Ignorance Is the Fuel of Science Advancement

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The great accomplishments made by humans over the last few centuries can be attributed to the scientific advancements made during this period. For this reason, science is regarded as the most important tool for the progress of our civilization. Advancements in this field are deemed crucial for the future development of the world. Considering the significance of science, it is important to identify what fuels its advancement. Various arguments have been made about what stimulates scientific progress in our society. The most compelling argument states that ignorance is the fuel of science advancement.

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Ignorance is of great benefit to the scientific process of discovering the truth. The renowned 19th century physicist, James Clerk Maxwell declared, “Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science”. The ancient Greek philosophers were well aware of this fact. They recognized that knowledge is developed by questioning. Science has developed on the same premise, but it also involves setting up experiments to prove the accuracy of theories. Science attempts to move from a point of unawareness or little awareness to complete knowledge. Scientific development is constructed from the conscious ignorance that Maxwell talked about. This kind of ignorance is different from the one associated with a lack of curiosity or education. It is a high-quality ignorance that can cultivate new thoughts and questions. While the status quo of the modern education system is to fill students with knowledge, science development can only be generated through the conscious ignorance that raises the objective of questioning and originating new thoughts.

The knowledge students obtain from the modern education system limits their capability to develop new ideas and thoughts. The North American school system has become mechanical for many students. At schools, students work solely for tests, quizzes, homework and projects. As a result, the students end up pursuing grades instead of an education. They are afraid to make mistakes during tests or assignments for this will adversely affect their overall grades. One ought to question if this is the true objective of education. Ideally, education should aim at helping students learn how to construct ideas that can bring about progressive changes in the world. However, this is not what is happening. The education system floods students with information and the successful students are the ones who are able to memorize the information.

It should be recognized that education is the most important factor for future development in science. When students begin learning about science in school, they are intrigued and eager to learn. This interest arises because of their ignorance about the subject. At this stage, students come up with many ideas and thoughts about science since they are impressed by the new knowledge being provided to them by their teachers. Schools should teach students the fundamentals of science and what is unknown in science in order to provoke more thoughts and ideas. Such an approach would be very beneficial to younger students, who have a tendency to be more inquisitive and creative. Unfortunately, as students progress in their studies, science studies turn into tedious work that has to be completed in order for one to succeed in school. This should not be the case and the ignorance that comes with more studying should be used to promote scientific development.

As the ignorance of student’s increases, they realize that they need to learn more in order to fill the knowledge gaps. This is what makes ignorance such a powerful tool for scientific development. Without ignorance, students are only capable of learning what is already there. Using such an approach, they will not make any difference since the knowledge they possess is already known. Students should be more engaged, especially at higher degree levels such as masters, doctorates, and PhDs, to learn what they are ignorant in and try to fix issues. Education institutes should strive to create conducive environments that foster creativity and innovation in students. They should focus on the student’s ignorance instead of bombarding them with knowledge.

Ignorance develops a person’s ability to pursue knowledge. For centuries, curiosity has been the main motivation behind scientific development and advancement. This curiosity develops in humans when they feel ignorant about a subject matter and they subsequently start wondering and asking questions. This is the phenomenon that pushes humans to learn more about the world around them and the universe. The questioning begins from a point of ignorance about the subject matter. The inquisitive mind is able to formulate a hypothesis or a theory concerning the subject. After that, ideas and thoughts expansion initiate conflicts between each group of scientists or philosophers. This leads to better-quality ideas as the subject matter becomes better understood.

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However, today’s world is centered on organizations of experts. This increasingly diminishes the aspiration of people to pursue innovation. Martin (2009) declares, “Experts can be so immersed in their subject matter that they lose touch with common sense” (p.11). By definition, experts are group of people who have specialized knowledge that they apply in a certain field. Experts are the servants of the community and they play a crucial role in today’s world. Paradoxically, because experts only pursue knowledge, they lose common sense and their ability to ask questions. To the expert, knowledge is a task that has to be mastered for future application. Ignorance is not desirable and the expert diligently seeks knowledge. This is a major issue since it inhibits the conception of sufficient thoughts for innovation

Another demerit of experts is that they set-up decision-making systems that give them power and privilege in society (Martin, 2009). The modern expertise system has made people pursue power instead of seeking to bring about global change and advancement. While the knowledge possessed by experts is important, it will not promote scientific development. The renowned English writer George Eliot declared, “Knowledge is power, but it is a power to reign by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be” (Code, 2004, p.291). Conscious ignorance is the approach that leads to numerous innovations in science thereby fostering global development. This is in contrast to the system of expertise, which only seeks to achieve power and high standards of living for the experts.

Fundamental ideas have led to scientific discoveries and conscious ignorance will lead to new scientific progress. Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity by questioning why an apple fell onto his head instead of remaining suspended in the air or flying upwards. Newton realized that he was ignorant of what was happening to the apple. This is what prompted him to come up with the law of gravity. Ignorance in fields of studies provides questions that can cultivate new scientific discoveries. Scientist should dedicate more thought to what they do not know instead of what they know and this will create more questions that have to be answered. According to Varenne (2009), ignorance can also be a “prod to the kind of individual action that leads to a transformation of one’s position, locally, or more broadly” (p.337). This quote demonstrates how ignorance can result in the changing of one’s position or thought about an issue. The ignorance by Isaac Newton on the reason why the apple fell was what led to the transformation of his position and this lead to the development of a new scientific theory. Ignorance is what leads to new ideas and inventions by answering the questions that no one asked.

In conclusion, it might sound paradoxical that ignorance is the catalyst for scientific development. However, in this case, ignorance is just looking at what we do not know rather than focusing on what we already know. The education system should help students to understand the questions that science did not answer and the ideas that are not mentioned even by just asking general questions. This will urge student to be innovative and more interested in the subject instead of merely studying to achieve good grades. The school system should be structured in such a manner that it pushes them to pay attention to the questions that have never been asked. Expertise systems are detrimental to scientific development since they encourage students to pursue power and position rather than pursuing change for scientific development. Focusing solely on experts will diminish innovation since curiosity is what promotes innovation and scientific inquiry. Finally, most brilliant ideas were discovered from a thought that arose from questioning. Ignorance is the foundation of questions and without those questions; answers will not be assumed and answered. Many ideas can be created by asking what one does not know instead of concentrating on what one already knows. We should learn what scientists do not know or understand fully to get more ideas and promote more scientific development. As Marie Curie once said, “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done”.

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Code, L. (2004). The Power of Ignorance. Philosophical Paper, 33 (3), 291-308.

Martin, B. (2009). Expertise and Equality. Social Anarchism, 42(1), 10-20

Varenne, H. (2009). Conclusion: the powers of ignorance: on finding out what to do next. Critical Studies in Education, 50(3), 337–343.

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