Of seekers and believers…

“In the Middle Ages people believed that the earth was flat, for which they had at least the evidence of their senses: we believe it to be round, not because as many as one per cent of us could give the physical reasons for so quaint a belief, but because modern science has convinced us that nothing that is obvious is true, and that everything that is magical, improbable, extraordinary, gigantic, microscopic, heartless, or outrageous is scientific.”

Am reading a book called “The Knowledge Illusion” – an interesting read. It is about how little we know, but are oblivious to this fact. I had written about this in September as well. The more I read, the more obvious it sounds.

Did you know that the activity of hunting actually accelerated our development as a species? Trapping a small animal individually is manageable, but how did our ancestors hunt down bison in groups? This seemingly simple activity comprised multiple steps, variables and coordination. People had to take ownership of tasks – someone had to divert the bison into the traps laid for them, others had to use the bow and arrow to take a shot at them. Some others had to know how to skin it animal and cut it into enough pieces for the rest and also to store them underground for a few days…A very sophisticated set of tasks for someone who was a chimp a few centuries earlier…

This coordination and working together, and sharing of information and knowledge, has led us to where we are now. A by-product of this is the fact that we think we know more than we actually do, and give ourselves a lot more credit than we deserve.

There are two aspects to this – the curse of knowledge is that we tend to think what is in our heads is in the heads of others. In the knowledge illusion, we tend to think what is in others’ heads is in our heads. In both cases, we fail to discern who knows what.

Just goes to show how little we know of the world. Another book that I had read sometime ago spoke of the sensory illusion – we see what the brain wants us to see, and not the other way around. Hence our vision, our hearing, our sense of smell, taste and touch – all operate in a narrow band of perception. This is why dogs have a much better sense of smell – their sensory organs of smell are tuned to a much bigger bandwidth. We have the hardware, but not the software, so to say.

Which brings me to the opening paragraph, which is an extract from the preface to Saint Joan, a play about Joan of Arc, written by George Bernard Shaw. We believe that the earth is round, and that galaxies exist, not from our own first-hand observation, but from what scientists tell us. What we see from our own first-hand observations, we do not perceive, given our poor sensory bandwidths.

Hence the eagerness to seek, rather than believe. There are always two sides, or even more, to everything, so when you seek, and when you start with the premise that you “do not know”, you explore what is out there, without any pre-conceived notions. Once you start exploring with a belief, you close your already-narrow perceptions, and hence have a poor experience of the world, and of life.

See you tomorrow!