Ignorance is Bliss? Or Knowledge is Power?

15 10 2010

If you were asked to choose between Cipher or Neo, two characters of the movie: The Matrix, I would suspect the choice would be quite easy. Unless you have a disturbing propensity towards taking on villainous characters as role models, most everyone would choose Neo. But lets ask the question this way, what would you rather choose as your life maxim: “Ignorance is bliss?” or “Knowledge is Power?” Not as clear, right?

But for those whose proclivity to either optimism or pessimism is so resolute that equivocation on the matter has never entered their mind, there is a third way of exploring the subject that may provoke further thought, and is through the lens of ‘happiness’. In a intriguing article titled, “The Spoils of Happiness“, David Sosa explores the concept of happiness elicited by philosopher Robert Nozick‘s quote:

Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? […] Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think that it’s all actually happening […] Would you plug in?. (Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 3)

Sosa comments that the issue of happiness in terms of ‘plugging in’ is the difference between “having a friend and having the experience of having a friend.” And he defines happiness as “a kind of tango between your feelings on one hand and events and things in the world around you on the other.”But in all discussions of happiness, for the discussion to be proper, there must be an accounting for the purpose of mankind. Any theory (or culture for that matter) that hints that happiness is the telos or the end goal of mankind is thoroughly flawed and will end up choosing to plug in rather than courageously facing the reality of the world.

Sosa gets close to the right path when talking about flourishing and how “To live a happy life is to flourish.” But though seemingly trivial, I believe it is closer to the truth of ultimate reality when you change the statement of predication and add a logical order to the quotation: ‘To live a happy life is begotten by flourishing’ or ‘To flourish bring about a happy life’. This places happiness in the margins where it belongs as a product of flourishing and never in the place of purpose, which disrupts the reality of the world and structures ones life around lies and falsehood. W Beran Wolfe puts it best:

If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day.

In the end of the all the arguing and discussion, this subject is a choice we ALL make either consciously or subconsciously and that is because man is a creature that coexists with this notion of purpose. The only difference between each individual is the particularity of our choice of purpose.

So who will it be?

The one who searches happiness as an end goal, mistaking the euphoria of escapism as happiness and never attaining real happiness? Or the one who courageously experiences reality knowing that happiness may be scarce but can only be truly grasped as a byproduct?

Cipher or Neo?



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