Monday, July 01, 2013

Charles Darwin:"Ignorance more frequently begets Confidence than does Knowledge".

"Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known."  
Michel de Montaigne, essayist (1533-1592)


Charles Darwin once said: "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." This sounds like a strange idea. Is it true that confidence sometimes signals ignorance? Is it true that people who are very confident about their opinions may actually be more ignorant than people who are less confident? Is there evidence that confidence and ignorance may go hand in hand?

What might this mean? When disagreeing with someone who is very confident about his point of view, it may work counter-productively to argue directly against his views. After all, the person is very confident about being right. In other words, he is ignorant about his ignorance.

Charles Darwin born in 1809, was a British scientist who transformed the way we think about the natural world.  He published his findings in 1859 in his book On the Origin of the Species. It explained his theory that of all species evolved through adaptation over many millions of years including man evolving from the apes. Most people at the time believed in a Biblical interpretation of how the World was created in seven days and how Adam and Eve arrived in the Garden of Eden and ate the Forbidden Fruit that has caused us problems ever since. Now Darwin had come up with his theory that  all species evolved through adaptation over many millions of years including man evolving from the apes. It turned the Biblical tales into Fairy Tales. The anger and resentment of millions of people after publishing his findings gave rise to his observation that "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."  In other words the dumber people are the more rigidly and fanatically they cling to their convictions and therefore have little tolerance for contrary ideas or opinions. The fanatic therefore refuses to think further and consequently, there is no way to change course 

I recall when I was working in the lumber camps in Northern Ontario during the summers when I was a teenager, if I raised questions about a view expressed by a coworker it would commonly be interpreted as questioning his integrity resulting in an angry outburst and on occasion a challenge to fight. It was 1947 and 48 when the work was labour intensive and a few hours on the job sufficed to gain the skills required. The average level of education was much lower than it is today and illiteracy was common in the workforce. This in no way limited their confidence in their many convictions. Just don't humiliate them by asking them for an explanation. In the dining room the tradition in the camps was to eat quickly and to remain silent throughout the meal. The reason for this was the history of fights breaking out when views expressed at the table were challenged.

Darwin of course was right; ignorance begets a confidence that cannot be challenged.

Much of what we interpret as political discourse is nothing more than rigid positions taken by mentally limited politicians expressing a fanatical confidence that cannot be challenged. Nothing changes but it is an opportunity for endless babble.


It certainly explains the rigid and uncompromising  political positions taken by Republican extremists as expressed by the Tea Party and the irrational ravings of Bachmann, Perry and others like them that only Fox News can accept. And consistent with these close minded rants has been the endless filibustering without discussion led by Mitch McConnell and John Boehmer, confident in their ignorance and, committed to closing off all debates on the issues at hand.