According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ignorance is defined as the lack of knowledge or education. The knowledge question claims that with this lack of knowledge we are able to be confident in what we know. However, when we lack certain knowledge and attempt to gain more knowledge to fill in this gap, we are bound to fall into doubt, and this doubt merely confuses us. This leads us to question whether this statement is necessarily true in all cases. Hence, in order to understand the nature of ignorance and doubt we must first consider the implications caused in the deep abstractions that lie within what we know and what we do not know. I believe that by examining the areas of knowledge of religion, particularly Christianity, and referencing other belief systems as well, and mathematics, the statement of doubt leading to confusion and ignorance being a blissful state in our inner self should become more evident or, possibly, contradictory.
I shall first consider the implications in studies of religion. Suppose a person were living in contentment with knowledge that there exists only one religion that defines his or her life. It can be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or whichever belief they have been acquainted with since the start. This person would live in peace knowing that they believe in the ‘true’ religion. However, as this person grows up and comes of age, he or she will realize that that religion need not be the only possible belief system that exists in the world, and that there are so many more systems that different people from different parts of the world choose to believe. At this point, two general scenarios can happen. Either they reject the knowledge that other people of different religions choose to believe in and continue to believe in the knowledge that they have, or, alternatively, they would begin to doubt their own religion and begin considering the beliefs found in other, completely separate, religious systems. Thus, it can clearly be seen that as knowledge about religious belief systems increases, it is possible that doubts about the knowledge that they have believed was truth for a long duration of time will arise and the confidence that they have claimed to have in believing in a religion amongst the person’s own ignorance will shatter. Consequently, they will begin to form contradictions within their own mind about the abstract nature of religion. This includes the way of life they have been inclined to live in as a result of the teachings they learned in their religion and the ideal nature of a God or of Gods found uniquely within a belief system. For example, Christianity offers belief in one God, Islam offers belief in one as well, however religions such as Hinduism and Greek mythology offer contradictory polytheistic beliefs to the nature of divine beings. This supports the statement that increase in knowledge leads only to doubt and confusion. It seems that ignorance is bliss in this case, as lacking knowledge leads to a more confident, peaceful life.
Furthermore, conflicts in knowledge may exist within a single belief system as well. Suppose the case of Christianity. Within Christianity, there exist multiple denominations of the same belief. For example, fundamentalist Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Evangelism, Protestantism and many other forms of belief. Hence, it can be seen that having knowledge about the abstract nature of one religion itself is insufficient in claiming to have confident knowledge about it. The person will have to be faced with a choice in deciding what denomination they want to lead their lives in, not to mention the contradiction found in having multiple belief systems as well. For these reasons, I believe that it is clear that in studies of religion and the abstract nature of this subject, the statement that knowing little leads to confidence and knowing more leads to doubt is strongly supported. Of course, one may choose simply not to believe in any religious system due to the plethora of complications that exist in choosing to believe, and thus they may turn to atheism or agnosticism as a source of their knowledge and henceforth live in confidence that what they chose to believe in is the truth and nothing less.
In a similar vein, I will now examine the case of mathematics. When people begin to study math, they are usually introduced to the concepts of numbers, shapes and simple operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In my own experience, this was the case, and since my knowledge of the subject was very limited, I interpreted these topics as step-by-step algorithms that need to be applied to get an answer, which, sometimes, I might not even understand why it is done. The knowledge that I should apply to simple mathematical problems is very small and the whole process almost seems mechanical. Yet, at such a small age, it seemed sufficient enough to know what to do and how to solve problems, rather than understand why they are relevant. A young child need not know why the formulae for various areas of shapes and volumes of solids work the way they do, neither do they need to know why something as complex as the quadratic formula to solve second-degree polynomials manages to always give the right answer. They are happy and confident as it is by just knowing how to use them. However, when they begin to pursue mathematics at a much higher level, such as through undergraduate and postgraduate studies, they learn a lot more and they are mentally tasked to understand the abstract nature behind the things that they learned. It is often the case that they are not able to fully grasp the abstract knowledge behind simple concepts that they had claimed to know when they were first introduced to them in high school and middle school. Subsequently, they begin to doubt their knowledge. Ignorance clearly seems to be the opposite of blissful in this case.
Yet, in modern times, new branches of mathematics have evolved and are evolving even today, such as abstract algebra and category theory. These branches are concerned with the underlying core abstractions that are found in every branch of mathematics and it tries to form links between different studies of mathematics. However, these branches of math emerge simply from having the doubt that the knowledge that one has about the simple concepts learned in one’s younger years is insufficient. Thus, it can be seen in the case of mathematics, in contrast to that of religion, having little knowledge does lead to doubt, but this doubt leads to some more knowledge that attempts to understand math in a new light, enabling one to be even more confident about the knowledge that they have, unlike religion, which simply leads to more and more doubt about one’s own beliefs. This distinction between the subjects exists because when it comes to religion, following a belief system implies leading a way of life that the belief system entails, yet by having more knowledge about more belief systems, one will simply become confused as they perceive different religions, following different things which their own religion does not follow. In this case, it all matters on their faith. Nevertheless, this does not mean the conflicts in religion will last forever. If studies of mathematical abstractions lead to doubt and hence more knowledge which one can believe confidently, there might be a time when studies of religion and doubts within multiple belief systems will be able to provide more knowledge about the whole nature of religion and eventually lead to something that is clearer to all. This will most likely not appear anytime soon. In the course of time, however, the possibility does exist.
In conclusion, religion and math are two cases which show a sharp difference between more knowledge leading to doubt and more knowledge leading to confidence, with doubt acting as a prerequisite to it. As to the question of whether ignorance is bliss or not in studying abstractions, it is generally the case that it is in the short run. However, in the long run, by doubting and attempting to answer these doubts by discovering new knowledge successfully, one may live in confidence with the newly gained information without having to live in the state of ignorance any longer. As Mark Twain sums it all up, “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure”.