Stephen Hawking quote

EP 17: Stephen Hawking quote “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge”

In this episode of the Merkol Podcast, we analyzed the Stephen Hawking Quote. The quote goes:

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge”

Stephen Hawking quote
Stephen Hawking quote
Stephen Hawking quote

Who is Stephen Hawking?

The below content and excerpts are taken from Famous Scientists website

Stephen Hawking was born in Oxford, England, on January 8, 1942. Stephen was the oldest of three children, with two younger sisters and an adoptive brother.

Stephen Hawking was a typical high school student who was passionate about science. He received a Natural Sciences scholarship at the age of 17 and graduated from University College, Oxford, with a first-class honors degree in Physics at the age of 20.

Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when he was 21 years old, a motor neuron disease in which the neurons controlling the muscles become inert but the sensory nerves remain active. His physicians initially predicted that he would die within two years but he went on to live for 55 more years.

Hawking was noted for bringing two very disparate sciences together in a limited way: Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and quantum physics.

The Theory of Everything: Stephen Hawking film is gripping despite a black  hole or two
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in the movie titled ‘Theory of Everything’. Source: Irish Times

It was once believed that nothing could ever escape from a black hole. Hawking’s equations revealed an incredible result: black holes can lose energy over time, which is now known as Hawking radiation, and so shrink and ‘evaporate,’ disappearing from the cosmos.

He was the recipient of various prizes and medals. In 1982, Hawking received the CBE. In 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hawking is widely regarded as the most well-known scientist of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, having appeared in television productions such as The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and Red Dwarf. The Theory of Everything, a drama on Hawking’s life and career, was released in 2014.

A Brief History of Time, written by Stephen Hawking in 1988, became an instant best-seller and was translated into 30 languages. It has sold over 10 million copies all over the world.

Stephen Hawking passed away peacefully at home on March 14, 2018, in Cambridge, UK, at the age of 76. His ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey in London, between the graves of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

What does the Stephen Hawking quote mean?

The best way to explain this quote is Maths.

When you are studying for a math exam and for a certain proof/problem, you look at the steps that your teacher has given you. When you have the book in front of you, everything looks good and you feel confident that you can ace this question in the test. And then in the exam hall, you start to work the problem and you get stuck halfway.

Blink twice if this happened to you :p

This is the concept behind having an ‘illusion of knowledge’. In the above example, if you realized that you do not understand the problem or you do not know even the basics then that is ignorance. If you realize this, you can work on that proof and learn it, this is not the problem.

The main problem is, people like me who just glance at the steps and are confident that they have ‘understood the concepts. This is the ‘illusion of knowledge’.

Let me introduce you to a similar saying in Arab that has a story behind it which we all can relate to.

Arab Proverb

There is a famous Arabic saying that goes,

“Those who know, know, and those who do not know say ‘A handful of lentils’”

Arab Saying

There is a good story behind this proverb/saying. The story goes,

A young boy and a girl, who were neighbors, fell in love in Lebanon. The girl’s father did not approve of this love and wanted to get her married to another guy whom the father deemed is suitable for her. So the girl would go to the terrace claiming she is going to dry the lentils and meet with the boy.

One day her father noticed this and screamed at the boy. The boy got scared and had a handful of lentils as he was helping the girl. He did not think to drop the lentils and just ran away from her father with the lentils in his hand.

The father chased him all over Lebanon. The people who saw this scene started bad-mouthing the father as he wasted so much time chasing behind a guy who was hungry and stole some lentils.

From this story, we can understand the concept of illusion. The people who saw this scene just believed what was present in their eyes and started judging the father. No one cared to ask the father why he was chasing to give him the benefit of the doubt, let alone do their own due diligence.

Humans are not concerned with what the truth is anymore, they just believe what they see. If that is the case, then all they achieve in getting is the illusion of knowledge. If they know, they know, else they just shout ‘Lentils’.

The problem with thinking we know everything

The below example is taken from Quora

The shape of the earth is unknown to children. They are unaware of the allegations or anything else. They are illiterate. Then, when kids get older, we teach them about the earth’s shape. This is simple since kids have no preconceived beliefs about the earth’s shape.

Flat earthers are aware of the claims concerning the earth’s shape, but they believe they have discovered something that most people do not, and that some individuals are lying about it. It’s difficult to get them to embrace reality since they already feel they know the answer.

You can teach someone who does not know. It’s far more difficult to persuade someone to accept something different when they believe they already know.

Our own Thalapathy Vijay had an amazing quote which he said in an audio launch. It goes, ‘Don’t think that you know more than everyone else because they are the ones who taught you what you know’. Here is the video:

Analysis and Re-Analysis is important

In this digital age, there is so much noise out there. Only good, calm thinkers can see through the noise and make sense of what is happening.

The same story is interpreted in 100s of ways by 100s of news channels. Because no one takes care to present the right information, everyone is obsessed with who brings the information first. And when speed is involved, no one takes care to check their details. This was perfectly summarized by Denzel Washington, here is the video below:

In the age of too much information, you will never gain proper knowledge no matter how much you read.

So reading more is not right, but analyzing what you are reading is more important. If one paper says X and another paper says Y, you need to dissect this information and figure out what the truth is. Don’t just go blindly believing what one paper/person says. There is no guarantee that the person who wrote that piece has done true background work.


Your failure to grasp the full extent or accurate knowledge of a matter can cause one to act in a way detrimental to achieving new discovery or wisdom.

Try to have an open mind, then the possibilities of learning and life are endless.

Hope you liked this article. If you have any questions, claims, problems with what I have said or you just want to say hi, please use the comments section or send me an email.


I have recorded a podcast on this Stephen Hawking Quote. But it is in Tamil. If you know the language, then please do listen to this. Do let me know if you like it. Here is the link:

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