…the greater we find our ignorance.” Gardiner G. Hubbard, the first President of the National Geographic Society
This is a popular sentiment. As I looked for similar quotes I stumbled upon this one from JFK: “The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”
Regardless of the truth of the sentiment, this rhetorical form–I’ll call it “The More…The More” statement–is seductive. It sounds so strong, kind of like Leia saying to Grand Moff Tarkin “The more you tighten your grip…the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” On the face of these statements, I don’t accept that ignorance increases as knowledge does.
But I can accept the statement that more knowledge makes understanding meaning more complex, maybe harder. This is what I think Kennedy and Hubbard were saying, in fairly elegant terms meant for rhetorical impact, not logical soundness.
The utter disappearance of the Air Malaysia jet is tragic. The failed search for it is a big fat metaphor for human limitations in the era of Big Data. It reminds me of The Onion’s “World’s Largest Metaphor Hits Ice-berg: Titanic, Representation of Man’s Hubris, Sinks in North Atlantic.”
This symbolism of human limitations is explored in today’s New York Times article by Pico Iyer, “The Folly of Thinking We Know.” Ayer’s piece is a good meditation on our weaknesses and blind spots. And I always love hearing mention of the Overconfidence Effect, our persistent belief that we think we know more than we really do (and with great confidence, no less).
I’m most interested I hearing your thoughts on this. Does all this information make us smarter yet dumber? Are we more informed but less wise?