The Placebo of Ignorance
excerpt from "A Language of Metaphors" by J.D. Casnig
ah! why should they know their fate,
"Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" 1742
[F., fr. L. ignorantia.]
The condition of being ignorant; the want of knowledge in general, or in
relation to a particular subject; the state of being uneducated or uninformed.
(Theol.) A willful neglect or refusal to acquire knowledge which one may acquire
and it is his duty to have.
life unfolds to reveal our ignorance. One's mind could be said to be confined by
a perimeter of the unknown, and it is this unknown that defines
the very psyche of the individual. Left unsatisfied, our ignorance remains in a
state of question that is a constant hunger, which, once filled, paradoxically
leaves a new void. This neuropsychological Peter Principle ensures a universal
equality among all walks of life, young or old: we all rise in our state of
knowing until we reach our state of ignorance. There we will sit, until promoted
to a state of still higher ignorance.
those who seek such protectionism are simply seeking surrogate parents for
themselves, using such paths as religion, politics or fraternity to sidestep the
uneasy road of independence. Some
may desire the leadership of a high-handed autocrat - that one-handed parent who
can only spank or cradle at any given time. Others may wish for that Solomon
appeal, a benign dictator who, though the last decisive word in all things, will
first listen to both sides. Many will allow themselves to be led by sheer
consensus. And there are those who will seek to divide the favors of the
philosopher will interrogate God, questioning both His power and his authority.
A philosopher has risen from God's obedient child to God's rambunctious teen,
and is preparing to leave the shelter and comforts of home for the harsh reality
of the outside world. The philosopher will more likely discover and denounce the
immaturities of God than that childlike follower.
turf in the new frontier of adulthood, a teen is a seedling egocracy - an
independent state run by, and consisting of, a single person. Where and when to
grow, who is friend or foe, what is right or wrong. We often consider good
parenting to be that which infuses these policies into the individual, such that
the "captain of one's ship" has predetermined ports of call throughout
their travels in life. Whether that parent is blood kin, political or religious
leader or corporation, they will need believability to have such enduring
are two basic types of belief: understanding, where truth is deemed immediately
at hand; and trust, where a figure becomes the conduit to truth. This is not to
say that truth is a mere beckon away; only that in both cases truth exists, with
the latter requiring a spokesperson who will dose out truth, and the prior
are delivered to us throughout the course of our lives. Buried in half-truths
and lies, we learn to discern, or are forever building sandcastles with dry
sand. With workable material and know-how, we may rebuild models of this world,
adding or changing at will with artisan expertise. Without a basis in working
with facts, we are forced to trust.
implies the unknown coupled with a belief in what is already known. We drop a
ball and it falls; we trust that in the future this will also be true. The trite
"If you don't trust me, see it for yourself!" shows that trust comes
second to experience - and more importantly - our own experience.
are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"
there are many questions of life that fail the tests of experience. "Why
are we here?", "Is there life out there?", or "Is there life
after death?". For these questions, we rely on the stock answers "Just
one of the many mysteries of life", "No one will ever know" or
the classic "Heaven only knows". In each case we are given reassurance
that our ignorance is satisfactory unto itself - a placebo, which cures the
question not with a quantifiable rationale, but with a terminal sense of
unanswerability that simply says "That's just the way it is."
use the placebo of ignorance daily. It's a fast-acting panacea for those zillion
questions that arise each day but that we really don't care to answer. Curing
"I don't know..." with "...I don't care" or "...how
should I know?!" The hunger to know quickly stuffed with a bland
all-purpose filler of intellectual "hunger gaps". Easing the pain that
we often find on the tip of our tongues when doing crosswords or playing trivia.
Our anxious "wits end" needs either sating or sedating.
should come as no surprise to neurologists. We know that the process of learning
and thought releases a whole pharmacy of mind-altering drugs to
is the opiate of the masses."
it be that the brain produces knowledge-blocking agents? This would certainly
explain a few quirks of life, such as that "youthful hunger for
knowledge" occurring at the same stage of life as "they never
listen". Might "tunnel vision" have chemical walls?
would suggest that the many phases that we go through as we mature - and their
respective trademark mindsets - are actually marked with a specific
neurochemical shape. That the development of the knowledge structure of the
brain after birth is also shaped by an endogenous chemistry rather than
exclusively by life experience and consideration.]
placebo is, in effect, a drug. It is, in fact, knowledge. Where a real
drug sprinkled into a Mickey Finn will have a real effect, the unwitting victim
of a placebo-laced version cannot react - they don't know they should. Like
hypnosis, it is only our receipt of this bogus truth that makes the attempt to
deceive effective. Which leads us naturally to Santa Claus.
is a socially accepted childhood fantasy. The removal of this unprovable
character from the theatre of a child's mind may come quietly and naturally, as
they grow up, or be forced out, perhaps by a malevolent sibling. To topple Santa
by force is to detox the placebo of ignorance cold turkey - with all the
normal bells, horns and whistles of belief withdrawal.
Why is our bond
with the fantastic so strong? As the X-Files dutifully reiterates "I want
to believe". It's as if our developing imagination does not hunger for
facts or truth, but rather anything but. Of course, we do need to know
that "the truth is out there", but once again, we need something or
someone in-between: a medium, spokesperson or surrogate. These are the
pharmacists who specialize in administering the placebo of ignorance.
then, the purpose of the placebo of ignorance is not to save the mind, but to
save the soul - that the duties of thought are nothing more than the
dust-destined sweat of the brow of life that only distract the purposes
of the soul. Answers, be they truth or pap, give the spirit rest. There is both
a high road and a low road to Nirvana.
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