Wednesday, February 08, 2017



D. R. Khashaba

Science breeds ignorance. I do not mean to sound paradoxical. I assert in all seriousness that the astounding progress of science in the past four centuries or so has plunged us in darkest ignorance. To explain what I mean we have to begin with a semantic excursion.

The words ‘know, knowledge’ and ‘understand, understanding’ overlap and are often used interchangeably. This is most unfortunate since it conceals a profound distinction between two radically different states of mind. Let me illustrate this with some examples.

A certain person does a deed of great sacrifice. Science, giving an account of the deed, can describe exhaustively and accurately the state and working of every muscle, every nerve, every neuron involved in the act. This is objective knowledge; but the scientist giving the account may yet say under his breath: What a damn fool! Another observer’s heart may gush at the sight or the report of the deed, seeing in it the ideals of love and nobility. This is understanding.

The sun sets on a clear lake, painting the horizon with gorgeous ever-changing colours. A physicist will tell us of light waves, long and short, and of the laws of refraction, and may bring in the physiologist to tell us of the working of the eyes and related brain centres. A painter will gasp “Ah!” and proceed to portray the scene in a landscape, not reproducing the natural scene but giving expression to her or his inward reaction to the scene.

A lonely cloud sails across the sky. A scientist can write a bulky tome on the life-history of the cloud. Shelley composes an ode. This is not representation; thus is what Plato called ‘giving birth in beauty’ ( tokos en kalôi).

Now let us go back to our theme: Science breeds ignorance. The great achievements of science have ingrained in scientists and in the public of advanced countries the illusion that science explains everything. Wittgenstein saw through this illusion. He wrote: “At the basis of the whole modern view of the world lies the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.” (Tractatus, 6.371).

Now scientists are boldly ‘explaining’ life, ‘explaining’ mind, ‘explaining’ the origin of the world. This illusion is not only blinding us to our own inner reality and to the whole realm of values but is also robbing us of the sense of wonder at the mysteries of Life, Mind, and Being. I cannot go into this more fully here or I will be re-writing all that I have written from my first book to the present day.

D. R. Khashaba

February 8, 2017

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