Prelude II – Of Knowledge and Ignorance

The Fox and the Grapes by Milo Winter

The Fox and the Grapes

A famished fox crept into a vineyard where ripe, luscious grapes were draped high upon arbors in a most tempting display. In his effort to win a juicy price, the fox jumped and sprang many times but failed in all his attempts. When he finally had to admit defeat, he retreated and muttered to himself, “Well, what does it matter anyway? The grapes are sour!”

~ Aesop Fables

The mind is like Pandora’s Box that keeps the secrets of human knowledge and intellect. It opens only to a selected few and remains closed to the common masses of society. Most of the time, the major portion of the mind’s vast and immense potential lies in wait for someone or something to harness it. Many of us fail to realize that all knowledge comes from the mind for it is the mind that weaves a web of which all data gathered from the senses are collected and synthesized. Yet the more we delve into the wide and lush fields of knowledge, the more we know of how much we do not know. Such is the nature of knowledge that, like a shy maiden, hides her face behind her veil.

Why should we, mortal beings of the flesh, go through such toils and torments for the sake of this elusive maiden that hides merely at the sight of our silhouettes? Is Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, so desirable that she is worth our efforts and patience to win her heart? Can we not choose the pleasures of ignorance rather than the pains of knowledge? For it is said that he who increases in knowledge also increases in sorrow. And it is not certain that the frog that leaves the well will be any happier than the frog that lives in the pond.

We commonly hear that ignorance is bliss. It is ignorance that bestows a great gift upon humanity in the form of presumed concealment. Through ignorance, we are able to protect ourselves from the things that we dare not know. If knowledge is the mirror that reflects the crude ugliness and mortality of the human soul, ignorance is the mask that hides the truth and bends reality into the image that is most appeasing to our eyes. Just as the dark conceals and the light reveals, so does ignorance form an eclipse over all knowledge of reality.

“Know thyself.”

~ Socrates

As long as we believe in our own existence and the existence of the reality around us, we should also believe that our lives are more than just a mere coincidence or a product of random selection. Like chess pieces on the board, each and every one of us have a purpose and a reason for being (raison d’être). Whether we play the role of puppet or puppeteer, we are all intrinsically linked by invisible strings that bind us to everything else in the world. There are reasons why things are as they are.

Perhaps knowledge will reveal to us the role we are to play in reality. Perhaps knowledge will make us bear the inevitable with a smile on our face and a twinkle in our eye. As Francis Bacon has stated, “Seek ye first the good things of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied or its lost will not be felt.”  Knowledge begins by looking inwards into ourselves and into the very things that we presume to be true. We must first understand ourselves before we can ever hope to understand the world.

“Seek ye first the good things of the mind, and the rest will either be supplied or its loss will not be felt.”

~ Sir Francis Bacon

After weighing both knowledge and ignorance in my mind, I yet again renew my earlier belief that knowledge is indeed preferable than sheer ignorance. Even though a rational human being would seek pleasure and avoid pain, would it not also be rational to first accept pain in order to gain greater pleasure in our later days? If so, it would be worth all the effort to wait in faith and in patience for the beauty and wisdom of knowledge rather than to bask now in the ugliness and idleness of ignorance.

Knowledge by far exceeds the beauty of everything else in this world. With knowledge comes the acceptance rather than the discrimination of all things under the sun. In contrast, ignorance fosters hateful and vengeful desires to destroy all knowledge the mind fails to comprehend. One should consider it unwise to be like the fox in the tale who muttered to himself that the grapes were sour after failing to obtain them. As a golden rule, one should not despise  something good that one cannot get.

As the French proverb goes, to know all, is to forgive all. For only when we know, can we love. Even in hate, one must first know what is it he hates before starting to hate it. And maybe even hate itself is a form of love. For when we hate something, that object is forever in the mind of the hating subject as surely as a lover is always in the mind of his beloved. As love triumphs over hate, so will knowledge triumph over ignorance.

In its essence, the highest form of knowledge is a call to tolerance on the inconsequential things that the masses argue with great fervor and energy. Would not the world be a more peaceful and harmonious place if all men had knowledge? Why fight when we already know what must be done and what should be done? Would it not be futile to fight over things that have already been settled by knowledge and understanding? Would this not mean that knowledge is the highest virtue of all men?

The ultimate aim of knowledge is the revelation of the truth. The truth is the revelation of reality as it is, unchanged and untainted by what the mind wants it to be. The acceptance of the truth is the highest form of the attainment of knowledge and is crowned as the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. As Schopenhauer put it, life is short, but the truth works far and long; let us speak the truth. The truth is more than just the common bag of beliefs and opinions that we hold so dear to our hearts. Throughout history, men have been prone to error and have invented many versions of ‘personal truths’ to suit their own personal desires. This we seek to avoid.

“Life is short, but the truth works far and long; let us speak the truth.”

~ Schopenhauer

True knowledge must be more than just beliefs and opinions. To hold true, any form of knowledge that is developed by an individual mind must be independent from personal senses and experiences. As long as the conditions are similar, the same action should produce the same reaction. In short, one must be able to consistently replicate the results of an experiment before one acknowledges its relevance and reliability. Having said so, let us now pursue the truth with an open heart.

~ Ee Suen Zheng

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