Not Knowing What We Don’t Know
As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld
In 2002 Donald Rumsfeld received the “Foot in Mouth Award” for the above statement.However, semanticists defended it by saying “Although the language may be tortured, the basic point is both valid and important.” And it was agreed that the important point is that unknown unknowns are the most troubling.
Since 2002 the Rumsfeld Unknown Unknowns has appeared in many articles, as a book and a movie. And today the role of unknown unknowns is even more than troubling. This is because more and more unknown unknowns are showing up. The most educated person in the world now has to admit that he or she knows less and less, but at least knows less and less about more and more, Christopher Hitchens. This explains the popular saying: The more we know the more we realize don’t know.
Today the Internet, with an endless source and easy accessibility of information and misinformation, is constantly making both what is known and what is unknown more common. And modern science frequently makes what we once knew as true no longer true. Also our new understanding of the decision making process tells us it is no longer possible for the human mind to process or even posses the necessary information and knowledge to make totally rational decisions. Therefore, more unknown unknowns.
So, what can we do about unknown unknowns? Of course I will point out the wisdom of uncertainty. This will help you avoid being sure about something that is no longer true; and it will keep you open-minded, able to investigate what you know and don’t know. This means to check your assumptions. Is what I assume a belief or knowledge; fact or fiction? Am I overlooking something I know or don’t know? Are my beliefs or biases “blinding” me? Should I ask someone for another opinion?
What we assume is what we presume we know. Untested assumptions lead to all kinds of problems with knowing and not knowing. The future will increase our knowns, unknowns, and our unknown unknowns. It is the not knowing what you don’t know (unknown unknowns) that can still be the troubling part. Or what you know for sure.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things. Murphy’s Law