Illusion of knowledge | Hamid Hashmi

Hamid Hashmi

Stephen Hawking has rightly remarked that the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge. He is widely acclaimed for his aphorism. The main purpose of aphorism is to alarm us to be cognisant of the shortcomings of the illusion of knowledge. Illusion of knowledge is one’s faulty, subjective, unscientific, unproved, vague, false, misleading approach or assumption to a thing, fact or information. For instance, there is an inexperienced mechanic, a person goes to him with a glitch in his car, and he checked the car and unnecessarily opened other parts which lead to other problems in car. The illusion of car knowledge may jeopardise the other parts of car.

In the present times people are so engrossed in the superficial things that they seldom try to understand themselves. The current trend of being ‘online’ has created a situation where one has so much information that one is always hard pressed going into the details. The end result is you just take information, you don’t contemplate. This superficial knowledge gives one an impression as if one knows all. But reality is that we rarely go deep, we rarely try to deliberate and use our brains to add to the existing set of information that we already possess. This creates the illusion of knowledge. This illusion makes us arrogant. Another factor which leads to such an illusion is that only a few of us have developed the habit of listening. We listen less and talk more. The less you listen the more the illusion grows. The more this illusion grows, the more one becomes arrogant, unreceptive and more the illusion gets strengthened.

Plato said ,”Knowledge is justified true belief”. So, it is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something. There are five major sources of knowledge. It includes Personal experience and institution, tradition, expert authority, logic and research. Generally, we obtain knowledge through empirical that is scientific and rational approaches that is by reason. Knowledge is an important and fundamental possession in our existence because it moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct such as those connected to reality, existence, knowledge, values and reason. On the other hand, ignorance is a state of being unaware. It is a door to misconceptions and false opinions, which leads to pursuing bad ideas and ignoring good one’s ignorance of actions leads to bad decision and also develop a type of fear among individual. In-fact people do not research on facts but trust in misinformation thus remaining ignorant of the position in which they espouse. For instance it is the responsibility of every individual to cast vote, but many people because of their ignorance didn’t vote, in return it effects their life and as well as the life of others too. But the illusion of knowledge is more dangerous than ignorance. Illusion is something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.

Illusions have misled the reality as years ago it was believed that human interaction could be possible, if the individuals are near to each other and must be in front of each other. But one person (Graham Bell) has not accepted this illusion and has changed the whole structure of human interaction. One cannot deny that we are living in the age of illusions. Because we have created the illusions that one cannot write neat and clean with left hand, one cannot shot with left hand, Disable people cannot be the assets from a nation etc and etc. These illusions create an impact on our thinking and understanding as well. For understanding the effect of illusions on our thinking and understanding let’s take the earlier example of human interaction. It was believed that human interaction could not be possible if two person are not physically present in front of each other. It had an immense impact on our thinking and understanding that we firmly believe in this illusion and does not think contrary to it.

Ignorance can be besieged with knowledge. I believe that education is the key to real progress and change, but not education that is slanted in one direction or perspective. Education is inherently about looking at all the views and angles, the history of those perspectives, and the evolution of ideas as we move forward in time. Information is a sequence. Humanity made up stories to explain the great mysteries.  They worked with the information that they had at the time. But they did not have all the information available to them. The human mind is in constant evolution. As we can cognate and perceive certain things and those ideas make sense only then can we evolve to the next level of information and teachings that our brain can assimilate. Learning history from the standpoint of being able to understand the way a culture and a people viewed reality at that time in history and then the decisions they made because of their beliefs and mythologies is essential for getting a well-rounded overview of history, a culture, and its people. At this time, we live in a world where many are not mentally disciplined to delve deep into the depth of things. They think that a small bit of information is enough to get a “good enough” understanding of a complex issue but that is not true. As the famous quote by Alexander Pope, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” 

Thinking that you have read one book and that book holds all the information you need to understand and know is a ridiculous assumption and is a form of “Spiritual Arrogance.” Do not let your mind become bored, complacent, and lulled into a place of believing it has all the answers. Let your mind expand and continue to read. Continue to talk to those who see the world as different as you. Recognize that there are many pathways but that eventually they will all lead to one place of love, acceptance, and compassion.

On the other hand illusions can be avoided through eliminating your inner conflicts and to see the things in their totality. It is perhaps a truthfulness that all human beings suffer from the evil of illusion of knowledge. Our failures are the signs of our illusion of knowledge we strive for, getting rid of this evil is a must for perfect success and achievement. All ideal personalities who are role-models of mankind, such as Lincoln, Shakespeare, Dickens, Ramanujjan, Einstein, Addison, Graham Bell, Yogananda, Vivekananda etc were the personalities who overcame the evil of illusion of knowledge. The knowledge what we have acquired in present times is composed to a variety of factors. On one side we have taken assistance from parents, teachers and others on other side we have acquired it by our experience with the things. Indeed if there is a single attitude most closely associated with our culture, it’s the opposite of humility. The defining trait of the age seems to be arrogance of thinking that we know it all and that you don’t need to improve because you are just so great already.

The sort of ignorance is partly due to the fact that human beings are not isolated knowing machines. We live in an economy of knowledge that distributes cognitive and epistemic labour among specialist. That’s a good thing. No one person can know everything, or even very much but put all doctors, scientist, mechanics and plumbers together and we collectively know quite a bit. Actually the reality is we don’t want to learn because learning requires patience and humility. And very few amongst us possess these attributes. Most of us are incapable of learning and acquiring new knowledge. We are less receptive. We are against the change. We fail to accept that there is nothing like perfection. Learning is a never ending process. With education you learn to read a sentence but with experience and humility you learn to understand the meaning of that sentence. The last thing that needs to be addressed is that how can we develop humility with our present knowledge. So in this regard people can develop humility with our present knowledge. So in this regard people can develop humility that one should not claim more than one actually knows. Humility is a virtue developed by constantly seeking to see ourselves as God sees us. Everything about your field cause serious difficulties and inconvenience to others and it is the greatest challenge to the discovery too.

About the Author: Hamid Hashmi is a student of BA LLB at The Law School, University Of Jammu. Views expressed are his personal

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