Ignorance of Ignorance- Or why we’re all stupid and we should stop pretending to know everything (that includes you Mr. and Mrs. Huesemann)

In specific environments, temporary circumstances, and small doses, technological fixes can prove to be exactly as they claim to be: a fix. Such is the case in Douthwaite’s own example of “Economic justice: To answer the problem of the equitable distribution of resources, our society uses the technology of mass production to make the resource so cheap that everyone can have one.” (Douthewait p.1)  However, this is a very small and specific example in an entire spectrum of varying degrees of complex social issues that humans face. The problem with the technological fix as Johnston puts it is it’s too reductionist, meaning that it reduces the problem to its most simple elements and therefore creates a solution that is inevitably just as simple. The issue being that many factors that are not immediately in the vicinity of the causation of the social issue are ignored, and therefore in the solution they are ignored as well. Thus, a social  problem that a technological fix could not solve is one that has to be answered broadly. Such as, what human values or ideologies are the best? And in the face of differing views on what the definition of the best is– utilitarianism, deontonism, etc. — why is the generated technological solution, in fact the best? In questions like these it’s nearly impossible to generate a technological device or system that can answer this question. The other problem with technological fixes is something that Mr. and Mrs Huesemann describe: unavoidable unintended consequences. Thus in the technological fix of economic justice, more problems begin to seep into the initial solution. Such as the issues that Douthewait himself spoke on like price fixing profiteering.

 

Technological solutions have unintended consequences because they are inherently reductionistic. A technical fix will only solve a very specific problem, therefore ignoring all the other factors that influence the problem at large. Another reason is the inevitable confidence in the solution that science provides, and while this confidence is rightly earned it ultimately provides an opportunity for possible repercussions to be ignored. Which is all good and well, but in discussing this so called ignorance of ignorance with their total conviction, Mr. and Mrs. Huesemann prove to be hypocrites. In assuming that every stride in human progress will inevitably result in a detrimental effect on the environment because in previous efforts it has, the Huesemanns effictively make the same mistake that they accuse members of the scientific community of making. They are ignorant of their own ignorance. Furthermore there is evidence currently to contradict their thinking in the form of nuclear fusion energy, and the Tarski paradox. While nuclear fusion has been acclaimed as the energy solution that’s right around the corner for many many years, it’s recently made significant progress as private industries are now investing in it. If nuclear fusion came to fruition it  would directly contradict the Huesmann’s philosophy as it is a natural energy source (the sun’s heat is in fact the result of nuclear fusion) being artificially made by humans with little to no effect on the environment. Secondly the Tarski paradox is a theoretical math principle that basically gives a scenario in which something can be made out of nothing. While this is only theoretical it still provides leeway that the Huesemann’s thinking could be potentially flawed. In the end, I think that the only real thing we can be certain in, is that we can never truly be certain, or can we?

3 thoughts on “Ignorance of Ignorance- Or why we’re all stupid and we should stop pretending to know everything (that includes you Mr. and Mrs. Huesemann)”

  1. The assertion that you interpreted from the Huesemann article that all human progress will have detrimental environmental effects definitely is an extremely blanketed and narrow statement, especially compared to the other author’s stances that with correct multifaceted analysis and consistent assessment of efficacy/consequences etc. As you mentioned, nuclear fusion does, on paper, seem to have little to no environmental effect. However, it is important to keep in mind that most technological fixes are initially thought to have little to no environmental impact, yet it seems that time and time again consequences present themselves in unanticipated and surprising ways. Also, the negative effects of techno fixes stretch far beyond merely environmental impacts, again, which are nearly impossible to speculate on due to the complex undeniable interaction and interconnectivity between science, society, and every conceivable facet of said society. I believe that it is this concept that Huesemann and many others are actually more tentative of, rather than technology itself.

  2. You make a good case and provide more than enough examples in support of your claims. I agree the problems facing humanity, especially those social in nature, are diverse and incredibly complex. So, the solutions to meet them must address these qualities. I also agree that unintended consequences result from using technological fixes to address broad problems instead of specific ones. I wholeheartedly believe there is a place for technological solutions in our society, they just should not be used for everything. I understood this as the Heusemanns’ stance, that they cautioned scientists of believing they could solve all of the world’s problems while acknowledging that they themselves alone could not either. As the previous comment mentions, the environmental consequences of these fixes permeate deep within our ecosystems, community health, and overall understanding of the sciences. Consequences of this depth warrant caution.

  3. I don’t know the Tarski paradox, but it sounds like it contradicts the laws of thermodynamics. And I think we are a bit far away from fission. The point is that even if we could harness the energy of nuclear fission, with that would come all sorts of problems — of access, control, distribution, etc. When should we deal with these problems? Before or after?

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