we experience the ideas and premises of anyone else, because while we always experience our “internal scaffolding,” we never experience the “internal scaffolding” of others.
Why did we “pick” worldview x and not worldview y? The answer to that inquiry is likely a matter of “high order complexity” (to allude to “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose), and the answer changes from particular person to particular person (from “you” to “you”). But why do we believe what we believe? Because we’re certain that what we believe is true. But what is certainty? That question is explored by Wittgenstein in On Certainty, which is the thought behind “Certainty Deterrence and Ideology Preservation” by O.G. Rose. Here, I only want to explore the experience of certainty and how that contributes to our inability to understand our “true ignorance.”
Our “grasping” is an extension of certainty in(to) the world. As it could be said that our “grasping” leads us, so it could be said that our “certainty” does the same. When we experience a bookcase, we are certain it is a bookcase (even without thinking about it) (in this world in which certainty is mostly impossible). We may not think, “That’s a bookcase,” but when we experience the object (thoughtlessly), we don’t expect it to suddenly turn into a horse. To put it another way, what we experience we expect to “act as it is” — to stay “solid,” per se — to stay as its ontology (according to us) would have it “be.” In this sense, we exist in a state of certainty that things have been, are, and will be what things have been, are, and will be.² Phenomenologically, we are in a world of objects that say to us, “We are what (you think) we are,” and unfortunately, objects teach us to think this way of people. If we think some people are fools, they say to us in their being, “We are idiots”; if we think others are brilliant, they say to us “We are smart.” Our lives are full of speaking.
Certainty hides ignorance, and since we know what we don’t know (though not what we truly don’t know), we tend to become certain that if we were ignorant about something, we would know and realize we were so ignorant. And so certainty not only hides from us what we don’t know we don’t know, but also takes from us a sense that we need to be motivated to search for that which we don’t know we don’t know. And even if we did search and find a State 1 within us, we’d experience it as a State 2, giving us reason to believe our search, which was intrinsically motivated and done despite an inherent sense of certainty, was unnecessary and perhaps due to unnecessary anxiety. As a result, if it even did arise, with time, the motivation fades away.
To continue with the main lien of thought: how do we know when we’re “well-informed?” When are we justified to “feel certain?” Unfortunately, when we don’t know what we don’t know, we feel like we know everything, for we either know what we know or we know what we don’t know. This means we grasp both our abilities and our limits, and since only God can be all-knowing, we “know everything” as much as is possible for a finite being (and know we do). Since no one can experience State 1, experience necessarily leads a person to believing they have achieved a state of knowledge that is the best a finite being can achieve. No one feels like they know everything, but they feel like they know they don’t know everything, and hence feel like they know everything (within the finite limits all humans must live and work within). Consequently, experience leads people to believing they know as much as finite beings can know: both feelings and experience can blind us from what constitutes State 1 within us.
According to Wittgenstein (and as discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose), as ‘it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed not doubted,’ so it also belongs to ideology.³ ‘[…] We just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put.’⁴ It’s impossible for finite beings to know and investigate everything, as it is impossible for us to realize everything we don’t know that we don’t know. And yet our ideological system necessarily leads us to feeling as if we have indeed “investigated everything,” that we assume nothing. Wittgenstein is correct that we are ‘forced to rest content with assumptions,’ and yet the system upheld by those assumptions necessarily leads us to feel that the system is grounded completely in actuality and that it is “earned all the way down.” No one experiences their worldview as unjustified or ungrounded, and yet no worldview is free of assumptions (though this doesn’t mean every worldview is false — our situation isn’t so easy).
When I encounter the assumptions that necessarily underlie my worldview, what do I experience to so hide their “assumptive nature?” When I think about Global Warming, for example, what comes to mind that makes me feel so sure that I understand it? To allude to Wittgenstein again, fragments from articles flash through my mind with segments of conversations and lectures, a sensation manifests of “knowing the truth” though not being able to articulate it, a feeling emerges of a time when “everything was clear” — on and on. What backs my certainty is a mixture of impressions that flicker through my heart and mind, and these impressions give me confidence. And this is especially true during the repulsion before “the other” who holds a different view, “the other” who not only threatens my worldview (that I feel certain is true), but who also presents a view that’s “internal scaffolding” I don’t experience like I experience my own “internal scaffolding.” With open eyes, my experience blinds me to both myself and “the other.”
According to Wittgenstein, ‘[a] system is something that a human being acquires by means of observation and instruction. [Wittgenstein] intentionally do[es] not say ‘learns.’ ’⁵ He writes:
‘What kinds of grounds have I for trusting text-books of experimental physics? / I have no grounds for not trusting them. And I trust them. I know how such books are produced — or rather, I believe I know. I have some evidence, but it does not go very far and is of a very scattered kind. I have heard, seen and read various things.’⁶
When I voice a view, encounter a view, etc., impressions of “scattered things” I’ve heard, seen, and read flash through my mind — “scattered things” which compose (a sense of) my “internal scaffolding.” And since I don’t experience my assumptions as “assumptions,” since I don’t experience my “true ignorance” (and instead necessarily feel “knowing”), and since I experience “my internal scaffolding” but not “the internal scaffolding of the other” (of whom I necessarily must believe is wrong to the degree “the other” doesn’t think like me, for otherwise I would think like that other), these impressions are more than enough to leave me with a sense of “certainty” and to “frame” those who stand against these impressions as absurd. And so, truly ignorant, I live on.
There is no such thing as a human being that is free of a worldview, and consequently, all ignorance is within a worldview, as all true ignorance is around the outskirts of a worldview. If I believe in God, then I believe people who don’t know God are “ignorant about God,” while Atheists don’t believe we can be “ignorant about God” really, for there is no God to be ignorant about. In this way, the Theistic worldview changes about what a person can and can’t be ignorant. If we don’t believe in Global Warming, there is a sense in which we can’t be ignorant about Global Warming, for there’s nothing about which to be ignorant. Of course, deniers of Global Warming wouldn’t put this case in such terms, but the point still applies and influences how motivated a person is to investigate the matter further. If we don’t believe in Global Warming, though we know others in the world do believe, within ourselves, we lack a source for the motivation to deeply investigate the topic: after all, according to our worldview, there’s nothing to investigate. If we gain this motivation, it’s likely thanks to encountering “an other” who believes differently from us, but when that “other” is gone, so likely goes our motivation. In this way, our motivation is such that it natural traps us in ourselves.
If we’re Liberal, we (“practically”) must believe that Liberalism is more valid than Conservatism; in other words, we must believe that there doesn’t exist an argument out there that proves Conservatism is “more valid.” If we believe in gun rights and Global Warming, we must believe (perhaps without realizing it) that there doesn’t exist an argument proving that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee “the right to bear arms,” nor does there exist an argument proving that Global Warming is a hoax. Why a person believes this is up to the individual in question — we have all “heard, seen, and read various things,” as Wittgenstein put it — but the point is that to believe argument x is to disbelieve in the existence of argument anti-x. This being the case, as a Liberal, we must (“practically”) believe there doesn’t exist an argument undermining Liberalism, and hence believe searching for that argument would (“practically”) be absurd — like the Atheist searching for God. Furthermore, as a Liberal unto ourselves, we’re not ignorant about this Conservative-justifying argument, for there’s no such argument to be ignorant of, just like for Atheists there’s no God which they fail to know. And so for Liberals to search for a Conservative-justifying argument is for a Liberal to have to act, relative to themselves, as absurd as Atheists searching for God. In this way, ascriptions to a worldview — and we all must ascribe to one — totally undermine all logics to look behind them, for what we are ignorant of cannot be what we are ignorant of, but that which isn’t there at all. This means that worldviews frame alternatives to them as “possible Pynchon Risks” — as possibly endless efforts to search for conclusions there is no guarantee we’ll ever find — as discussed throughout The True Isn’t the Rational.
To investigate for truth outside our worldview, we must feel “absurd” to some degree, and this feeling will hinder our motivation to really search for the truth. We may indeed look here and there — glancing at an article from a news source we don’t like for a few seconds, listening to a speaker who we disagree with for a minute or two, reading what we think is foolish (but a little less carefully than other things), etc. — but we will inevitably not feel as motivated to investigate the views we disagree with nearly as much as we will feel motivated to search for views, articles, books, etc. that concur with what we already believe: motivation is heavily on the side of strengthening our current beliefs (and so it’s probable that’s what we’ll do).⁷ Why? Because it is absurd to investigate what we don’t believe entails any truth to find, as it is absurd to look for a God we don’t believe exists. It’s a black hole, in fact: if the argument proving God isn’t out there, to begin searching for it is to begin an endless quest that we’ll never know when it’s appropriate to stop. On and on we may search, never sure when to stop, wasting our days and years, all while we have a job to work, a family to love, friends to see, and so on. Not only does the Pynchonian quest risk too much, but it feels absurd to even begin, and even if we were to succeed, what would we gain? A truth that would force us to restructure our entire worldview; a truth that would force us to change our life — and who wants all that work, especially if the life we live now is good? Especially if changing our worldview may cost us our friends and family? Especially if everyone currently thinks we’re objective and open-minded (and no one has ever dreamed of accusing us of being an ideologue)?
Living is not easy.
Whether we’re a Socialist, a Christian, a Conservative, a Buddhist, or something else, we “practically” believe — whether we want it to be the case or not — that there are no arguments undermining our positions or validating the positions we don’t hold. These arguments not existing, searching for them would “practically” be absurd, like searching for a mythical creature. Perhaps Big Foot does exist, but to look for him, we must act foolish — so it feels for a Liberal to search for an argument justifying unregulated free markets, or for a Conservative to search for an argument proving that gun rights should be taken from the public, etc. Because it feels this way (and also feels good to find arguments justifying our worldview), human motivation is radically primed for ideology preservation (and a magnificent way to accomplish this is for humans to convince themselves they aren’t ideologues, perhaps by telling themselves that they’re “always about” to investigate the other side). Our challenge is great, for our challenge is us.
That all said, the raw existence of “the other” — a Conservative while we’re a Liberal, for example — can lessen the absurd feeling of investigating Conservatism. The existence of people who think differently from us provides evidence that there may exist arguments that we don’t know exist, especially if the people we disagree with are are notably intelligent and reasonable. If we as an Atheist encounter a brilliant and kind Christian, this may make us feel less absurd to search (deeper) for a proof of God’s Existence. If we as a Conservative encounter a brilliant Liberal, we may listen to Milton Friedman more critically.⁸ The very existence of the possibility of “the other” who believes in what we don’t (assuming we don’t outright dismiss them, which our brains may want to gradually convince us we should) can function as a reminder that there could exist an argument out there proving that we are wrong — an argument about which we are “truly ignorant” (and perhaps we are intentionally trying to keep it that way without admitting to ourselves that this is what we’re doing).
Does the existence of “the other” who disagrees with us motivate us as strongly as does our internal motivations? Probably not: the motivational power of “the other” is weak compared to our own internal system, especially in a world that equips us with ways to disqualify from civil debate those who disagree with us (as discussed in “Assuming the Best,” “Basic Math,” “The Death of Skepticism,” “The Death of Process” — all by O.G. Rose). Additionally, if we are a Liberal, though we know there exist Conservatives who remind us of the possibility of an argument undermining Liberalism, if we are in fact still a Liberal, we must (“practically”) believe that “the possible argument” justifying Conservatism doesn’t exist. Yes, we may think Conservatives have good points, ideas, etc., but overall, we must believe Conservatism isn’t “as true” as Liberalism. But how can we possibly know this unless we’ve read and listened to everything?
We must all make a “leap of faith,” to borrow from Kierkegaard, and as Wittgenstein said, ‘[w]e just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption.’⁹ This doesn’t mean we can’t be more objective than others, but it does mean that at the end of the day, we can’t be as objective as we think and hope we can be. More pressingly, we can’t be as objective as our “true ignorance” gives us the impression that we are — an impression that is vital for ideology preservation, for if we didn’t feel we were highly objective, we would have reason to believe our ideology was faulty.
If we are a Conservative, we believe there doesn’t exist an argument proving Liberalism is truer than Conservatism, that it is (subconsciously) absurd to search for that (non-existent) argument, and we believe this because we’ve taken a “leap of faith” that everyone, including Liberals, must take to have any kind of ideology at all (which all of us must have). Surrounding this ideology, per se, is “(true) ignorance,” and yet paradoxically we must necessarily believe that our ideology isn’t surrounded by “(true) ignorance,” for “(true) ignorance” necessarily hides itself. Not only must we believe there doesn’t exist an argument undermining what we believe, but we must also believe that we’re not “(truly) ignorant” of such an argument. If we believed we were (truly) ignorant of an argument that disproved Conservatism, we’d believe Conservatism was false (and that we didn’t know it). This wouldn’t make any sense, and so though ideology is necessarily surrounded by “(true) ignorance,” ideology must also necessarily believe it isn’t surrounded by “(true) ignorance.” Ideology requires contradicting necessities, priming it to cause existential tension that can manifest in politics, relationships, and more. In all of us holding an ideology, all of us hold together these necessities that cannot be held together, and yet we still must live in this world with our feet beneath us.
All of us hold a worldview that is grounded in and surrounded by “(true) ignorance.” It can’t be helped. This doesn’t mean our worldview is wrong or entirely wrong — we’d have to know everything to know that — but it does mean we are incapable of ever truly knowing if our worldview is right or wrong. To allude to the thought of Gödel and “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose, it is possible for us to be right, but not for us to verify (if) we are right. We’re stuck in a tension, unable to know, and yet unable to truly admit that we cannot know, for that would threaten and/or undermine our ideology. In this way, we are all “walking contradictions,” holding together contradictions — ourselves and our worlds.
What’s it like to not think for ourselves? Unfortunately, it’s like thinking for ourselves. What’s it like to truly not know something? Nobody truly knows: “State 1” is impossible to experience, though it is possible to see/suppose in “the other.” We can never know how little we know, but we can know how little “the other” knows. Hence, we are all primed to overestimate our understanding and underestimate the understanding of others: the very way by which we experience the world makes us susceptible to this error. It isn’t intentional, desired, or practiced: the error is likely because of how our being “is” in the world. Our phenomenology is our life but also our curse. It presents us supposed “evidence” for our worldview that is only such “to us,” always working to hide from us the “groundlessness” of our knowing, which it often hides behind our awareness of the “groundlessness” of “the other.”
Society is full of phrases such as “know your limits” and “be humble,” but this assumes the possibility that we can know our limits and know when we should be humble. Yes, there are indeed limits we can know, but there are many more we don’t know we don’t know. However, failing to understand “true ignorance,” we mostly think of ignorance as a state an intelligent person would recognize. Consequently, we come to believe that if “we don’t know what we don’t know,” we’re not intelligent, and yet we never see this lack of thinking in ourselves because of the nature of experience. We only see it in others, which functions to us as “objective evidence” that “the other” is not as thoughtful as us, and maybe even arrogant. Hence, our experience of the world is such that it creates “evidence” for ourselves that we are intelligent and wise, not because we necessarily try to make ourselves believe we are smarter and wiser than we actually are, but because our “being” seems calibrated to take care of this for us (and to us). Ideology preservation is in our blood.
Ignorance is profound, and we must summon the courage to acknowledge how profoundly ignorance is integrated into our worldview, not simply thoughtlessly repeat, “We don’t know everything” (which makes us feel rather wise, seeing as we know “we don’t know everything”). This is existentially difficult, but doing so will have its benefits. First, we will learn that it is more valuable to think of intelligence not in terms of “how much we know at a given moment,” but how we respond to new information upon encountering it. Second, we will realize that a way to fight (true) ignorance is to be “aggressively curious” — to be much more curious than we think we need to be — to search for truth as passionately as we search for our car keys when they go missing (to borrow an image from Bernard Hankins). Lastly, realizing the profundity of ignorance will lead us into “epistemological humility,” to perpetually challenging ourselves and “being open” to those who think differently, never outright dismissive. After all, there is always the possibility that they are right in ways we don’t understand.
In closing, by accepting our “profound ignorance” and that all of humanity is united in sharing it, perhaps there is a “common ground” upon which we can make Pluralism work, keep politics from collapsing, and more. But to see reason to summon this courage or to grasp its importance, we will have to take to heart “the phenomenology of (true) ignorance,” accept how the very way we experience reality hides our “(true) ignorance” from us, and understand how we only ever experience “(true) ignorance” as “ignorance” (and hence as “learning,” something suggesting our wisdom), hence hiding from us how deeply ignorance is integrated into our lives. Otherwise, the very way we experience the world will always deceive us into “objectively” thinking we’re much less ignorant than we actually are: we’ll always be truly ignorance about our true ignorance. This can seem a dismal reality to accept, but to repeat a hopeful point from earlier, the fact that we are always “(truly) ignorant” doesn’t mean there are no (absolute) truths: as we don’t need to know how a dishwasher works to use it, so we don’t need to know everything that can be known to know some things and live according to those ideas. Rather, the main implication of this paper is that whatever (absolute) truth we decide upon is a conviction we must hold with an open hand. This can be scary, like trusting a bird to stay with us that isn’t attached to a leash, but as we can trust that a free bird that stays with is is “truly ours,” so we can trust that a truth that we hold without a closed fist is actually true. And to extend the image: we can’t hold hands with others unless our hands are open.
¹If we know we know, we are self-aware, but this doesn’t entail any profound phenomenological ramifications.
²Certainty, in this way, contributes to “ideology preservation,” for we expect our view of the world to always be what it has been, is, and will be.
³Wittgenstein, Ludwig. On Certainty. New York: First Harper Torchbook Edition, 1972: 44e.
⁴Wittgenstein, Ludwig. On Certainty. New York: First Harper Torchbook Edition, 1972: 44e.
⁵Wittgenstein, Ludwig. On Certainty. New York: First Harper Torchbook Edition, 1972: 36e.
⁶Wittgenstein, Ludwig. On Certainty. New York: First Harper Torchbook Edition, 1972: 79e.
⁷This helps preserve ideology — as discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose — especially if we act in the world in such a way that we maintain our “true ignorance” about the natural orientation of our motivation to favor ideology preservation.
⁸Example is evangelism.
⁹And we must “rest content with assumption” in a world where it feels increasingly costly and dangerous for people to do so, and yet we cannot undermine deep assumptions without taking “The Pynchon Risk,” as will be explained in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose.
1. We often say, “Don’t just tell people what they want to hear,” but this assumes people are able to tell when they’re “telling people what they (don’t) want to hear.”
2. Our ideology presents us with (supposed) “evidence” that is only such “to us,” artfully hiding “the groundlessness” of our knowing — angst-causing true ignorance.
3. If we know we don’t know x, we know the x by which to compare our ignorance too, but if we don’t know we don’t know x, we don’t even know the standard against which to begin grasping what we don’t know.
4. If we are incredibly informed about x and yet” truly ignorant” about y which proves x false, we are still incredibly informed.
5. Everyone is a “denier” of what threatens their personal situation. The professor denies reports saying college isn’t worth it; the Pro-Lifer denies reports that fetuses aren’t human; coal miners deny Global Warming; and so on. The professor looks for scraps of information verifying the usefulness of college against the onset of articles questioning college; the Conservative digs up reports about Global Cooling in the 70s; and so on. We claim people who disagree with us are “deniers,” but we are all truthfully “deniers” in different ways, especially considering that we are all “truly ignorant” in many more ways than we are informed. And yet we all take “leaps of faith” accepting some ideology.
5.1 The professor who searches for reports providing evidence that college is still important is like the coal miner searching for evidence that Global Warming isn’t real (though that isn’t to say they’re equally right): both are (naturally skeptical) of what threatens their way of life. But while the professor has a job that allows him or her to comb through data all day — identifying what’s valid and what’s not — the coal miner has much less time. All the same, the coal miner is likely to be dismissed by the professor for being uninformed and “closed minded.” The coal miner and the professor are similar in both being “deniers” — for having that natural, human impulse we all possess — but the coal miner’s “denial” is much less socially acceptable, and also the coal miner is treated as much more biased than the professor because the coal miner is less informed (even though it’s much easier for the professor to be informed given his or her “privileged” environment). Neither is necessarily superior morally.
5.2 Failure to recognize that we experience a State 1 as a State 2 and hence as “learning” makes it easier for us to be a “denier” without realizing it.
6. It’s as if the mind wants to accept empty phrases as gospel.
7. True ignorance structures bias, prejudice, stereotypes, etc., and since there is no such thing as a human being who isn’t “truly ignorant” in some way(s), there will always be soil for bias, prejudice, stereotyping, etc. This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try to stop being biased, prejudice, stereotyping, etc., but it might be better to focus on changing institutions than changing how people think, for most people who are prejudice are “truly ignorant” about their prejudice (though we aren’t “truly ignorant” about the prejudice of others). Focusing on institutions though may help us shape the directionality of our thinking, and that seems more fruitful than correcting all “true ignorance,” for there is always infinitely more we’re not thinking about than are, and thus always something else we can correct before we allow ourselves to consider progression.
8. It could be said that Socrates’ mission was to unveil to others their “true ignorance” while also revealing his own “true ignorance” to himself. Perhaps this is “true teaching.”
9. When we look at a book we haven’t read, we know we don’t know what’s in the book, but when we don’t look at a book we don’t know exists, we don’t know what we don’t know.
10. To allude to “On Responsibility” by O.G. Rose, how responsible are we for knowing about what we’re “truly ignorant?” If we don’t have someone in our life to make us aware of x and are truly ignorant about x, can it be said we are responsible for not knowing about x? The answer may vary between people.
If we’re not responsible, is someone else responsible for not enlightening us? On the other hand, if we know a person is totally ignorant about x, are we morally obligated to enlighten that person? And what does it matter if we’re totally ignorant about x unless we can change x for the better? But if we’re totally ignorant about x, we can’t know if x is something we can change for the better. And are there not books we can read to realize we’re totally ignorant? But if we’re totally ignorant, we don’t know which books we need to read. And so on — this question on responsibility might be one of the great questions.
11. As we are very bad at knowing what we sound like, so we are very bad at knowing how ignorant and/or objective we are, and as we are shocked to hear a recording of our voice, so we are shocked the rare times when we are forced to acknowledge our level of ignorance. And as our inability to identify our real voice is biological, so our inability to recognize our ignorance seems innate.
12. We all know we’re supposed to “check our sources,” but unfortunately we are usually “truly ignorant” about which sources we’ve checked and which we haven’t. On this point, “The Myth of the Woman Who Spilled McDonalds Coffee and Sued” would be a good case study.
13. How much we can think is relative to how much we don’t have to think about.
14. Waiting until we encounter something we don’t understand before reading books about it is like waiting until a fire to buy a fire extinguisher. And yet, since we don’t know what we don’t know until we encounter it, we are all tragic clowns.
15. “True ignorance” has ramifications for the arts. A role of art is to expose people to what they don’t know they need to experience, but this means there is likely little demand for this kind of art (because no one knows they need it). Hence, it isn’t marketable, and publishers will struggle to sell it, not necessarily because they think the work is bad, but because they run a business that could go under at any moment. This contributes to culture lacking art which could awaken citizens to higher ideals, but no one is directly responsible: “true ignorance” is to blame.
In the past, where “consumer demand” wasn’t all-powerful and marketability less of a problem, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, and other great artists could force the world to experience what it didn’t know it needed to experience. According to Harold Bloom, Shakespeare made us “more human” in ways humanity didn’t know it needed. Today, it is questionable if history’s greatest playwright would even be published. The market controls what shapes culture, and what shapes culture today I fear isn’t that which we are “truly ignorant” about needing (which helps humanity reach new heights). After all, Capitalism follows demand, and demand is made in the image and likeness of what we think we need: our only hope would be to expand our minds.
16. It is as if we are incapable of realizing that we are not skeptical of what we believe. We can consider this possibility but forget it amidst our everyday lives immediately thereafter. We can conceptually be skeptical of ourselves (maybe), but not practically each and every day. Practicality seems to necessarily self-delude us about our self-skepticism, as it necessarily seems to self-delude us about how seriously we will take this point (as Wittgenstein understood).
17. We necessarily think of a decision we disagree with as irrational and, to some extent, rational to negate and even ridicule.
18. What we know we don’t know is a small percentage of our total ignorance, the high majority of which consists of what we don’t know we don’t know. The ignorance we are aware of is much less than the ignorance which we can only experience as “knowing.”
19. It is not possible for anyone to look at all “the evidence” — that would take a thousand lifetimes — and yet we must all form an ideology as if we have (while not letting ourselves truly recognize that we haven’t). We must form an ideology as if we aren’t ignorant when we necessarily are incredibly “truly ignorant” (and this can help preserve ideology, as discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose).
20. We oversimplify when we say, “People are oversimplifying it”: they, like us, are “truly ignorant.”
21. A man can say, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and then immediately say something that he doesn’t know he doesn’t know (is false).
22. As it is easier to convince someone to change who has a bad motive versus no motive at all — all we have to do is make the person “turn inward” and recognize the evil of their intent, while if there is no motive, there’s nothing to see — so it is easier to make a person recognize their ignorance versus their “true ignorance.”
23. Knowing we are “truly ignorant” hopefully creates an existential tension within us that compels us into being more objective and critical of our own feeling that we are objective, but if this is lacking and we are “truly ignorant” of this lack, perhaps not.
24. When saying x and about to say y — while truly ignorant about topic y — we will feel about y what we feel about x: nothing or intelligence. When we are about to say something about which we are “truly ignorant,” we don’t know it at all: no sign pops up in the sky to warn us. We speak.
If we knew that what we were about to say wasn’t true, we might very well silence ourselves, trying to be intellectually honest, but “truly ignorant,” alas, we speak on. This “phenomenology of speaking” doesn’t bode well for democracy, the Habermasian project, and could very well be a major threat to liberal democracy.
25. Education lessens ignorance, but it may increase “true ignorance” by contributing to our failure to grasp the profound extent to which we are “truly ignorant.” When we know we are educated, we are more likely to interpret the feeling of “true ignorance” (which is necessarily “as knowing”) as a sign that we understand, precisely because we are educated.
26. If we believe in x, we must think (unconsciously) that a person who doesn’t believe in x isn’t objective, for we necessarily experience our subjectivity as “objective,” and hence experience believing in x as “objective” by extension (and yet our “true ignorance” is unfathomably extensive, as it is for all humans).
27. It can seem sometimes that what we are “truly ignorant” about is designed by us around what will preserve our ideology. If not intentional, it just seems to happen naturally because of how life is: for example, it seems likely that our ideology will reflect our environment, and our environment naturally keeps out that which would make us question our ideology without us realizing it. Just because of how life is, it seems we end up being “truly ignorant” about what threatens our ideology.
28. People think a lot less for themselves than their ideologies will allow them to realize.
People are much more ideological than their ideologies will allow them to know.
29. We never experience a claim we are about to make as “unsubstantiated”; otherwise, unless intellectually dishonest, we wouldn’t make it. We necessarily experience what we are saying as “backed”: we remember “reading this there” and “hearing this there” that supports us. And if someone asks us to substantiate our claim, though we may fail, we still feel that there is an explanation “somewhere out there,” lurking in the back of our minds (our memory failing us). We just “know” what we’re saying is true: we necessarily experience what we say as such and are necessarily “truly ignorant” about how much we say that lacks substance.
We never realize how many of our claims are unsubstantiated, but we notice quickly when the claims of others are unsubstantiated. In truth, virtually every claim is “unsubstantiated,” because ultimately everything we know is grounded in uncertainty and relies on authority (see “Ludwig” and “The Authority Circle,” both by O.G. Rose); when we say, “x is unsubstantiated,” we ultimately mean “x is less substantiated than acceptable.” I’ve never seen Pluto with my own eyes, so I can’t actually substantiate the claim “Pluto is real” without trusting in authorities who could be lying: much of what I call “proof” (“that which substantiates”) is that which I myself couldn’t substantiate (without authority). Ultimately, considering all this, we often call “unsubstantiated” that which we don’t want to be true, all while we ourselves believe lots of things that aren’t substantiated that we necessarily experience as “substantiated.”
As we experience “being wrong” as “being right” in ourselves, we experience “the unsubstantiated” as “the substantiated”: we experience ourselves in the best possible light, comically and especially when we are trying to be objective about ourselves and to “know ourselves,” as Socrates (ironically) employs of us.
30. If only we knew when we were misrepresenting, generalizing, stereotyping, etc. but tragically we necessarily experience a (false) portrayal of x as accurate. Considering this, educational efforts to stop these misrepresentations are unlikely to succeed, because the way we experience ourselves leads us into thinking that these efforts never apply to us, only others (ironically helping us preserve ideology, suggesting that education can actually do more harm than good). Furthermore, “truly ignorant” about when we mispresent, the way we experience reality can keep us from recognizing the times when we need to put these lessens into practice. At best, it seems education can inform us that “we are truly ignorant of the times when we misrepresent x” and then hope that this lesson makes us more self-skeptical and open.
31. Since it is the nature of thought to “grasp” whatever it experiences, it is the nature of thought to support “confirmation bias” (which is only worsened by the reality that we can only hold one “case” within us at a time, as discussed in “Self-Delusion, the Toward-ness of Evidence, and the Paradox of Judgment” by O.G. Rose). It could almost be said that thought is “confirmation bias.”
32. What we know is true is what we’ll naturally stop thinking about, and seeing as not everything we know is true is in fact true, we’re naturally helpless, thoughtless, and/or paranoid. There is strangely an absurdity to thinking about what we “know” is true, and out of all we “know” is true, how could we have any sense of what we should rethink versus accept? Will not everything we “know” feel the same? And if we open this “Pandora’s Box,” how could we live without ending up like how Martha Nussbaum describes Euripides’s Hecuba: unable to trust anything, unable to avoid becoming an animal? Perhaps this is a fate we — those who rely on trust and who are fooled by it — all must eventually suffer: “the legitimization crisis” (Habermas) and similar phenomena are symptoms of destiny.
33. If x is caused by y, I’m not prohibited by the nature of reality from saying “z caused x.” I have free will, after all, and how can I ever be sure that x is caused by y and that I’m not identifying an erroneous line of causality? If I claim incorrectly that “Republican extremism is due to the failure of the welfare State,” how can I be sure that I’m wrong? “Truly ignorant” and in a world that doesn’t keep us from saying what is false as true, I can utter what is false as truth, and then arguably no one can disprove what I say (there is always room for uncertainty).
34. If we are told “You know very little,” we do not then and there experience how little we know (as we didn’t just now, or just now, or just now…), and considering “The Conflict of Mind” by O.G. Rose, epistemic responsibility would thus have us press on to experience for ourselves “how little we know,” unless that is it is epistemically responsible to listen to what others tell us and to not “think for ourselves,” which in some cases, it might be — though we may have to experience such a situation to know (which we didn’t just now, nor just now, nor just now…). Hence, epistemic responsibility may require people to journey to experience what they’ve known from the start — and for what? Something that cannot be shared?
35. Because there is “true ignorance,” we must always be careful to concentrate power: a large State or corporation will act out of “true ignorance” just as much as we do, but at least our ignorant actions cannot ruin countless lives.