Ignorance & Agnosticism

Sunday, 3 April 2011

There isn’t a lot of dif­fer­ence be­tween the root mean­ings of ig­no­rant and ag­nos­tic; but there is a vast dif­fer­ence in their mod­ern con­no­ta­tions. Ignorance is es­sen­tially the re­sult of hold­ing a point of view due to lack of facts or a rea­son­able thought process. For the most part, it is a pas­sive sit­u­a­tion. We are, by na­ture, ig­no­rant. At some point in our de­vel­op­ment as peo­ple, we reach a place where we have a choice to re­main ig­no­rant or to ed­u­cate our­selves on a given topic. Since ed­u­ca­tion is al­ways a dif­fi­cult task, it’s of­ten eas­ier to re­main ig­no­rant, and mask that ig­no­rance by ac­cept­ing what­ever po­si­tion ap­peals most uniquely to our­selves and then sound­ing au­thor­i­ta­tive about it.

Agnosticism is a bit of a dif­fer­ent beast. I can see two ways of defin­ing ag­nos­ti­cism, but they both have the same re­sult. The first an­gle is the re­sult of hav­ing plenty of facts about a cer­tain topic, but when ap­ply­ing rea­son to those facts, there is in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to meet the stan­dards of rea­son set by the mind try­ing to make that judg­ment call. The re­sult is ab­sten­tion from mak­ing a de­ci­sion. The sec­ond an­gle is a bit broader in its ap­pli­ca­tion and ef­fects. It prob­a­bly shouldn’t even be called ag­nos­ti­cism, but I can’t think of an­other word that fits. It is a gen­eral prin­ci­ple of which any fact-gath­er­ing and sub­se­quent de­ci­sion is a speci­fic case.

What I’m try­ing to say is that once some­one has cho­sen to ed­u­cate them­selves, and if they do so ag­nos­ti­cally (gath­er­ing facts but mak­ing no judg­ment), at some point it is pos­si­ble to be ag­nos­tic about any topic on which you are ig­no­rant. Once you’ve come to the con­clu­sion that you’re ag­nos­tic about a few things, you can start to as­sume ag­nos­ti­cism about any topic in­stead of ig­no­rance.

Here’s a speci­fic case:

I went to the shoot­ing range with some cowork­ers to­day. I hadn’t used a firearm in over 20 years, and through­out my life those clos­est to me have had ig­no­rant views re­gard­ing firearms. Guns are bad, full stop. I could have cho­sen to ac­cept that for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, but my knowl­edge didn’t meet the stan­dard for me to make that de­ci­sion. So, I re­mained ag­nos­tic about guns. I needed more in­for­ma­tion, so I went to the shoot­ing range with my cowork­ers and learned more. I’m still ag­nos­tic right now, or rather, I still haven’t fully thought through my feel­ings on the mat­ter.

By rec­og­niz­ing my ig­no­rance, I was able to turn it into ag­nos­ti­cism. I will make no judg­ment un­til I feel that I know enough to do so.

Agnosticism is ba­si­cally the stance of open-mind­ed­ness. It is ca­pa­ble of see­ing both sides and none, is sym­pa­thetic, em­pa­thetic and the in­her­ently most re­spect­ful po­si­tion to take on a topic where one is not an ex­pert. It is hard to be an ag­nos­tic though; es­pe­cially in re­gards to re­li­gion. You get caught be­tween the mys­tics (like my­self and other be­liev­ers) and the skep­tics. So it goes for re­li­gion, and so it goes for any other topic.

Fidelity to your own stan­dard of truth is hard to hold on to when you’re a big hair­less mon­key that like to con­vince and be con­vinced with all the other hair­less mon­keys in your world.

Know Nothings

Sunday, 29 June 2003

Bear with me here, please.

After brief con­scious mas­ti­ca­tion, fol­lowed by a long boil in the sub­scon­scious, and an­other bout of con­scious bang­ing my head against this thread [and ac­com­pa­ny­ing ar­ti­cle], these are what I think about some stuff.

We al­ways know noth­ing. [Yes, that con­tra­dicts it­self, as do most of my navel-gaz­ings].

Here we go.

What started me off was this state­ment by one Ryvar:

It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to re­al­ize that all of the ex­pe­ri­en­tial processes you have within the course of a day or year can be ex­plained while ac­cept­ing that there is no mys­ti­cal com­po­nent to con­scious­ness.

Now, I dis­agree with this quite a lot, but I’ve no­ticed when dis­agree­ments arise it is usu­ally the re­sult of a fal­lacy in a higher or­der of thought on the part of all par­ties, so af­ter I gnawed on this for a bit, de­cided what was wrong with his ar­gu­ment, I then ap­plied it to my own.

We are both ar­gu­ing be­lief sys­tems, he has his de­ter­min­ist ap­proach and I’ve got mine. His is fact based, mine is more of an amal­gam of faith and fact. I am not go­ing to ex­plain my be­lief sys­tem, as it would be tan­gen­tial to what I want to dis­cuss.

Both of us are com­pletely wrong, forever.

What is a fact? Something that can be proven, no? Twice two is four, as the Underground man would say. Humans eat, sleep, and ex­crete. An acorn grows into an oak tree. Behavior is de­ter­mined by the stim­u­lus of en­vi­ron­ment upon mol­e­c­u­lar sys­tems [If it is cold out, we shiver.]

There is no such thing as fact, with this de­f­i­n­i­tion.

Facts are still things that are be­lieved in. I have sort of touched upon this kind of thing here but now it ap­pears to be reach­ing a type of ma­tu­rity. A fact is sup­pos­edly some­thing that is known to be true, and true faith knows in this way as well. What, ergo, sep­a­rates the two?

Everything we know we have been taught in one way or an­other. Yet it seems that we have been taught to be­lieve in knowl­edge. Belief in Fact is just like Belief in God, we can prove it to our­selves, we can prove it to oth­ers, oth­ers can prove it to us. Yet, it is still false.

The prob­lem, yes as usual, lies with the old Delphic fiat, Know Thyself, an im­pos­si­bil­ity. Since no one has at­tained this goal, any other knowl­edge they come across, dis­cover, pro­pound, or have prop­a­gated upon them­selves is flawed. This is be­cause the per­son who orig­i­nally thought it up was flawed in them­selves, an Original Sin of cog­i­ta­tion, all hu­man ef­forts be­come ut­terly fu­tile. This is sort of how bib­li­cal schol­ars jus­tify var­i­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the bible, it was handed down from a per­fect source, but taken by a flawed be­ing, and is there­fore im­per­fect in its in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

So we can­not ever know any­thing be­cause every­thing goes back to­ward the ba­sic flaw in hu­man un­der­stand­ing. We only be­lieve, have faith, that we know things. Unless we are per­fect be­ings, we have mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances to un­der­mine any­thing we think we be­lieve we know.

I’m sure this is old hat to plenty of philoso­phers and the­olo­gians out there. It seems a bit rem­i­nis­cent of the whole ‘Do we ex­ist’ ar­gu­ment. We think we ex­ist, we be­lieve it, but we can never quite know it. If we can­not even feel se­cure about one of the old­est and most ba­sic verbs, the one fun­da­men­tal for any cod­i­fied knowl­edge, we can­not truly know any­thing.

I think I might eat break­fast now. [At least, that is what I think I be­lieve I know I am do­ing.]

HUGE CO…rooster

Monday, 22 April 2002

yeah so i cleaned my room and did laun­dry.

yeah and my mom asked me if i was sa­tanic the other day. she meant it too. i think she just as­sumes the worst since i don’t live at home un­der her pro­tec­tive wing. its bor­ing un­der a pro­tec­tive wing, i’d rather go ex­plor­ing. i’m not a lit­tle chick any more. i am a HUGE CO…rooster. she missed me and loves me, i knowiknow. i take it for granted i am sure. but hell, if i don’t go ex­plor­ing, i will be even lamer than i am now. plus she is still there when i need her the most. i don’t take that for granted. some­times when i write this i feel like doo­gie howser m.d. but i’m not a tool like he was. my laun­dry needs dry­ered so i’m out for now. 

talked to molly and i (can’t do it) still feel like shit. is it me that needs fig­ur­ing out or does she need to fig­ure her­self out? how do i care for some­one that doesn’t care about them­self?

i’m ob­vi­ously wrong about some things and miss­ing oth­ers.

Jack Squat

Monday, 8 April 2002

i guess it goes with­out say­ing that be­ing in­volved in a re­la­tion­ship is a very in­ter­est­ing and some­times fright­en­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. but i need to say it. hell, i don’t have much ex­pe­ri­ence along these lines. what y’all know is new to me. i think the two fun­da­men­tal as­pects that should be ba­sic to any re­la­tion­ship (friend, mate, dog, what­ever) are hon­esty and re­spect. its some­times tough to be hon­est and give re­spect. lis­ten to me of­fer­ing my wisdom…ha! i know jack squat. per­haps my fun­da­men­tals are just the­o­ries. they sure sound good to me though