The fight against ignorance. Can it ever be won?

Or are we fighting a losing battle?

Take the Middle Ages. By and large (with exceptions, of course) mired in superstition, with the great mass of people believing in demons, witches, fairies, ghosts, magic and a thousand other things equally irrational.

Time marches on. Come the Renaissance, the rediscovery of Greek and Roman arts and sciences; then the Age of Reason, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and now the 19th and 20th centuries, universal education, medical breakthroughs, the wondrous discoveries of modern science, probing the atom, exploring the vast reaches of space.

And here we are in the 21st century. By and large (with exceptions, of course) mired in superstition, with the great mass of people believing in aliens, demons, witches, ghosts, astrology, telepathy, precognition, communication with the dead, and ten thousand other things equally irrational.

Should we all just pack our bags and go home?

But the percentages are shrinking. Less people today believe in aliens or whatever (as a percentage of the population) than did in the middle ages or the Renaissance. Every age (where we don’t regress back into a dark age) seems to see more people having a better grasp of the universe and not being as susceptible to irrational explanations.

I think that EVENTUALLY, ignorance is fought and we move forward. Sure, it’s a lurching, shuffling two steps forward and 1 and a half back sort of thing…but we ARE moving forward. And the cool thing is that it’s not just the elite that are being exposed to new ideas, and not just the rich countries…but as information and data are available globally the entire world moves forward that little bit every year. Heck, every day.

Give it time…in 100 years they will look back on us and shake their heads at how ignorant we (in general) are, while squabbling about things we don’t even consider today.


Glass Half Empty: meet Glass Half Full.

You know how when you’re drinking a soda using a straw, and you just can’t manage to get the last few drops out of the can? That’s how the fight against ignorance is going to end.

There will always be stragglers and people who willfully remain ignorant on issues, but they are a dwindling minority.

Ignorance is easy. It’s hard to be someone who really tries to think about the world and their beliefs with a critical eye and attempts to refine their views based on new facts and arguments.

It’s more a philosophical view than an exposure to facts and reason. Are you committed to viewing things critically, even and especially your own views and biases, or will you take the easy route of fitting the world around what you want your views to be?

So as time goes by, we’ll have more and more access to facts and arguments - but it ultimately comes down to a choice on what sort of intellect you wish to have - the hard route of introspection, or the comfort of ignorance?

The fight against ignorance. Can it ever be won?


This has been another edition of Simple Answers To Simple Questions.

I like turtles.

The base state is ignorance, or lack of knowledge.

The true enemy is not the Fool who lacks knowledge, but the Fool who denies it.

Is a belief in aliens irrational? There are billions of stars in our galaxy and billions of galaxies. It seems irrational to believe ours is the only star to have a planet able to support life.

Aliens visiting Earth is another issue, but the existence of aliens seems logical to me.

I’m pretty sure he mean cattle mutilating, anal probing, human snatching, flying saucering aliens.

If we are talking about belief in life out there in the great beyond…well, in that case I’m a believer as well.


Yes, I should have made that clearer. The reference was to those who believe in alien abductions, etc. (a worryingly large percentage of the American population according to opinion polls).

We are all ignorant.

We don’t know, how much we know about natural phenomena, it’s more than in the past, less than in the future, but definitely only a minuscule part of all there is to know. And every single person knows only a small portion of what we already know; even experts in their field fail to know everything that already is to know.

Add to that ignorance our limitations in knowing everything about our own creations beyond our field of interest: our sciences, our inventions, fiction, societies, ideas, etc.

Add our ignorance about our own history and present. Some discoveries we still will make, but other events that brought us where we are, will stay in the dark, because any documentation is gone or never existed in the first place.

And add the principle uncertainty about our ability to have complete and consistent knowledge, like Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem states for math.

Then, we have already shown that our ignorance is epic and not completely curable.

But it still gets worse: we are not just ignorant because we cannot know, but don’t want to know or don’t care to or fail to know, because we think we already know.

The media, especially movies and TV, have done a lot to add to the last mentioned kind of ignorance.

Sure, most people know, despite what they see repeated time and again, that, e.g., there is no sound in space; but the group that can distinguish between fiction and reality is already smaller when we ask them about the asteroid belt: how many won’t picture a densely populated belt of rocks, even though we know that this is not so?

And the often unrecognized confusion by fictional knowledge only increases, when we enter the depiction of human societies throughout the ages and the life of individuals.

We will stay ignorant, because we can’t know everything, don’t want to know on occasion and prefer imagination whenever it suits us more.

And yet they’re adequately smart to get all of the not-ignorant members of society to suck on them all day long. Sound pretty crafty to me. =P

Years ago I read Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. The picture he painted was much as you described, i.e. an ongoing, depressingly massive struggle against the blight of ignorance. It’s a tough, slow fight, but I don’t believe it’s a losing battle: despite the irrational masses out there, I believe a greater percentage of people nowadays are relatively rational thinkers compared to 100/500/1000 years ago.

As a species, it’s taken us a pretty long time to figure out how to build our knowledge of the universe. We are subject to a long list of cognitive biases that are an impediment to acquiring knowledge (and successful application of that knowledge). Before we began thinking about how to think, we did OK when it came to understanding simple aspects of our surroundings (“if I let go of this rock, it will fall”), but when it comes to more complex questions (how fast will the rock fall? Does it matter how much the rock weighs? How big it is? Does air resistance matter?), our biases can easily get in the way unless we start to get really rigorous about conscious application of reason, evidence and logic.

Part of the problem, I think, is that “science” classes in school seem to spend surprisingly little time imparting the principles of science. I’d rather see less time devoted to teaching esoteric scientifically-derived knowledge (e.g. the life cycle of the black widow spider) and more time devoted to teaching scientific thought: how to apply reason, evidence, and logic to arrive at something that can reasonably be called “knowledge”, and an awareness of our inherent cognitive biases and how to overcome them. The short descriptive: Critical Thinking. Only then should we shower them with facts (observations) and let them make up their own minds.

You are fighting a losing battle because you are fighting God Himself.

BTW most of those things you state, demons, ghost, witches, magic, astrology, communication with the dead, etc are stated as true and real as stated in the Word of God.

You read it here first, folks: God is ignorance. I fully support this, and I appreciate the profound intellectual honesty you have brought to bear. Keep up the good work!

Are they really shrinking or just shifting? People use holistic medicine, look to herbal cures, and have various other superstitions that have no basis in what man calls fact. People don’t like to be considered ignorant because of their beliefs and when pressure mounts they may abandon things that sound to far out there, but then embrace something a bit more acceptable.

Like invisible magic people?

No, invisible magic ghosts.
Invisible magic people would just be is just silly.

Oh, phew. It all makes sense to me now. Thank you, Blake for setting me straight!