31 December 2018

Ignorance is an exciting thing!

Several years ago, I wrote a regular column for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The editor of JEANS, Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna now handles the 'Littlestars' tabloid distributed with 'The Sunday Morning'. This is the tenth article for Littlestars.  Scroll down to find the full series of articles written for JEANS and the those of this new series.

Have you ever met anyone who knows everything? Well, perhaps not everything, but lots and lots and lots of things, let’s say.  Maybe it’s not that they know lots and lots and lots of things, but just that they seem to know lots and lots and lots of things. They say things as though they know things. They say things with such confidence that you feel you have to believe whatever is said. Maybe you don’t know much about something, so when someone says all kinds of things about that ‘something’ you just listen. Why? Because you don’t know.  

But have you asked yourself this question: ‘what if he or she doesn’t know but is saying all this simply because the listeners don’t know enough to ask questions or offer a different opinion?’

The truth is that this is not uncommon. It happens in school and it happens even in scientific conferences. It happens in Parliament too. Yes, even in the United Nations!

Suppose a popular girl or a boy who is considered to be really bright says something. We tend to believe, don’t we? What if it is bully? A bully says the earth is flat and even though you know it isn’t, you won’t say ‘rubbish, the earth is round, like an orange!’ 

It’s all about how much is known and how much is unknown. Have you ever wondered about that? Here’s a trick that might you understand knowledge and ignorance, or rather the extent of knowledge and the extent of ignorance.

On a starry night, look at the sky. Now imagine that somewhere out there in the Milky Way there’s a planet orbiting one of the thousands of stars you can see. You won’t see the planet of course, but imagine a planet and imagine it is just like our earth.

You can imagine that there’s life on that planet. You can imagine what creatures over there look like. In fact you can let your imagination run riot. 

Now think. Do you really know what they look like? Do you really know if there is such a planet? Can you really say that there’s on life out there somewhere in some  corner of the universe? Can you say there IS life outside our planet? 

Now ask yourself, ‘how much do I really know about the universe?’ Now ask yourself, ‘forget the universe, do I know everything there is to know about our own planet?’ Now ask yourself, ‘forget our entire planet, do I know everything there is to know about our country, our city, our village, our neighborhood?’ Now ask yourself, ‘do I know everything there is to know about my immediate family?’ Now ask yourself, ‘do I know everything there is to know about myself?’ 

Well, we think we know a lot, don’t we? But think about it — do we know about ourselves? Haven’t there been occasions when you’ve been surprised about how you feel about things, about things you do on the spur of the moment? Haven’t there been times when you’ve felt embarrassed about something you’ve done and told yourself, ‘i wish I had known better?’  

It simply means we really don’t know a whole lot about anything. The moment we realize this, we are more careful about what we say. 

Someone once said ‘look at this table, it exists…you cannot deny it.’  Someone else casually asked a few questions: What was this table ten years ago and what would it be like ten years from now? Did it always had these scratches? When it was made did it have these initials carved on it? Will there be no other initials and various words and phrases be carved on it ever?

And yet, the table, well, was a table. It was real. At that moment. Life is like that. What’s real now disappears into nothing later. We know some basic things, but there’s a lot more that we don’t know. Not all of it needs to be known, but the fact that there are things unknown makes it interesting. There’s so much to discover and what we do find out can change the way we think. For now, and always, it’s good to know that there are known and unknown things, don’t you agree?


Articles for THE NATION
Venus-Serena tied at love-all
Some jokes are not funny
There's an ant story waiting for you
And you can be a rainbow-maker
Trees are noble teachers
On cloudless nights the moon is a hole
Gulp down those hurtful words
A question is a boat, a jet, a space-ship or a heart
Quotes can take you far but they can also stop you
No one is weak
The fisherman in a black shirt
Let's celebrate Nelli and Nelliness
Ready for time travel?
Puddles look back at you, did you know?
What's the view like from your door?
The world is rearranged by silhouettes
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?
Still looking for that secret passage?
Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on
Numbers are beautiful 
There are libraries everywhere 
Collect something crazy
Fragments speak of a thousand stories 
The games you can and cannot play with rice
The magic of the road less-traveled
Have you ever thought of forgiving?
Wallflowers are pretty, aren't they?
What kind of friend do you want to be? 
Noticed the countless butterflies around you?
It's great to chase rainbows
In praise of 'lesser' creatures 
A mango is a book did you know?
Expressions are interesting things
How many pairs of eyes do you need?
So no one likes you?
There is magic in faraway lights
The thambilil-seller of Giriulla
When people won't listen, things will
Lessons of the seven-times table


winblog said...

Not that I really disagree, but this is a dangerous premise in that can be weaponized to shut people up.