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Willful Ingnorance

April 7, 2016


This is a map created by Europeans in 1459 with Europe being in the top left corner. Notice how there is no empty space on this map. The Europeans at this time knew that this was the entire world. Prior to this time period, Europeans were completely unfamiliar with some areas like southern Africa, despite their filled in detail.


It wasn't until around the year 1500 that Europeans began to accept ignorance, that what they knew could be proven wrong and that they do not have all the answers. This was in part due to Christopher Columbus accidentally discovering the American continent in 1492. Because of this shift they began to rely more on science and mathematics than religion and ideologies for answers. This is best illustrated by the Salviati World Map of 1525.




This willful admittance of ignorance opened up the door to the exploration of North America, South America, and Australia. It was this simple change of mindset that not only led to the discovery of new lands, but also to the discovery of gravity, our position in the solar system, statistics, electricity, and countless other ideas and inventions that have led us to where we are today. 


Presently, we take for granted the fact that we are still very ignorant and there are many discoveries yet to come. At only 500 years old, the idea of ignorance is the basis for all learning and forward progress. The issue is that when most of us approach a problem at work, home, or in life we tend to revert back to our pre-1500 mindset and think we know the correct answer. How many times has it happened that we think weknow something as a fact, only to be proven wrong. We must never forget to start with the concept of ignorance before beginning to solve a problem. This allows us to approach a problem with a beginners mind letting all possible solutions come into question.


If we all remind ourselves daily of our ignorance, it sets us up to grow. It puts us in the frame of mind to ask questions and challenge our closely held beliefs. In the trading community I come across many people who know where the market is going. They mistake their opinion as fact and in doing so restrict themselves to a half world view. The most successful traders are the ones who admit that they do not know the direction of the market, and because they do not know they must prepare for anything to happen. 


It has been shown throughout history that the most successful empires are those who readily admit ignorance. The same is true in our technological world, whether it be trading, surgery, or rocketry. All three of those, if wrong, involve serious financial risk and life risk. So how is it that those who admit that they do not know everything in such risky fields are the most successful? It is this not knowing that drives them to do the hard grinding work to find the best answer, iteration after iteration. 




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