Is Ignorance Truly Bliss?

People say that ignorance is bliss; some argue that what you don't know can't hurt you but is this really the case? What happens when you do find out the truth, does the bliss remain, or does it melt away into a vague memory to be replaced by something quite the opposite?

As an example, a friend of mine was involved in a relationship where all her friends could see that her boyfriend was cheating on her; yet she refused to believe it. Inside she knew what he was doing, though she was happy living the illusion.

Seeing this made me wonder: How often do we pretend to be ignorant to avoid facing up to the consequences that go hand in hand with reality?

Pursuing truth carries the risk that revelations will not be pleasant, which seems to be the case here. There is no joy in finding out that someone you love has gone and broken the trust that you thought you shared with them.

Feigning ignorance is not bliss. It's simply a cover up, an attempt to prolong the happiness you once felt. But the longer it goes on, the harder it will hit you when time does come to face reality. All dreams end, and it's far nicer to wake up naturally from a dream than to be abruptly woken.

Remember Cypher's thought-provoking lines from the Matrix? 'I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it's juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realise? Ignorance is bliss.'

Cypher realises the drawbacks of reality, the truth that too much reality can be a killjoy. Part of all of us loves the unspoiled comfort, the sheer bliss of not knowing why, purely knowing that something happens because that's just the way it is.

Take for example a woman who lost her entire family in a car accident, who to this day, goes about her business as if they were still alive. She talks to them, buys enough food to feed a family of 5 and even goes to the effort of setting out clothes for the kids each day.

The question that arises from this, is whether to leave such people in this state of contentment or to try and drag them back to the reality of the real world, where in truth they may not be so happy?

The body yearns for importance and meaning. But forget about being someone important, the body is satisfied with the sensation of importance, even in a world of complete illusion.

Sophocles said, 'For ignorance provides the happiest life'. But what is the meaning of 'happiest'? Is it going about your day-to-day life not knowing why things are the way they are? Are you happy because you feel what you see is what you get, and you feel no urge to delve into it more? If you are ignorant, does the world seem a better place because you just don't know of the pressing global issues threatening society? Is it merely a simpler life you lead without so many complications?

But how long can u appreciate living in a state of sheer bliss? Can you really appreciate sheer bliss if you've never experienced anything that contrasts? Black doesn't look so dark, until you hold it next to something white, or yellow, or red

Another instance is a 50-year-old man, who has an intellectual disability that means he has the mental capacity of a 3-year-old, which won't ever change. This man is as happy as any child that age, enthusiastic and unselfconscious.

Compare him to another 50-year-old man with the 'normal' mental capability together with the weight of responsibilities held by the typical adult. Thinking about who is likely to be happier and more carefree truly makes you reflect about the effects of aging and ignorance: ignorance here in regards to a lack of knowledge, or pure unawareness. Is ignorance in this case bliss?

What if we were suddenly to learn of an incurable disease that would no-doubt obliterate society within a week, or perhaps about a huge meteorite that is going to collide with earth and kill us all? Upon learning these possible truths, we would be over-ridden with despair, along with the feelings of anguish, hopelessness and confusion of what to do.

Some believe that it's better to try and understand our fate, regardless of the implications, just because they want to know, whereas others would rather stay blissfully unaware, to save the mind and body from unnecessary upset and stress.

Others claim that we need to achieve the balance of gaining knowledge without losing the joys of innocence. We need to get ourselves to a state-of-mind at which we feel comfortable enough to accept and cope with truth and knowledge, a place where we don't need to feign ignorance.

Regardless of which path you choose, knowing how to deal with people, problems and issues that arise is essential. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away. Shutting problems out forever limits our own lives, like the woman who lost her family and went crazy, or like the restrictive life of the intellectually disabled 50-year-old. His life was good for him, because that was all his mind could cope with. But ours wouldn't let us be happy in that situation.

To truly grow, we need to experience the contrast of black to white, rather than just seeing each hue on its own, so as to be able to appreciate the dramatic difference you only get when you have both to compare.

To acquire true happiness, we need to be open to new things, and not close our mind and clutch onto ignorance. We need to step outside our comfort zones, abandon oblivion, as this is the only way we can open our minds, and give ourselves opportunities to find real and fulfilling bliss.

Rachel Flitman