Excerpts from the book “The Virtues of Ignorance – Complexity, Sustainability and Limits of Knowledge” this article highlights how “ignorance” might teach us how to behave with greater sensitivity, and in fact may not be a handicap to advancement, as we call it.

By Robert Perry

Let’s pause for a moment and think about what we, as human beings, need to contend with regarding our profound ignorance of how the natural world, in its most expansive sense, works.

At the collective level, an immense amount of information has accrued, particularly over the last century. However, it has done little to diminish humanity’s overall ignorance, largely because the information has generally occurred in the form of countless new bits, billions of facts that are not well integrated into a larger framework of understanding.

Even so, if we consider the depth of human culture and history, we do discover a form of integrated information that has been handed down over millennia: cultural knowledge. And, looking more deeply, if we examine cultural knowledge and note those elements that have helped humanity not only to survive but to improve itself, we discover a third level of highly integrated knowledge: wisdom.

I have used three different terms: information, knowledge, and wisdom. We might hope that an accumulation of information leads to knowledge and that an inspired use of knowledge leads to wisdom. This does occur. A distinct refining takes place at each step when one moves from unintegrated information to knowledge to wisdom. Once some level of wisdom has been attained, it can be used to guide the use of knowledge and even the kind of information that should be developed, accessed, or accumulated to direct the formation of further knowledge.

I say all this to show that human beings are not absolutely and completely ignorant. However, we are pretty close to that state. Today’s wise men and women tell us that we know nearly nothing, that our

Knowledge is profoundly incomplete, and that the billions of facts and bits of information we have gathered and have at our disposal are nearly inconsequential when compared to what might be understood if we knew all the whats, wherefores, and whys of the universe.

First Meditation: Essentials of Behavior

Astonishing ignorance is our shared realm. And, because we dwell in this arena of darkness, we note that there are categories of ignorance. For example, there is ignorance of facts—as seen in ignorance of science, of languages, of tropical life-forms, of anatomy, and of types of stars. There’s also ignorance of how to relate: emotional ignorance. In addition, there is spiritual ignorance. But what is meant by spiritual? I mean a grasp—or perhaps just an awareness—of the whys and wherefores of the universe. It seems that the most successful societies have always submitted somewhat gracefully to their ignorance, primarily because they were able to invent stories, myths, and explanations for the great variety of things about which they basically knew nothing.

However, some societies learned that that which helped them to succeed over the long term was the ability to embrace the other—to connect with other human beings, other life-forms, with the so-called inanimate world, and with the wider cosmos. It is the ability to love: to expand the personal being so that it encompasses an ever-widening sphere of other beings.

How are human beings to behave in light of their colossal ignorance? To answer this question, we should examine what a person does when he or she is not sure, for example, of how to move in an unlit room that harbors many children sleeping on the floor. One moves, of course, with great care. In light of humanity’s immense lack of integrated understanding, there is, fortunately, a way to live that encourages long-term survival and well-being: with enormous sensitivity. Perhaps that is why many of the great religions, and in particular their mystical offshoots, talk about a caring, inclusive way of relating to everything,because—given our extraordinary ignorance—that’s the only way to succeed: to move forward mindful that much can be damaged if we simply lurch about in that room with children sleeping on the floor.

Observe how a parent holds his newborn child. He knows nothing about that child’s physiology—what the little one is feeling, thinking, all the things that are working together physiologically to create and sustain that small being in his arms. Behaving with exceptional sensitivity and tenderness is what most clearly makes sense in the face of colossal ignorance about the infant.

If humanity ever finally comes to understand everything completely, it might conclude that people must behave with great care and tenderness. That conclusion would be virtually the same counsel that spiritual guides have been offering for millennia. In other words, an ignorance based worldview would lead us to behave in exactly the same way as a full-knowledge worldview would. Human beings must be exquisitely aware of one another (and everything else) as much as possible….

…..To be continued

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