A Gene For Agnosia?

As I have written elsewhere, simple ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. Wilful ignorance is a different matter. At first sight people can seem stupid, when what they are is really incurious. They can think well enough if they care, but mostly they don’t care. What they already know, or think they know, is enough for them.

Now, according to Aristotle the negative labels denote not an actual something but a privation – for example, cold is the absence of heat. Again at first sight, ignorance may seem like another privation, this time the lack of knowledge. And yet we may wonder whether sometimes the parallel breaks down. Could there be an active kind of ignorance resulting from either genetic or memetic dissemination?

Well, that this AGNOSIA should be genetic seems unlikely; how would a lack of the normal mammalian curiosity come to spread? There would have to be some survival or reproductive advantage for incurious individuals, and it is hard to see in what that might possibly consist. On the other hand, if curiosity were genetically coded for, and individuals carrying this quality were more likely to move somewhere else, then the individuals who stayed at home would be selected for incuriosity. I know a place like this.

As for memetic dissemination, there would seem to be no a priori reason why lack of curiosity should not be culturally transmitted – a habitus. It would then be a matter of the messages on which the young are fed. “Avoid knowing this!” might be justified in terms of some kind of superiority that would be endangered by new information. Obviously many religious communities have gone in for this, but it probably works on an ethnic basis too: “Avoid knowing anything about the Not-Us!”

Such constant restriction of the mental environment probably sets up a feedback howl: the less you know, the less you even realise there is to be known, or want to know. Last but not least, the external world can be simply drowned out by an emphasis on a volatile peer-group status conferred mostly by consumer trivia, as in what I call Starbucks Culture. “I am superior because I have more like-bots than thou!”

Posted on December 24, 2013 at 19:43 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, The Anatomy Of Stupidity

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