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The Greatest Enemy of Knowledge is not Ignorance; it is the Illusion of Knowledge

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance- it is the illusion of knowledge -Daniel J. Boorstin

In ancient India, people believed that sea was where the Gods resided and were resting; and they should not be disturbed. If this illusion had continued till now, no new routes or discoveries would have been made. Today we live in a world full of narcissistic and self-important people. The so called ‘I KNOW’ has become a major problem. It is amazing to see how noble and great personalities are never quoted proclaiming their ‘greatness’. Enemy can be within our body as well as external. But here the enemy about which Stephen Hawkings talks is an idea which is more dangerous than any enemy, that is, illusion of knowledge which can even take face of felony as well as widespread deaths through the means of violence or deprive someone of which he or she is really worthy.

If we ignore learning about something or ignore accepting the lack of our knowledge about something, we will not be in a position to refrain from becoming opinionated. Strikingly, the knowledge that we have gathered about some topic or issue is just a drop of water in the whole ocean. Perfect Knowledge is like an ocean whose full water no human being can drink. Illusion of knowledge involves implicitly believing that you understand things at a deeper level than you really do, and there lurks behind some of the most dangerous and misguided decisions we make. 

No one in the present world can claim that he knows everything about anything. If he is doing so, he is fooling himself as well as the persons around him. And this folly may result into fanatic or chauvinistic ideology, something which is ironically self deceptive.

There was one clever study performed by British psychologist Rebecca Lawson in which she asked to sketch out the frame of bicycle i.e. the handlebars, the wheels, the pedals, and so on. For simplicity, just make it a single speed bicycle. If you had to rate your understanding of how a bicycle works on a 1 to 7 scale, where 1 means “no understanding” and 7 means “complete understanding,” what score would you gives yourself? Obviously many of us will give ourselves more than 5 or near. In her study her subjects gave 4.5 on an average. Then she asked the following questions to her subjects-“Now either look at your drawing or refresh your mental image and then answer the following questions: Does your bicycle have a chain? If so, does the chain run between the two wheels? Does the frame of your bicycle connect the front and back wheels? Are the pedals connected to the inside of the chain? If you drew a chain connecting the two wheels of your bicycle, think about how the bicycle would turn— the chain would have to stretch whenever the front wheel rotated, but chains aren’t stretchy. Similarly, if a rigid frame connected both the wheels, the bicycle could only go straight. Some people draw pedals outside the loop of the chain, making it impossible to turn the chain by pedalling. Errors like these were common in Lawson’s study, and they are not trivial details of the functioning of a bicycle the pedals turn the chain, which causes the back wheel to rotate, and the front wheel must be free to turn or the bicycle cannot change direction. People are much better at making sense of a bicycle’s workings when the thing is sitting right in front of them than they are at explaining (or drawing) a bicycle purely from memory.” 

This is a very critical and basic example explaining illusion of knowledge. So how about the things which are really complex in nature? 

Fallacious concepts of religions result from linguistic illusions. When one religion starts believing that it is the best religion or race theologically or cognitively, it is the misapprehension of knowledge. In Nazi Germany just due to the illusion of ‘knowledge’ of one person, Adolf Hitler, more than 6 million people were killed; perhaps the actual number exceeded more than 10 million. This obnoxious example can be seen as both illusion of knowledge of one person or a race as a whole. This is just one example of one part of world. 

Even in Indian history, numerous examples of similar kinds can be traced. For example, communal violence, which is resultant of illusion of knowledge, where people start violence on the issues about which they don’t have any concrete, factual or rational knowledge. Millions of people have been killed till now in the riots between different castes or communities just because of intentionally or otherwise misguided or improper knowledge of reality.

These killings could be avoided if there was an utter state of absence of knowledge and reaction upon it.

Furthermore due to this illusion of knowledge, we don’t ameliorate ourselves and may harbour hatred towards those who show us the mirror.  As Benjamin Franklin said, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” 

Therefore, this is how an illusion of knowledge of one person, religion, race or gender affects the lives of a group of people in particular and larger good of the community in general.

To conclude we would like to substantiate that illusion of knowledge is not only an enemy for just an individual but of the society or a country as a whole. If we don’t have illusion of knowledge and we learn more and more, we can make this earth a peaceful place. The reason is simple- knowledge broadens the thinking. True knowledge brings peace and stability. As our first Honourable Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said “The only alternative to coexistence is co-destruction”. And this noble goal of undisturbed coexistence can be achieved through peace and acceptance which comes from the right knowledge, not from illusion of knowledge

Writer :: Pulkit Sharma and Dr. O. P. Sharma      Published on :: 18-Apr-2018

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