Ignorance is Bliss
October 24, 2017
Author: Bianca Yang
I think the reason people feel uncomfortable claiming ignorance is bliss is because uncertainty is painful. But whether uncertainty and ignorance are equivalent or similar enough to be compared in this way is another question. Ignorance is the state of not knowing. At which point do you cross over from being ignorant to being in a position where you know just enough to be uncertain and worried about a situation?
To give an example, my friend and I were recently eating in a shopping mall where the emergency strobe lights were going off. The mall was also unusually warm, meaning the air conditioning was not functioning. But no one was in a state of alarm, so business went on as usual. At that point, we were ignorant of the true situation but aware enough of what these signals meant to be anxious. Neither of us were really worried, but I did feel a moment of nervousness due to uncertainty in what was really happening.
Think of a generic situation where someone is ignorant of most of sequence of events that led to the circumstance but can see signs that suggest something bad happened. One classic reaction is for that person to become very nervous and rush around to bystanders, asking if they know anything about what’s happening. Another example is that he just don’t care and moves on with his life.
I previously accepted the statement “ignorance is bliss” because those who don’t know just don’t know. Consider a woman sitting on a bench with her back facing a restaurant window. She’s on her phone, browsing the web. There is a man sitting at the table just on the other side of the window, watching her phone screen. To a bystander, this would probably trigger all kinds of warning signals about privacy. But the woman, who is ignorant of the man, is blissfully looking through her phone. The same is with children. Children are blissfully ignorant of “how the world works” and live blissfully in the bubble the adults around them have constructed just for their protection.
To go back to circumstances which seem to break my logic, think of people who say “you’ll know when you’re older” or “I’ll tell you when you’re older”. The person on the receiving end is still ignorant, but he is not blissful. He is probably rather peeved to be deprived of information. But the reason he is upset is because he is aware that he is ignorant. He is also being given strong clues that whatever people were hiding from him is important. It must be important because he clearly doesn’t have the prerequisites to know the information. In this circumstance, you are no longer ignorant. You are ignorant of what other people know, but you now know that other people know something you don’t and that that something else is important. So I think this situation still follows my logic that not knowing what you don’t know is blissful.
Let’s go back to the generic situation where someone desperately wants to know what happened but doesn’t. Again, the person who is upset is now aware of their ignorance of something that appears important. The person who isn’t upset is in the same situation as the person who is upset, but they have accepted their ignorance.
To conclude, I think there are varying levels of being ignorantly blissful. One is where you just don’t know what you don’t know and you have nothing to worry about. Another is where you know you don’t know something but you are willing to accept your ignorance.
The circumstances where people get upset are when someone or something pulls out something from their world of unknown unknowns (what they don’t know they don’t know) and proves to them that what they don’t know is somehow important. In that case, they can continue being upset and try to resolve their uncertainty or just accept it and move on to other problems.
If you like my writing or want to talk to me, send me an email at ipacifics [at] gmail [dot] com. I’m open for job interviews, as well! Look at this page for a specification of my preferences: http://xrdt.github.io/resume.html