On ignorance


A blog post from a HCMUT instructor suddenly force me to look back. Where am I actually? On the path to become a CS (computer scientist) or a CEN (computer engineer)? I have thought about it, but just unable to determine which. The following quote somehow cleared the blockade:

Should I pursue computer science or computer engineering?

Scientists and engineers are both interested in the nature of things, in understanding how ideas and objects in the world fit together. But in general, they seek to understand the nature of reality with different ends in mind: the scientist seeks this understanding as an end in itself, the engineer in order to build things. Thus CS is closer to the underlying theory of computation, with its roots in mathematics, and CEN is closer to the design of physical devices, with roots in physics and chemistry as well. Students with an urge to build things, to measure how things work in the laboratory, those attracted to physics and chemistry as well as mathematics, should seriously consider CEN. Students with an interest in the true nature of symbols, information and their manipulations, the forms and limits of algorithms and data structures, should consider CS. Of the three great divisions in computing, namely theory, software and hardware, to a first approximation theory go with CS, hardware with CEN, and software with both, but mainly with CS. The more general the software, the closer to CS; the more hardware-specific, the closer to CEN. Thus a student interested in creating his own new general-purpose computer language would best be served by a CS degree program, while one interested in designing a software interface for a new high speed serial device by the CEN degree program.

I don’t like to build things. I do that frequently, but because I am forced to :P. Either that is a project or that make my life easier. But a CS must have fascination with the nature of everything, and feel the elegance of a solution. Looks like I don’t. I haven’t invented any new way to solve a problem, just combine existing things together and see if it works. Furthermore, a scientist must explore lots of things and also  able to describe it so others can understand what they have in mind, which is something I’m not really good at. (Just writing a blog post like this is enough to give me a headache – I’m trying to get better nevertheless 🙂 ). And in the end, though I don’t like it, I’m best at building things, not sitting around and dissecting others’.

I think I’ll be a CEN, though CS does sound much cooler. The anti-need to build-something can always be credited to one thing: laziness.


Another point for this matter: nobody told you what you’ll be before you started learning (sign up for the school, and stuff); and you don’t get to change your major in Vietnam. In contrast to other countries’ where potential students can get a grip of what they’ll learn, not by asking some counselor through magazines’ forums but by getting the info straight from where they want to apply:




This may sound unimportant, but the consequences are not. Some 1st year student from my university suicide last week for getting expelled for low grades. If that kid had been informed that all students hated the general curriculum years… :/


The itchy “unknowing” feeling is common. It doesn’t just come when you stop for a moment and start thinking about your life. It could come out of a sudden when you are in the middle of something else. The result for each time varies and could be hard to classify. Nevertheless, Phillip Armour tried to categorize ignorance itself and coined a term “Order of Ignorance”

  • 0(zero)th Order of Ignorance (0OI): Know something (relevant) and can use it effectively
  • 1st Order of Ignorance (1OI): Know that that you don’t know something
  • 2nd Order of Ignorance (2OI): Don’t know that you don’t know something
  • 3rd Order of Ignorance (3OI): Don’t have a process to find what you were unaware that you didn’t know
  • 4th Order of Ignorance (4OI): Not even aware of the Orders of Ignorance and their implications

Yeah! Now you’ve read this, so you are at 3OI already! You know what “order of ignorance” is :P. You (may) have successfully perceived that the unknown is vast. You can’t just “know” that and do nothing, you have to proceed up the levels of ignorance. Note that these levels apply to a specific range of problem, and you may say “I’m 0OI at X but 2OI at Y and I need your help”; most people would love to!

If all this sounds too alien to you, imagine that you read horoscopes, numerology, take personality tests. Do you believe in them without a doubt? Then you are at 3OI for psychology! If you have a slight doubt and wanted to find out why, you are at 2OI, because you know somehow they are right and somehow they are wrong, but don’t know where to clear the doubt. You are at 1OI if you want to know about the Forer effect. If you understood what that is, you are now at 0OI. You know science have space on the selves for supersition 😛

It’s like climbing stairs, the ascension is always harder to take. You may make it to the “higher” levels but as you forget what something is, you fall a level; and if you continue to forget your methodologies too, you fall down yet another level.

As human’s memory is currently so limited (except for exceptional cases). You will eventually forget things, but in order to keep yourself from falling further, you have to keep the methodologies of life; some call then principles. Don’t worry; most of us are able to keep them, and can come up and down the stairs.

Unfortunately, some don’t, and as climbing the stairs is hard even for themselves, you are always at 2OI to make them climb with you or if that even possible, and if you don’t even want them to climb with you, you are back at 3OI =)).

I have something that I must do, with which I have 3OI. Oh, well…

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