Albert Einstein is quoted as having said that “as our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it”. In other words, in life,
the more we come to know, the more we realise we don’t know.
This realisation tends to make people uncomfortable. Astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil Tyson has described what many people do in response.
They build a wall around what they know, so that they don’t have to see the vast expanse of what they don’t know that lies behind the wall. He calls this wall “the perimeter of ignorance”.
We all have our perimeters of ignorance. Some we might indeed have built ourselves; others we might not even be aware of. My friend thought he knew everything about scuba-diving, and thought technical-diving was just regular sport-diving with more equipment: just as some drivers might think of Formula One as regular driving with faster cars.
Over lunch, the experts had been talking only about what they had seen on their dives. They hadn’t mentioned the sacrifices in time, money and effort that they had made to be able to do dives like this, or the long experience required to develop the right mindset and learn the right techniques to execute such dives successfully.
In the case of Robert’s couple, they might have been partly responsible for creating their own perimeter of ignorance, but the responsibility is hardly theirs alone. As with many new divers, the wall had been built by the training system under which they were taught.
To boost participation and reduce the drop-out rate, most diver-training systems aim to combat common fears (of the water / of the unknown / of failure) by generating over-confidence.
This is done via several strategies, including, but not limited to, choruses of well dones, high fives and great jobs, “advanced” certificates, achievement ceremonies and avoiding all mention of anything that might smack even faintly of negativity.
The couple had graduated from their courses with no idea of their limitations. They had not been told that, after nine dives, everyone, no matter who they are, is just barely competent.
They were not aware that it takes time to develop the instinctive skills and comfort in the underwater environment necessary to deal with the sudden onset of difficult water conditions without panicking. Nobody had advised them to ease themselves gently into the sport and that, no matter how intuitively talented someone might be, it takes a lot of practice to become an “excellent diver”.
They were also unaware that many dive-sites around the world, even popular ones, are dangerous for beginners.
The consequences of living inside a perimeter of ignorance can be serious. Misplaced confidence can often cause new divers to panic when confronted by diving conditions outside their comfort zone.
They then come to harm or become psychologically scarred. Such an incident can lead them to abandon the sport.
Ignorance can also cause more experienced divers to seek to take shortcuts to attain goals.
My friend eventually decided that the road to trimix rebreather-diver was not for him because of the time and expense involved, but I’m sure that, before our conversation, if someone had offered him a shorter, cheaper route to deep rebreather diving, he would have taken it, completely unaware of the risks he was taking.
A number of high-profile technical diving deaths over the years have come about in exactly this way.