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Ignorance isn't just bliss, it's key to expanding your knowledge
Is pretending we know all the answers to how the brain works, economic cycles, or even what makes us fat is the enemy of real knowledge? - photo by Eric Schulzke
Embracing ignorance is the key to expanding knowledge, argues the author of a new book on ignorance, writing in the New York Times.

Jamie Holmes, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based New America think tank and author of the forthcoming book "Nonsense: the Power of Not Knowing," cites a variety of fields where experts have, in recent years, begun fronting the study of what we don't know as central to understanding what we do.

"The more we know, the more we can ask," Holmes writes, "Questions dont give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isnt merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured."

Neuroscientist Stuart Firestine argued in his 2012 book "Ignorance: How it Drives Science" that ignorance is not stupidity but is actually the fundamental building block of science.

"The book comes at an important time," wrote the New York Times in a review of Firestine's work. "Todays most vociferous scientific controversies turn on different interpretations of facts about climate change, about contraception, about evolution. When politics are injected, the shouting grows louder, the thinking muddier. 'Uncertainty' is a dirty word."

The embrace of ignorance seems timely, given the unsettled state of science surrounding something as simple as eggs and bacon. Dietary salt, fat and cholesterol have, for generations, been viewed as unmitigated and serious health risks, but recent research has called all of that knowledge into question.

"Epidemiologic studies suggest that almost any nutrient can be associated with a myriad of outcomes. ... Nowhere is this fact more evident than the shifting sands of opinion on the relative risks of fat, salt, cholesterol and sugar," wrote a trio of scientists in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings last month.

And we apparently know very little about the brain. A team of scientists announced this month that it had painstakingly reviewed 100 major psychology studies published in three top journals and could not replicate the findings of more than half of them, as reported in the journal Science.

The embrace of ignorance leads to better teaching, says Lionel Jackson, senior vice president for education at Malaysia's National Innovation Agency, told the Deseret News last year.

Malaysia has struggled in recent years to remain competitive while saddled with an educational system built around teachers dispensing knowledge while students take notes and never ask questions.

Our lives are all about providing answers, but actually we should be providing questions and then getting students to think about their own thinking, Jackson said. Its a long journey that weve just started. But we are beginning to see some change happening.
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