Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ignorance In The Time Of Knowledge

The oddest part of humanity's march into the 21st Century, a time of global telecommunication and the interchange of knowledge, is the growing prevalence of ignorance in society. Not the simple ignorance of not knowing things, which is the root of curiosity and the quest for answers, but the ignorance of fact and reason, the actual gainsaying of established convention and lines of thought, which were the basis of the very revolutions that brought about the Industrial Age, the Space Age, and the Information Age. The negation of that which is known, that which is verifiable, repeatable, and fundamental to the operation of the universe, is a conundrum; that so many would profess their disbelief in such things so publicly, an enigma.

Now, this is not anything new; human history is replete with such stories, of philosophers challenging conventional wisdom of their age, decrying the intervention of all-too-human gods, or coming up with simple and rational explanations for natural phenomena. Archimedes, Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Bohr, Einstein... the list of scientists and thinkers who have endured the questioning of their precepts and theories in the face of indisputable evidence or, at the very least, plausibility and potential confirmation through further experimentation, is very long. Those who challenged the status quo, who tore away the curtain to reveal the true operation of the world, separate from the machinations of angels and demons, were reviled in their day, marked as charlatans, and, even when their predictions came true or their theories confirmed, still challenged by those who would not so easily let go their grip on cherished beliefs.

Yet, in an era when so much of what has come before is comfortably ensconced in the pantheon of knowledge, there are those vocal critics who would seek to rewrite the operating system of the universe, to dismiss the operations that are fundamental to its existence, and claim that they know the true intention or methodology of the creator. The look at theories, which are so in name only now, and claim that they are merely "theories," contradictable by "evidence" that is as plain as the nose on your face. What is most astonishing, is how easily that skein of unreason is picked up by the general populace, having apparently been conditioned not to think for themselves, but to regurgitate the missives of others.

The fault lies in ourselves, as does so much of what is wrong in the nation, the world, and the human race. Specifically, in America, education has taken a back seat to so many things. Curricula are still enforced by the States, each with a very different take on what parts of math, science, history, and English are important, constantly changing their criteria, and forcing children into rote memorization of incomplete and often erroneous information, simply because that is what is printed in a text book. The art of teaching is being reduced to ruins in the hands of administrators who are busy collecting the perks of their position, even as teachers are sacrificed on the altar of reduced school budgets and funding. Teachers can no longer teach, but must instead prepare students for unending series of standardized tests, which can no better assess a child's learning ability than an actual teacher. We have slowly taken away the core and fundamental skills of logic, reason, experimentation, and curiosity, and replaced them with pat answers, Internet searches, and performance evaluations.

That we seek to dilute knowledge, can it, prepackage it, and cover it in half-truths and obfuscations, is a reprehensible use of the intellect that humanity has developed over millions of years. While many might shudder to think of themselves descended from apes, they are hardly bothered by the idea that human society is regressing toward their primitive ancestors, by giving up, wholesale, the very advantage that put so much distance between us on the tree of life. That these purveyors of ignorance are given unfettered and unchallenged access to the world, and that there is no hue and cry loud enough to drown them out, may prove to be our epitaph.

As always, hope springs eternal. While the majority may choose to wallow, the edges of humanity continue to move forward, to learn new things, explore new places, and bring us closer to an understanding of the creation of our universe. Science does not seek to replace God, only allow us to read his mind, tease apart the puzzle that has been left for us, and to make our own destiny. In seeking truth and knowledge from the depths of atoms to the distant reaches of the cosmos, we are not forsaking the creator, but delighting in the creation, seeing what a wonderful and marvelous place we live in. If our ultimate goal is to be closer to the source of the all, then science is the light that leads the way. There is no profit in denying the truth or misspeaking the facts; to do so only condemns us to an ignominious end. To broaden our horizons, to spread our minds across the stars and down into the heart of everything, is to enrich us, to let us grow, and to bring us closer to ultimate truth. Isn't that what we want, ultimately?

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