Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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Acknowledgments

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Introduction

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pp. 1-17

Since we’re billions of times more ignorant than knowledgeable, why not go with our long suit and have an ignorance-based worldview? A few years ago, some well-known scientists published a paper, followed by a book, in which they assigned a dollar value to nature’s services.1 The exercise doubtlessly has increased awareness of what ordinary accounting does not...

Part One. First Cut

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Toward an Ignorance-Based Worldview

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pp. 21-36

Berry’s explanation of the practical value of ignorance came in the midst of the Land Institute’s Sunshine Farm project, a ten-year study directed by the late Marty Bender. This project was designed to determine what percentage of the food the farm produced would be available for export if the farm ran exclusively on contemporary sunlight collected by crops on the farm and...

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The Way of Ignorance

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pp. 37-49

Our purpose here is to worry about the predominance of the supposition, in a time of great technological power, that humans either know enough already, or can learn enough soon enough, to foresee and forestall any bad consequences of their use of that power. This supposition is typified by Richard Dawkins’s assertion, in an open letter to the Prince of Wales, that “our brains . . . are big enough to see into the future and plot long-term...

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Ignorance—an Inner Perspective

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pp. 51-57

Let’s pause for a moment and think about what we, as human beings, need to contend with regarding our profound ignorance of how the natural world, in its most expansive sense, works. At the collective level, an immense amount of information has accrued, particularly over the last century. However, it has done little to diminish humanity’s overall ignorance, largely because the information has generally occurred...

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Human Ignorance and the Limited Use of History

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pp. 59-65

Let me state up front my thesis. I believe that history has become of significantly reduced usefulness for human wisdom and for guidance in the management of the future. I believe that many of the great and wise sayings concerning the importance of history—like Santayana’s that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana 1905, 284) or Harry Truman’s to the effect that the only surprises in the...

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Ignorance and Know-How

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pp. 67-77

In order to demonstrate ignorance, of course, we have to proceed from what we think we know. After thirty years of ingesting books, papers, and presentations, plus general observation, I think I know some things about carbon fuels and their consequences. I know that modern societies rely—utterly, transformatively—on carbon fuels. I also believe that the consumption of those fuels will continue to increase for decades...

Part Two. Second Cut

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Optimizing Uncertainty

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pp. 81-99

We instinctively modulate our boundaries, expanding them to expose new options and contracting them to cull out poorer options. As boundaries expand, more accessible information raises the level of complexity, and we must pay more careful attention to understand that higher complexity. As boundaries expand beyond our ability to comprehend, danger increases...

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Toward an Ecological Conversation

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pp. 101-117

The chickadee was oblivious to its surroundings and seemed almost machinelike, if enfeebled, in its single-minded concentration: take a seed, deliver a few futile pecks, then drop it; take a seed, peck-peck-peck, drop it; take a seed . . . The little bird, with its unsightly, disheveled feathers, almost never managed to break open the shell before losing its talons’ clumsy grip on the seed. I walked up to its feeder perch from behind and gently tweaked its tail...

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Ignorance and Ethics

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pp. 119-134

In his essay in this volume, Wes Jackson challenges us to take ignorance seriously in politics, science, and a host of other fields. Since we are so much more ignorant than knowing, he asks, why not go with our strong suit? This question opens up a host of intriguing possibilities for a variety of disciplines and fields. I concentrate here on the implications for social ethics, beginning with two questions. First, do our ideas about doing good and being a good person...

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Imposed Ignorance and Humble Ignorance—Two Worldviews

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pp. 135-147

There are at least two kinds of ignorance in the human world. These differ so dramatically that they may be seen as opposing worldviews. One ignorance worldview is built on the belief that one knows or understands a situation or a subject rather thoroughly, perhaps even definitively or absolutely, when, in fact, one does not. This sort of ignorance-masquerading-as- certain-knowledge often comes to us as whole systems of thought and work and with intellectual...

Part Three. Precursors and Exemplars

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Battle for the Soul of Ignorance: Rhetoric and Philosophy in Classical Athens

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pp. 151-163

For nobility and pathos, not many moments in the history of philosophy rival the apologia and death of Socrates. Calm, deliberate, Socrates stood before his accusers and—he who incessantly interrupted opponents throughout the Platonic dialogues— begged not to be interrupted. But his defense failed, as he knew it would. He wouldn’t play to the jury, scorning “the artificial...

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Choosing Ignorance within a Learning Universe

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pp. 165-187

I had the good fortune in recent years to canoe down the Old Factory River in central Quebec with people who were experienced on and with the river and also steeped in the East Cree culture of the region. As I awoke each morning, I asked a number of questions so that I could think about and plan for the day. Here is how it went: Me: How many portages will there be...

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The Path of Enlightened Ignorance: Alfred North Whitehead and Ernst Mayr

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pp. 189-212

We humans inescapably face a fundamental civic challenge: our long-term responsibilities to human communities and nature in all their complex, historical, and value-laden interactions. This is a dominant moral and practical problem for which we are culturally ill prepared. This volume and the original Ignorance-Based Worldview Conference explore the proposition that our best chance for successfully meeting our obligations to humans and nature is through “the way of ignorance...

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Joyful Ignorance and the Civic Mind

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pp. 213-229

Advocating the virtues of ignorance is hard work. On the face of it, the proposition is preposterous to nearly everyone who hears it for the first time. People’s response is that the claim must be a joke. It is not. Or that it’s a spoof on the current political scene in the nation’s capital, particularly in the White House. It is not that either. In the end, most folks become angry and say that there is already too much ignorance in the world and that...

Part Four. Applications

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I Don’t Know!

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pp. 233-250

I still have the copy of Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler’s The Giant Golden Book of Biology that I was given when I was eight years old. Two characteristics have made it dear to my heart. The illustrations by Charles Harper, highly abstract and stylized yet illuminating, appeal to my visual sensibility. Equally compelling is the concluding paragraph of the foreword by George Wald. “I knew I would like this book,” he wrote, “when I read on the first page: ‘Questions...

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Lessons Learned from Ignorance: The Curriculum on Medical (and Other) Ignorance

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pp. 251-272

What lessons can be learned from ignorance and particularly from medical ignorance? Lewis Thomas’s novel idea for a course on medical ignorance struck a responsive chord. As an example, consider the state of ignorance about AIDS. After more than twenty-five years of fundamental discoveries, multiple clinical drug trials, and frustrating efforts at prevention, there has been little dent in the burgeoning global...

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Economics and the Promotion of Ignorance-Squared

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pp. 273-291

For the past fifty years, there have been two developing trends at the core of the textbook neoclassical economic theory that is passed on to students. The first is that economists have become increasingly engaged in the formation of compelling, mathematically elegant hypotheses with little interest in their policy implications. The second is the reluctance of mainstream economists and their students to engage in conversations with alternative paradigmatic schools...

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Educating for Ignorance

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pp. 293-306

What is education for? On the surface, this is an odd question because few of us doubt that we know the goal or desired outcome of education. We may debate the particulars of a curriculum or whether a given school is succeeding or failing, but don’t all of us agree that knowledge is the goal of education? What would be the point of schooling if not to “learn stuff ”? Even the often-repeated aphorism that education is about “lighting fires, not filling buckets...

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Climate Change and the Limits of Knowledge

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pp. 307-322

We live in a time of a great, deep-seated optimism. With the explosion of empirical knowledge since the birth of modern science has come a widely held confidence in our unquestionable ability to transcend ignorance. What science cannot tell us today it surely will be able to tomorrow. All that stands between us and the truth is time and research money. In short, we ardently believe the secrets of nature are well within our grasp. Our dogmatic...

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Can We See with Fresh Eyes? Beyond a Culture of Abstraction

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pp. 323-334

The problem with biases is that we often don’t know we have them and aren’t aware of how strongly they inform the way we view and act in the world. I want to address one fundamental bias that infects modern Western culture: the strong propensity to take abstract conceptual frameworks more seriously than full-blooded experience. We so easily speak of the world in terms of genes, molecules, atoms, quarks, neural networks, black holes, survival strategies...

Contributors

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pp. 335-340

Index

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pp. 341-354