A Beginners Mind
“Genuine ignorance is profitable because it leads to humility, curiosity and open-mindedness.” John Dewey
A lot is being written lately about the virtues of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Not many people are even discussing Genuine Ignorance (GI). I believe ignorance has been getting a bad rap. Perhaps that is because in our culture we believe that intelligence is a good thing to have, even if it’s artificial, and ignorance is a bad thing to have, even if it’s genuine. But if we could promote genuine ignorance as being profitable, it might catch on. In America, being profitable is probably more popular than being intelligent. The goal of artificial intelligence is to produce intelligent computers. The goal of genuine ignorance is to produce intelligent humans.
I want to join John Dewey in promoting genuine ignorance. Of course we aren’t the only ones. Will Durant once exclaimed, “Education is the progressive discovery of our ignorance.” And Will Rogers explained that, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
My goal of blog writing has been to promote a collective worldview that is open and inclusive. We will need our curiosity, humility, and open-mindedness to do this. It is well known that humans have a need to know. One definition of intelligence is the capacity to acquire knowledge. Ignorance is defined as lacking in knowledge. But here comes the paradox. Old knowledge blocks new knowing. Nietzsche. That’s because what you already know often prevents you from learning something new. Genuine ignorance will help.
Humans not only have a need to know, we want things to be perfectly clear. We want to know that this is this and that is that. It is so much easier and comfortable to be certain. However, today, the “new sciences” are based on things like the uncertainty principle, chaos theory, relativity, and complexity. Being certain may have become a thing of the past. In today’s world; to know for sure may not be intelligent behavior. How can genuine ignorance help?
Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind A beginner’s mind is a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time. Zen saying
The beginner’s mind is what Zen practitioners use when describing the notion that learning requires an empty cup. When full of what you already know it is hard to acquire new knowledge. A beginner’s mind is trying to discover its ignorance, not to disguise it. This empty cup, beginner’s mind idea is like genuine ignorance, and being child-like. Children don’t know a lot so they learn a lot. They have a beginner’s mind.
You might try thinking like a child. A child hasn’t yet learned rational, adult thinking. Almost all creative thinking techniques, brainstorming for example, involve the abandonment of rational, intelligent thinking processes. Sometimes, not always, you need to think and act playfully and foolishly (unintelligently). It is interesting to note that playfulness and foolishness are considered childlike traits. Try it, you might like it.
An open, beginner’s mind allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise, which often thinks it knows more than it does. Jon Kabat Zinn