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What causes ignorance? I'll tell you.

Updated on June 29, 2015
TessSchlesinger profile image

Tessa Schlesinger developed an interest in human behaviour and ethics while studying anthropology at the University of South Africa in 1975.

Bad information means bad decisions

Virtually every single incorrect decision we make is made by us because we didn’t base it on accurate information and didn’t project the outcomes of our decisions into the future using that information. In fact, the more ignorant we are of the information we need to make profitable and happy decisions, the more we will make bad decisions. So what makes most of us ignorant in at least some things and a great many ignorant of far too much to be wise in decision making.

Getting popular information from our friends

Most of us get information from those whom we socialize with, and because birds of a feather flock together, it is no coincidence that we tend to associate with those who believe the same things we do. This is not an issue if what we believe to be truth has been independently verified by science, courts of law, and other objective authorities as true. It becomes problematic when our peers believe in things that aren’t true.

It's here where the thought of differing from others with whom we have close relationships with can often result in confirmation bias. This means we like to listen to those who share our opinions because it confirms what we believe.

Degree of life experience

If people live in the same small village their entire lives, regardless of any television they watch or any books they read, they will not absorb additional information from the world around them. The people with the most life experience are also the people who are least ignorance.

Most experience encompasses many different aspects – living and working in cultures and countries different to one’s own, interacting with all classes of people as an equal, periods of time when one is rich and periods of time when one is poor, repeated loss over a period of time and repeated victories over a period of time. Interaction with different kinds of people – sociopaths and saints, doctors and drinkers, dancers and salesman, tradesmen and geniuses. The more types of people one associates with, the more one gains a different perspective.

All of these things add to one’s knowledge of life. The more knowledge one has of the world around us, the less ignorant we are. We require broad life experience in order to be more aware of the world. Most people will not go out of their way to educate themselves. They will be content with the status quo in their own lives. The only way that changes is if they are exposed to very different experiences that they are exposed to. For instance, someone who has had a cosy life living in Los Angeles would be completely unfamiliar with living with a tribe in the middle of the Amazon for six months. By the time that experience is over, they will have a very different perspective of life.

Source

Examination of Life Experience

If people live in the same small village their entire lives, regardless of any television they watch or any books they read, they will not absorb additional information from the world around them. The people with the most life experience are also the people who are least ignorance.

Most experience encompasses many different aspects – living and working in cultures and countries different to one’s own, interacting with all classes of people as an equal, periods of time when one is rich and periods of time when one is poor, repeated loss over a period of time and repeated victories over a period of time. Interaction with different kinds of people – sociopaths and saints, doctors and drinkers, dancers and salesman, tradesmen and geniuses. The more types of people one associates with, the more one gains a different perspective.

All of these things add to one’s knowledge of life. The more knowledge one has of the world around us, the less ignorant we are.

That said, wilful ignorance, the state in which we ignore information coming in from our sense because it contradicts a prior belief can hamper any ability to examine life experience. Generally people who believe in particular creeds dictated to them by an organisation, a religion, or a culture would be guilty of wilful ignorance if they came across conflicting information but didn't want to accept it because it would mean exclusion or loss of a particular creed or culture.

The Dalai Lama thinks that all misery is caused by ignorance. He has a point.
The Dalai Lama thinks that all misery is caused by ignorance. He has a point.

Reading consistently throughout life

If people live in the same small village their entire lives, regardless of any television they watch or any books they read, they will not absorb additional information from the world around them. The people with the most life experience are also the people who are least ignorance.

Most experience encompasses many different aspects – living and working in cultures and countries different to one’s own, interacting with all classes of people as an equal, periods of time when one is rich and periods of time when one is poor, repeated loss over a period of time and repeated victories over a period of time. Interaction with different kinds of people – sociopaths and saints, doctors and drinkers, dancers and salesman, tradesmen and geniuses. The more types of people one associates with, the more one gains a different perspective.

All of these things add to one’s knowledge of life. The more knowledge one has of the world around us, the less ignorant we are.

Do you prefer to be happy or knowledgeable?

See results

Disadvantages of Ignorance

The biggest disadvantage to remaining ignorance is ongoing bad decision making. The difficulty with removing ignorance is that, in some way, that ignorance protects one from hurtful truth and people do not like to be hurt. Another issue is that there could possibly be a loss of a job, a loss of friends and family, or one might not qualify for an organisation anymore.

The most obvious example that comes up would be after years of making friends and forming close relationships at a church, one might have all the evidence for becoming an atheist. The thought of losing all those relationships, however, keeps one in a place that influences one's decisions - not always for the best.

So what causes ignorance? And how can we cure it?

Ignorance is caused by several factors:.

  1. Believing and trust what one’s peers, family, and the media tell one without measuring it against objective evidence.
  2. Having limited and unexamined life experience.
  3. Not reading sufficiently.

It’s that simple.

How do we cure it?

  1. It's not possible to become totally knowledgeable. It is, however, very possible to recognise when someone else knows more than we do and to recognise that if there is resistance to what we are saying that we may be wrong. So in the first instance we have to recognise that we are ignorant in a a particular topic. Just because we 'know' a great deal that we have absorbed from parents and peer groups doesn't mean that we are accurate in what we know.
  2. The second step is to start looking for credible sources for accurate information - statistics, studies, and/or a variety of books written from different perspectives about the same topic. We can also sign up for college courses.
  3. Remember that what the world thought it knew today is outdated tomorrow so no matter how much we knew yesterday, keeping up to date with accurate information is a daily exercise. Read newspapers with different slants/political views. Talk to young people as they are more up to date than older people.
  4. Always reflect, examine, and analyse every bit of information that comes your way.

Again, while it is not possible for any of us to know everything, we can become less and less ignorant. Ironically as we accrue new information and our knowledge base grows, we realize how truly little we know.

© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger

Comments

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    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 

      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      When people ignore good advice, it is natural for downfall

    • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Tessa Schlesinger 

      3 years ago from South Africa

      Jonas, and that is why I don't accept the concept of wilful ignorance. I don't believe that people choose to be ignorant. I am merely attempting to explain why they are.

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      I think you're right in many ways. However, I would like to add that we are not entirely in control of the circumstances that we experience in this world. Many people have been born to poor families and they are ignorant, in my opinion, not because they choose to be that way, but rather because they are taught that they are meant to be like that and that they can't do anything to change it. The circumstances of one's birth - whether you were born rich or poor - has a lot to do with ignorance.

    • TessSchlesinger profile imageAUTHOR

      Tessa Schlesinger 

      3 years ago from South Africa

      Timothy, you said, "The able-minded who cannot see past their own nose are actually pitiful in their own riches." And that is limited experience, isn't it? Take that person and put him into the middle of the Belgium Congo amid a tribe where there is a lot of barbarism. Like it or not, by the time that nightmare is over, his perspective on life will have changed. The only reason one can retain one's views is because we haven't had sufficiently broad life experience.

    • Timothy Donnelly profile image

      Timothy Donnelly 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Interesting Hub. I think that while it may be simplified, this whole concept is not so cut and dried. Allow me to comment on one aspect that caught my attention.

      People choose what and what not they want to spend precious time being concerned about. Natural tendencies can be quite selfish. Those who have little or no regard for the wellness of others, inside or outside of their interests, or the positive impact they may contribute (of significance immeasurable) to the big picture, render little good to the community --except to demonstrate the importance of accessible education, introspection, and the marvelous example of the truth and effectiveness of "Faith without Works is dead." The able-minded who cannot see past their own nose are actually pitiful in their own riches. God bless them.

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