A note from H B’s wife, Carol: On June 3, 2021 H B died unexpectedly from a heart attack. This is the third of four blogs he wrote just before he died and that I post on his behalf. The fourth and final blog will be posted later this week. Happy reading!
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.”
“People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of liked-minded friends and self-confirming news feeds, where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.”
~Yuval Noah Harari
What you know is what you think you know. Your knowledge comes from a biased source–your beliefs or opinions; and that is the source you prefer. It is the source you know “for sure” and “it is what you know for sure that gets you in trouble,” Mark Twain.
Knowledge and truth change. What is true today may not be true tomorrow. Because of living in a reality of rapid change, we humans need to be as capable of change as the environment. Truth and knowledge both vary and change, which means we need to be willing to change our minds about truth and knowledge. What you don’t know is ignorance; what you do know is knowledge; and both are changeable.
This illusion of knowledge often comes from a little knowledge internally extrapolated into a belief of sufficient or even complete knowledge. What you believe you know may not be true. The illusion of knowledge is a belief not a fact. It is usually what we want to be true. One of the problems with facts, like knowledge and truth, is that they change. This means we need to become as changeable as facts, beliefs and truth. This is what makes Mark Twain’s advice so relevant. Learn to be as changeable as knowledge. What we know for sure may longer be true.
To say knowledge is unreliable is to say it is changeable. Change happens. it happens to you and it happens by you. The fact that facts are changeable, is good news, because it means we grow as we learn. And we change as we grow. We need to become as changeable as facts and as our environment.
And then there are “alternative facts”. Alternative facts was a phrase used by U.S. Counselor to President Trump Kellyanne Conway during a Meet the Press interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the attendance numbers of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States as “alternative facts.”
This should remind us that there are only facts and non-facts; no alternative facts. A fact is a fact, a non-fact is not. Today fact checking in politics has become routine. Maybe fact-checking in public discourse should also be routine. Maybe what you know for sure should be fact-checked. Or maybe we should all learn to ask:
“I wonder — is what I say true?”