[extropy-chat] Is Ignorance part of the genes?

Alan Baltis Alan_Baltis at progressive.com
Fri Mar 24 15:07:57 UTC 2006

Much of this may come across as preaching to the choir, but...

I'm a firm believer that more knowledge is usually better, that the more
one knows, the more useful one is, inherently and to society on the whole.

For instance, I've found that the more knowledge one has, the better a
brainstormer you are. I can generate more alternatives, I can imagine more
scenarios, I can play with already-voiced ideas and come up with
"variations on a theme" better than the average bear. An examination of
"where did THAT come from" often shows it's because I can look at a
situation from multiple perspectives, wearing multiple hats, emphasizing
different features to go down various "what if" paths, all sparked by the
little bits and pieces that I DO know.

Even more powerful is not wearing those multiple hats serially, but donning
several at once- being able to look at things as a combined computer
geek/baking fan, or pun-making/outdoorsman, whatever. Those odd
combinations are occasionally startling, to others and to me, but many,
many innovations or breakthroughs come from those kinds of combinations and
synthesis a la "Consilience" by Wilson.

But knowledge is not only useful for just brainstorming and idea
generation. I find that the more one knows, the better one is at comparing
and contrasting between alternatives, and working through a set of
alternatives to see which 3 out of 30 are worth further pursuit. The more
one knows the more one can distinguish between which ones have been
investigated before, and with what results, and therefore which ones might
be easily dismissed or deeper, more interesting. Knowing where to spend
one's time and attention is absolutely essential in a world so filled with
not only distractions but a plethora of legitimately important things that
you COULD be working on.

Because such things most often don't happen in a social vacuum, knowing
more makes one more persuasive, more trusted in more discussions. It's
useful and powerful to encourage or discard not because "I have a feeling"
but because of examples one can name, analogies one can make, links between
things that one can illuminate. Also useful to be able to look at what
facts you're offering and being able to see when they AREN'T sufficient to
come to a conclusion, but be able to assess some kind of probability to
things because it fits bits of what you DO know. Saying "I'm not certain
about this" builds trust among people who care about little things like
facts and confidence levels and such (though perhaps it's less effective
with those that think declarations of unshakable faith are Truth, grrr).

And, to break off this long-winded blurb, I also think that the time I
regularly put into "miscellaneous learning" is not provably ALL useful, but
well-invested overall. I may not be able to know deeper things with
certainty until I study them intensively, but I find that there are very
few things nowadays that I am not "half-way to knowing" because of my broad
spectrum of knowledge in so many areas. Very few things are totally off my
cognitive map, and I can usually pretty quickly chart a course on how to
learn more, if I want to. And, because I know a lot about HOW to learn, I
find that I'm hardly ever intimidated, but just keep plunging along.

- Al

Another Pithy Nugget O' Wisdom from Al's Quote-A-Matic:

"The fact is that the average man's love of liberty is nine-tenths
imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice and truth. He is not
actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and
intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It
is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like
knowledge, courage and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand
and enjoy liberty--- and he is usually an outlaw in democratic societies.
It is, indeed, only the exceptional man who can even stand it. The average
man doesn't want to be free. He simply wants to be safe . . . . What the
average man wants in this world is the simplest and most ignominious sort
of peace--- the peace of a trusty in a humane penitentiary, of a hog in a
comfortable sty."

- H.L. Mencken

             "Jef Allbright"                                               
             <jef at jefallbright                                             
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                                       Re: [extropy-chat] Is Ignorance     
             03/23/2006 08:46          part of the genes?                  
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On 3/23/06, Samantha Atkins <sjatkins at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 3/23/06, Anne-Marie Taylor <femmechakra at yahoo.ca> wrote:
> >
> > I assumed that knowledge and ignorance must be part of the genes

> > some end up being wise while others are very content being ignorant.  I
> > was curious to know if sometimes it's easier being content and have
> > no stress or being wise and having a lot of responsibilities. (For a
> > knowledgeable person  has a super set of the range of options).
> > Do you think it is part of our make up or do you think ignorance is
> > a choice?
> Becoming more knowledgeable is a choice.  Since it is a choice that
> some not inconsiderable effort compared to remaining relatively ignorant
> is not the default or most popular choice.  Humans conserve energy
> speaking.  It is certainly not easier than remaining ignorant.  It tends
> maximize longer term well-being and options for self and others.  If one
> values short term ease more than long term viability then ignorance is
> chosen, mostly by default.

To expand on this, while greater knowledge is often an advantage, it comes
at a cost, for example in terms of time spent, exclusion of other
activities, etc.

   - Whether or not this is considered good depends on the subjective
   values of the individual or the group doing the judging.  We have many
   examples where scientists and visionaries have been ostracized and

   - Whether or not increased knowledge provides a survival
advantagedepends on the nature of the environment and its specific
opportunities and
   threats.  There are many examples where having stronger community ties
   provides greater survival advantages than having greater objective
   which might distance one from others.

In our environment of accelerating technological change, I think that (1)
increasingly objective knowledge of how things work, applied to (2)
increasingly inter-subjective knowledge of our shared values (those that
persist because they tend to work) is the path to increasingly effective
social decision-making that will be seen as increasingly moral.

While I don't agree with the original poster's suggestion that "knowledge
in the genes", I also don't think that, ultimately, "knowledge" or
"understanding", in the sense of a complete model, is in the humans either.
In a very profound sense, much of what we rely on is encoded in our
environment, including our culture.  In a like sense, we will do well to
intentionally contribute to building a broad framework of wisdom
incorporating (1) and (2) above while recognizing that it will be operating
at a level of complexity beyond individual human comprehension and its
*specific* behaviors will be unpredictable.

- Jef
Increasing awareness for increasing morality
Empathy, Energy, Efficiency, Extropy
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