I watched Cosmos as a young girl, when
Carl Sagan hosted, and was enthralled. Now, as an adult I have been enjoying
the inimitable Neil deGrasse Tyson’s version and once again am enthralled.
However, not just by the science but also by the many important things he
To me the most important thing he said in the entire series was this: “It’s
OK not to know all the answers. It’s better to admit our ignorance, than to
believe answers that might be wrong. Pretending to know everything closes
the door to finding out what’s really there.”
How very true and how very sad that many have never learned this important
lesson. I know that many foreigners find the unwillingness of some Thais to
admit that they do now know something, be it directions or how to do
something, to be very frustrating at times. However, if truth be told, this
unwillingness to admit ignorance is not limited to Thai people. It is
universal; otherwise he most likely would not have felt the need to say it
in the first place!
I see this unwillingness to admit ignorance coming from all quarters and all
ages, all nationalities and genders. The idea that one can simply say “I do
not know the answer to that question” is as anathema to some as it is to say
“I am wrong”. This has nothing to do with the notion of “Asian Face” but
rather, I believe, the feeling most people have that it is humiliating to
admit ignorance and disgraceful to admit a mistake. In the West we are often
taught, starting from very young, to admit our mistakes but not so much to
admit that we don’t know.
One of the most important points Neil deGrasse Tyson makes is not just that
we should admit to ignorance but that by pretending to know everything we
close the door to finding out what is real. Too often people refuse to look
beyond what they think they know and see what is really truly out there.
They blind themselves with their own beliefs, ignorance and prejudices and
close their eyes and their minds to anyone else that may think or see
differently from themselves. As he said, just because you believe something
does not make it real, it does not make it right. A lesson we can all stand