Knowledge Vs. Ignorance


Umar Bello, PhD.


"The ignorant one does not see his ignorance as he basks in its darkness; nor does the knowledgeable one see his own knowledge, for he basks in its light" Ibn Arabi (1165-1240)



Ibn Arabi's statement is very deep and powerful. The ignorant one is brash and cocksure as he doesn't see his ignorance. The truly knowledgeable one, on the other hand, has metacognition that makes him wary, circumspect and measured knowing that he doesn't know anything more than an atomic, infinitesimal speck. Metacognition, ie, the understanding of your thinking and its limitations is one major difference between knowledge and ignorance. The brightness around the knowledgeable person only sheds light on his limitation, vacuity and emptiness. In the vast sea of knowledge, the knowledgeable one knows that he only takes a handful sip to fill his tiny stomach however deeply thirsty he may be for more, and will humbly leave the inexhaustible sea hardly stirring it like a weightless, feathery scum that floats on it. If nothing, he's delimited by the capacity of his container. The flicker of light around the knowledgeable person as such only reflects on the gaping vacuum of those issues yet ungrasped and unknown surrounding him to the extent that he sees himself as uninformed. His light, in essence, tells him about the extent of his darkness. 


The ignorant one, on the other hand, doesn't know his limitations. The darkness of ignorance doesn't allow the estimation or the sighting of how much is unknown and unlearnt. Dunning & Kruger see this as a dual burden, i.e., the burden of ignorance by itself and the burden of not knowing how ignorant one is! The third may remain that of an inflated self-perception for he suffers illusory superiority, rating his ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly informed may underrate his own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority knowing of that which he doesn't know. There is indeed no point of juncture between ignorance and knowledge. They are mutually exclusive and in revolving doors, where as one is taken into the vast brightness of the outside the other is taken into the cryptic inside where all that he can sense in his own presence! The darkness of ignorance, in essence, doesn't allow the beaming on darkness while the light of knowledge beams on the vastness of those things inscrutable and in the dark!


One of the greatest philosophers of all time, Socrates, persistently proclaims that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing. His Socratic method is always about asking questions and probing deeper, seeking for answers, and yet overwhelming his interlocutor with the intricate complexities of his propositions and answers. Research questions owe a lot to the Socratic system of object inquiry. From Descartes down to Immanual Kant, there is a distrust of our senses and doubt about the so-called empirical evidence. When there are mirages, when colors change with lights and when images in water skew or even when far objects seem smaller and nearer ones, bigger, how can our senses perceive accurately? What about David Hume's problem with inductive reasoning itself and the discovery of the black swan or Propper's notions of falsifiable science? Should deductive logic be the only cornerstone of knowledge? When will there be a juncture between the Kantian 'phenomena' (our perceptions) and 'noumena' i.e. objects-in-themselves? Evidence is not only sometimes deceptive but merely a tiny tip of an endless iceberg of the unknown buried deep in the belly of the earth. The earth, itself, is merely a tiny dot among billions of planets in the cosmos. Science has only understood or discovered not more than 5% of the universe. 95% remains uncharted and unknown. All men are, as such, virtually in a vast epistemological handicap and ignorance. The difference between ignorance and knowledge is, thus, not only that of illusory superiority over inferiority as posited by Dunning-Kruger, but the difference in the ability to estimate the magnitude of the unknown and the unknowable as cleverly summed up by the Andalusian Sufi scholar, Muhiyidden Ibn Arabi.


Dr Umar Bello writes this from Jubail, KSA.


(This short article was submitted to another forum as an answer to the question: what is the difference between knowledge and ignorance?)