Tuesday, June 23, 2020

About ignorance



Ordinarily, we don't put much value on ignorance -- or being ignorant.

It's said that in the pre-modern world, say before the enlightenment in Europe in the middle of the first millennium, that all you needed to know was pretty much what could be learned from history.

If it wasn't known, then you didn't need to know it, in the same way your forebears didn't know it either.

History is limiting
But, thankfully, we came to understand that history -- if that's all you know -- is quite limiting. The enlightened figured out that there is a case for ignorance -- that is: recognizing you are ignorant of something. And, then setting about with a project to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks
And, you might notice, guys like Newton and daVinci brought the concepts of observations and mathematics into the battle of ignorance. Indeed, for the longest time before, math was considered "philosophy".

And then we have Bayes, somewhat a contemporary of Newton, with his version of continuous improvement: form a hypothesis based on assumed conditions; make observations; then adjust assumptions about conditions to conform to observations.

And so, that's the idea here:
  • Know, going in, that you are likely ignorant
  • Recognize the value of theorizing and observing to overcome ignorance
  • Don't assume history has all the answers -- it doesn't
  • Appreciate that improvement doesn't just come from reorganizing what you know(*); sometimes new facts are more powerful (See: Newton)
  • Repeat 
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(*) Pre-Newton methodology which actually carried on in some forms until the industrial revolution


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