The greatest obstacle to discovery…

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance — it is the illusion of knowledge.”
— Daniel Boorstin (Librarian of Congress)


10 thoughts on “The greatest obstacle to discovery…

  1. This is very similar to my concept of scholarship standing in the way of some solutions, rather than helping. It was the theme of the recent article on the Voynich in Tablet Magazine, in fact.

    The Voynich is outside of the existing body of knowledge, I believe, and if one stays there, and applies only “what we know”, they will fail. What people have believed they know about the Voynich is mostly, and demonstrably in some instances, an “illusion”.

  2. Well… Columbus’ calculations as to the size of the Earth were just plain wrong (and pretty much everyone told him that), so if a certain continent hadn’t happened to be in his way, he and his crew would have died long before reaching the (East) Indies. The whole “flat earth” angle was a modern mythology (there’s a good book on it, btw).

    Hence it was surely Columbus’ illusion of knowledge (about the size of the world) that caused him to accidentally discover America. Which, errrm, kind of runs counter to Boorstin, doesn’t it? Hmmm…

    • True Nick… when you look at it in that light, it was exactly Columbus’s “illusion of knowledge” which by chance led to discovery, rather than impeded it. Perhaps he would have never left, had he been knowledgeable enough.

      • Rich: that’s entirely true – but then someone else who had decided to head Westwards towards the riches of the Indies (but probably with better-stocked ships than Columbus left with) would have discovered America instead. Net difference: 10 years max, I’d guess.

  3. Interesting, how different people have different takes on this quote… To me, it means “If you take too many things for granted, you’ll leave too many stones unturned…”

    • Elmar writes, “To me, it means ‘If you take too many things for granted, you’ll leave too many stones unturned…'”

      That fits my take on it exactly. Or, your version would one possible symptom of it. “Taking things for granted” is probably what I consider the largest stumbling block in our investigation, also, and one which is repeated multiple times every day.

  4. Rich understood –
    “.. it was ..Columbus’s “illusion of knowledge” which .. led to discovery”

    but I expect the sense in which Borstein was using ‘discovery’ was the legal one, not this. Perhaps.

  5. btw – Columbus insisted, till the day he died, that he had not discovered anything, but had reached India.
    Illusion is the illusion of definition?

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