Ignorance

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

Darwin

*

If a disorganized education having only that minimum coherence indispensable for the merest uncertain existence is suddenly challenged to a task limited in time, therefore necessarily arduous, to self-development, to articulate speech, then the response can only be a bitterness in which are mingled arrogance over achievements which could be attained only by calling upon all one’s untrained powers, a last glance at the knowledge that escapes in surprise and that is so very fluctuating because it was suspected rather than certain, and, finally, hate and admiration for the environment.

– Kafka, Diaries (trans. J. Kresch)

*

Among swordmasters, on the basis of their own and their pupils’ experience, it is taken as proved that the beginner, however strong and pugnacious he is, and however courageous and fearless he may be at the outset, loses not only his lack of self-consciousness, but his self-confidence, as soon as he starts taking these lessons. He gets to know all the technical possibilities by which his life may be endangered in combat, and although he soon becomes capable of straining his attention to the utmost, of keeping a sharp watch on his opponent, of parrying his thrusts correctly and making effective lunges, he is really worse off than before, when, half in jest and half in earnest, he struck about him at random under the inspiration of the moment and as the joy of battle suggested. He is now forced to admit that he is at the mercy of everyone who is stronger, more nimble and more practised than he. He sees no other way open to him except ceaseless practice, and his instructor too has no other advice to give him for the present. So the beginner stakes everything on surpassing the others and even himself. He acquires a brilliant technique, which gives him back some of his lost self-confidence, and thinks he is drawing nearer and nearer to the desired goal. The instructor, however, thinks differently — and rightly so, since all the skill of the beginner only leads to his ‘heart being snatched away by the sword’.

– Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery (trans. R.F.C. Hull)

*

‘If it weren’t for the fact that you’d think I was completely drunk, gentlemen, I’d take an oath on the truth of what I’m saying about the effect his words have had on me — an effect they still have now. Whenever I listen to him, my frenzy is greater than that of the Corybantes. My heart pounds and tears flood out when he speaks, and I see that many other people are affected in the same way. I’ve heard Pericles and other good orators, and I thought they spoke well. But they haven’t produced this kind of effect on me; they haven’t disturbed my whole personality and made me dissatisfied with the slavish quality of my life. But this [man] here has often had this effect on me, and made me think that the life I’m leading isn’t worth living. You can’t say this isn’t true Socrates. Even now I’m well aware that if I allowed myself to listen to him I couldn’t resist but would have the same experience again. He makes me admit that, in spite of my great defects, I neglect myself and instead get involved in Athenian politics. So I force myself to block my ears and go away, like someone escaping from the Sirens, to prevent myself sitting there beside him until I grow old.
   ‘He’s the only person in whose company I’ve had an experience you might think me incapable of — feeling shame with someone; I only feel shame in his company. I’m well aware that I can’t argue against him and that I should do what he tells me; but when I leave him, I’m carried away by the people’s admiration. So I act like a runaway slave and escape from him; and whenever I see him, I’m ashamed because of what he’s made me agree to. Often I’ve felt I’d be glad to see him removed from the human race, but if this did happen, I know well I’d be much more upset. I just don’t know how to deal with this person.’

– Plato, The Symposium (trans. C. Gill)

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One response to “Ignorance

  1. ‘The paths of intellect are strange ones. One can say that, in the course of evolution, the intellect has made the greatest progress. But one could also express this as follows: in the course of evolution, intellect has shown the least degree of stability.

    ‘Intellectual progress has always simply consisted in correcting, at every stage, the errors that one produced (for oneself) at the previous stage.’

    – Musil, Diaries

    (http://lettersfromalibrarian.blogspot.com/2009/02/precision.html)

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