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The appearance of knowledge leads us into dangerous self-deception

Recently, an acquaintance told me that, in his childhood, he was forced by a matter of family tradition to learn to read aloud the language of his ancestors. After several years, he finally managed to do it. And although today, now in his sixties, he can continue to faithfully repeat many of those readings, he never learned their meaning.

“I am sure that, when I was speaking that language, I have said many important things and surely many nice things. But to this day I don't know what I said. They taught me the language, but not the meaning,” this acquaintance explained to me.

The situation, although generated in another time and in another context, caught my attention because it adequately depicts our current reality: we can pretend that we are reading something, we can pretend that we are saying something, and we can even pretend that we are communicating, but we are neither know nor understand nothing we are saying.

And if you think I'm exaggerating, let me remember the well-known phenomenon of “instant experts”, that is, those who, after watching a video on social networks or receiving a response from some generative artificial intelligence, already present themselves as “experts” on a topic about which they know or understand nothing, but which they repeat as if they knew.

In the case of the acquaintance with whom I spoke, he was at least aware that he did not know the meaning of what he was reading or saying. But in the case of these “instant experts,” dedicated to selling mostly useless knowledge, their self-deception reaches such a level that they not only believe they know, but they believe they can impart their supposed “wisdom” to others.

It has been said (I don't remember who) that there is something worse than ignorance and that is the illusion of knowledge. And that illusion of knowledge prevails in our time and is expressed in various ways. 

For example, people say “I saw it on TV”, or “They posted on social media”, or “I watched the movie”. This is just an illusion of knowing, that is, not recognizing our ignorance and clinging to unfounded knowledge. And it leads to locking oneself inside an “echo chamber” where we only accept what coincides with what we believe and reject anything else. 

But neither the world nor history really care about what we believe or how many videos we watch every day to feel informed and wise. Things (all things) constantly change, and it seems clear to me that the only thing that does not change is our fierce determination to deceive ourselves by repeating words and phrases of which we do not know the meaning.

Maybe it's time to do what the acquaintance I spoke to did: be honest with ourselves and realize that we really don't know anything and never did. Perhaps then we can begin to have those creative and generative dialogues that Socrates loved so much and that we so urgently need today.



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