It is said that „ignorance is bliss”. It’s a well-known and controversial saying. Ignorance, by most current definitions, is a bad thing. The dictionary definition is “the condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.” But this definition covers a very wide range of conditions. Being uneducated is, admittedly, not a good thing. However, the state of being uninformed or unaware may, in some cases, be helpful towards one’s life. How so? Read on.
In one of my favorite articles, I explained how “just like the body is what it eats, the mind is what it experiences^”. Very importantly, experience is created by more than just new external events (those coming from the surrounding world). Experience is also built up by new thoughts and internal images. So, the mind is also what it thinks.
New information can seriously disturb the balance and tranquility of the internal world. It can simmer inside, creating unrest and, thus, decrease the quality of life.
A few examples
Let’s analyze some cognitive processes, with the purpose of showing how ignorance can be used as mental defense. To set the stage, consider the following two examples. To be clear, these are slightly exaggerated with the purpose of highlighting a middle way.
- There’s always some political figure that does things that one doesn’t agree with. The more one learns about that person’s statements, the more information about their political direction (or rather misdirection) one gets. This is the opposite of ignorance. Often, new statements and information surrounding that person shows up on a daily basis. Indulging in this torrent of information reinforces the mental image of that politician in one’s mind.
- There are still wars on Earth. Sometimes, we follow a conflict’s events on a daily basis. We live under a constant bombardment of terrible news. We are informed and aware. Again, we are not ignorant.
The rest of the article will focus on highlighting a middle way that finds itself between a state of increased awareness and a state of ignorance. Clarification: this article does not promote ignorance, but the mastery of wielding it.
Inner storm to inner peace
For about 16 years straight, I’ve been reading mass-media coverage of various geo-political events. I became over-saturated with information. This took an enormous amount of memory space. Countries and politicians became as intimate as family, sapping my emotional budget.
This January, I decided to not read my favorite news aggregator for 1 year. This doesn’t mean I went and buried my head in the sand. I continued to listen to local news, for no longer than 10 minutes per weekday (whereas before I would spend more than 60 minutes reading news, 7 days a week). Important events continued to reach me through friends and I manually searched for any other topic that interested me.
Almost 11 months later, I find myself in a state of clarity and tranquility unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my adult life. Even better, if news about some politician I disliked reaches me, I interpret it without any negative feelings. I can even respect good things said by the worst leaders in the history of mankind, alive or dead. When I hear bad things, I take them in a much less personal way. And, of course, I realized just how horribly controlled and polarized by over-information our society is.
The deluge of information eventually leads to reinforcing cognitive biases^. The effect is compounded by the increasing popularity of “AI” algorithms^ used by news aggregators and social networks, which specialize in feeding people exactly what they way to hear (because it makes them happy (ab)users). Why do you think flat Earth’ers have conventions^ now-a-days?
We are experiencing dangerous and ever-increasing levels of social polarization. Social groups (be it political, religious, cultural or economic) focus more and more negative energy on other social groups which they see as enemies. And each moment, the mass-media and entertainment industry is busy creating more enemies. To not generalize: there are some good publications out there, but in the age of the sensational and “AI”-curated content, quality and truth are not having an easy ride.
It has become difficult to separate the important from the meaningless, the true from the sensational, click-bait and outright lie. All this makes it very hard to take the vital decisions that a society runs on (such as voting).
Selective exposure to information
As I detailed, I expose myself selectively to information. I carefully listen to local news and receive other important news from friends. I pick my own information menu based on my current direction in life. This is not hard to do at all.
The benefits are immense: an instant increase in time and a prolonged release of mental pressure. 10 months after my self-imposed “(excess) news embargo”, I feel lighter with every passing month. It looks like a second year of fasting will follow.
Eventually, I shall desire to be more helpful towards the world through some other role that requires me to expose myself to more information again. I shall then tune in to sources that should be as diverse and contradictory as possible. Not because I hunger for gossip and bad news, but because I see the beauty of diversity and the fact that everybody’s right.
I’ve accepted the progresses we’ve made and understand that many of the crises we’re going through are part of an intelligent species’ evolution. I wish we will be able to continue on this journey. And, if a certain theory is right, the very reason why we exist is because at some point down the line, our grandchildren’s grandchildren have done something amazing. It will be well. The show will go on.
Pardon the surge of positivity, but this is precisely the result of clearing a massive amount of brain-space by cutting useless information, toxic news and toxic people.
I am still well informed about the topics I care for (trade wars, semiconductor technology, AI and the environment, to name a few). But I do this with a fraction of the time I was spending last year.
And I have the society I live in to thank for all this. In most countries, it would have been pretty damn difficult to handle selective isolation with such surgical precision (I live in Sweden).
I’m going to give a third example.
- I recently saw a (horror) movie trailer that seriously disturbed me. It went straight for some inner sanctuaries, risking to dirty them. Not only was I careful to reinforce the areas it attacked, I also decided to avoid that movie and am currently in the process of deleting this event from memory, save for a BOLD RED WARNING to not see anything related to that movie ever again.
My inner world is quite solid, but some of the offensive methods used against the intellect are incredibly well crafted. I’m actually thankful for having seen that movie trailer. It presented a new sort of attack. It made me stronger and showed me how dangerous some of the “entertainment” out there can be.
So did I just say that I am deleting, at will, something from my memory? Yes, it’s somewhat possible^. It’s not easy and sometimes “complete” deletion is difficult to achieve. For example, writing this article has re-invigorated my memory about that trailer. But it was definitely an already wrinkled memory. After just 6 months I felt it like 6 years ago. Well, now it’s stronger again but hey, I did it for science!
Try this exercise: never, ever, from now on, think about a pink elephant. You will soon get the hang of it. Memories are deleted by forgetting them. Forgetting means not thinking about a certain thing for a long period of time. And it can be done. After all, the brain does this automatically when it blocks memories.
Not-thinking about something is a skill that involves focusing on everything else in one’s life except that thing one wants to forget. And, like any skill, the more often one uses this process, the better one becomes at it. Sure, stray thoughts will come haunting for a while, but the will of silence is strong.
A calm and happy existence doesn’t mean controlling life or the environment. It’s mastering how one deals with that environment and the challenges it brings. Are we to be piloted by our brains, or are we to be brain pilots?
Our mind is only partially known to us. It’s full of hidden universes and unexpected surprises. Mysterious processes are often at play. Time spent understanding all this is the best investment one can make.
I use ignorance to free up space and protect my core. I use ignorance to delete useless references and, with the space so created, fill my brain with diverse knowledge from the weirdest of sources. I use ignorance to destroy rules and patterns that harm me. Ignorance is my mental defense. My delete button. My “please move away from here” spaceship.