Curiosity takes me to Agnotology
I recently read an article on BBC Future called The man who studies the spread of ignorance and it really got me thinking. One, what has society come to that we are studying how ignorance flourishes, and two, just how ignorant am I?
The word agnotology comes from “agnosis, the neoclassical Greek word for ignorance or ‘not knowing’, and ontology, the branch of metaphysics which deals with the nature of being”. ~ Robert Proctor. He talks about different types of ignorance:
- lack of, or incomplete, information
- selective choice
- deliberately engineered and strategic ploy
The first type of ignorance is part of the reason I have embraced curiosity so that I can continue to learn and to challenge my brain (and muscles by hiking in places to which I have not been). No one can know everything though; the age of the polyhistor is long past.
Which leads me to the second type. I went through a numbers of years, particularly after my divorce when my kids were younger, where I was so tired that I just wanted to read trashy novels or watch fluffy television shows when I had a bit of time to myself. I rationalized it by saying that I was getting enough intellectual challenge at work and that I just needed something light to entertain myself. Too much stress can lead to poor choices. I do wonder though if our current focus on working too many hours, downsizing and short term profits, is helping to contribute to ignorance. There are only so many hours in a day, and when family and a full time job are priorities, it can limit the amount of time available to learn other things. Or perhaps that is just another one of my rationalizations!
Well, twelve years of making the same choice of saying I don’t have the time to do things can create a strong habit that is hard to break. This can be found in small examples such as buying prepared foods instead of cooking from scratch, to something huge such as voting for someone when I only have part of the information about the platform on which the person is running. I am working on both!
How is a person supposed to make an informed choice when you have so much information available, and groups are making use of point number three – deliberately providing information or lack of information to support their cause, whatever that may be? Look at what is going on with the US primaries right now. I am a bit cynical about politics these days – but that is for another discussion…
I think that what motivates people to gather information is still core values or beliefs. There is so much available on the internet that you are bound to find something to support your opinion. Take climate change. If you fundamentally believe that it is not happening, and that all of the money that governments have pledged to spend is a complete waste, you can find information that indicates that temperature data is collected in large cities, and as the cities grow, they naturally get hotter. The rest of the earth is actually cooling. But the climate is definitely changing!
This process will be a journey, but I am thankful that I have made the choice to try to be more informed. I am curious about your opinions on ignorance and how we can overcome it. Have a great Sunday!