interview by Huw Wheldon in 1960,
when Welles was asked where he found
the confidence to make the film, he
answered: “Ignorance, ignorance,
sheer ignorance—you know there’s
no confidence to equal it. It’s only
when you know something about a
profession, I think, that you’re timid or
careful.” About 100 years before this
interview, Charles Dar win had noted
in The Descent of Man, and Selection
in Relation to Sex: “Ignorance more
frequently begets confidence than
does knowledge.” Often the basis of
our thinking (i.e., our knowledge) can
also become the (subconscious) limit
of our creativity, as according to the
contemporary philosopher François
Jullien, “There is not only what I am
thinking. There is also the basis upon
which I am thinking and as a result I am
not thinking about.”
Today’s children are often
characterized as the “Google
Generation,” having grown up with
a humongous wealth of ready-made
answers to any question available at
the blink of an eye. But it is not answers
that move the world forward. Questions
do that—especially new questions to
old answers. Thus, what the following
generation will badly need in order
to make a step forward is an inverse-
Google engine that will be able to
take answers as an input and generate
“unthought” questions, essentially
creating new ignorance (by the way, a
great demo of the high potential of such
an engine is any child up to 5 years old).
In practice, there are cases whereignorance may lead off the beaten path,to innovation. Thus, contrary to widelyapplied scientific practices, one maytake advantage of one’s (acknowledged)ignorance—or the ignorance of athird person. First, one may try todevise a solution to a problem withoutlooking into what other people havealready done, and later one can seekrelated knowledge for identifyingand harnessing any useful “ignorant”qualities (i.e., something that no one hasever thought or tried before).
Design suggestion #2. Try to devisedesign solutions prior to seekingrelated expertise and knowledge (orask someone else who does not havethis expertise/knowledge). Then,strive to identify innovative aspects bycomparing them with previous workand assessing their potential value andimpact.
the Einstellung effect [ 2], a term coinedin 1942 by Abraham Luchins as a resultof experiments in which subjects wereasked to solve problems involvingmeasuring water quantities using a setof jars. The experiments revealed thatafter solving several problems withthe same solution, the subjects wouldmechanically adopt it even for problemsthat had a simpler solution or a differentone. Also, Karl Duncker [ 3], with his“candle box experiment,” introduced
“functional fixedness” as a mental biaslimiting a person to using a knownobject in novel ways. Additionally, aninteresting finding in decision-makingresearch is what is known as the “less-is-more effect” [ 4], according to whichunder certain conditions, individualswith less knowledge make moreaccurate inferences than those withmore knowledge. For example, whenAmerican and German students wereasked to choose whether San Diego orSan Antonio has more inhabitants, only
60 percent of the Americans answeredcorrectly versus a stunning 100 percentof the Germans.
Not knowing that what you attemptto achieve has already been “proved”to be impossible (or the opposite) maylead you to revolutionary results. In
1941, Orson Welles directed CitizenKane, a film considered by mostcritics as one of the best ever. At thetime, Welles was just 25 years old.
This was his first movie and he lackedany related experience. During an
“No one rises so high as he who knows
not whither he is going.”
— OLIVER CROMWELL (1599-1658)
Design suggestion #1. Wheneverpossible, try to encompass
“nonsensical” (ambiguous) parametersas an integral part of your design.Sometimes nonsense may also be part ofthe solution.
In George Or well’s novel NineteenEighty-Four, one of the three slogans ofthe Ministry of Truth is “Ignorance IsStrength.” Although Orwell uses thissentence ironically, mainly to suggestthat the ignorance of the citizens ispower for the Party, there are caseswhere—in contrast to what commonsense and formal education dictate—ignorance can indeed be strength.
When seven postgraduate computerscience students were independentlyshown the image in Figure 4 and askedto state which of the central circles isbigger, they unanimously answered thatthey are of the same size. When sevenchildren, ages 3 to 6, were asked thesame question, they all pointed to theright circle, which is 8 percent larger.
When the students were questionedabout the reasoning behind theiranswers, they admitted that they werealready familiar with optical illusionswhere the shapes, regardless of whattheir brain dictates, are identical. Thus,children’s ignorance, much like in thetale with the emperor’s new clothes,allowed them to be free of any biasand state an obvious truth. This is anexample of what is scientifically called
Figure 4. Which one of thetwo orange circles is bigger?