Monday, November 06, 2006

I Don't Know What I Don't Know, And Neither Do You.

I think it was Plato who said something to the effect of "wisdom starts when you realize how much you don't know." After my many years of school, I have learned a lot. I see how much more I haven't learned, therefore how much I don't know. It seems for every thing I learn I find there's about 5 things that I didn't know that I didn't know.

Now, there are a number of people I'm sure who will admit that there's lots they don't know. It may be that they merely give intellectual assent to that notion. They may actually believe it. But I wonder how many think of the implications of not knowing what they don't know, or not knowing what they don't know that they don't know.

I have a few examples of this in mind. I might get around to them in future blog posts, but for now I'll leave you with one example.

Earlier, I posted a link to an article which said the U.N. weapons inspector said that the war in Iraq is a "pure failure" and the Iraqis were better-off under Saddam. As you may have guessed if you read that post that I'm not a huge fan of Bush. I won't explain why, for two reasons, one of which is that I don't want this blog to be a political site, and the other I'll explain in a minute.

Somebody had read that post and said to me something to the effect of "That weapons inspector doesn't know what he's talking about," or "That weapons inspector doesn't know everything."
It occurred to me later "wait a sec...this guy thinks he knows more about that situation than the U.N. weapons inspector?"

See, there's lots we'll never hear about the war in Iraq, or a whole host of other political and non-political issues. What we do hear is filtered at least through some bias, and possibly through the Pentagon. There are only a small handful of people on this planet who know enough about that situation to actually have a valid, educated opinion on that situation. The U.N. weapons inspector may be one of them. I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not one of them (the second reason I don't want to put my reasons for Bushpobia on this blog). And, unless my friend is living a double life where he's actually a spy or something, he's probably not in that small handful of people either.

I know most people who read this blog regularly. (Would you believe I get under 1000 hits per day?) Now, I don't know what you know. But, there is a very low statistical probability that anyone reading this blog actually knows enough to have a valid, informed, educated opinion about the war in Iraq. (I, personally think Bush went in to Avenge daddy. But I don't know what Bush knows. Bush may have had actual good reasons that he's not telling anybody. Reasons other than WMDs.)

What's this you say? "That's the beauty of opinions, you don't need to know all the facts to have one."

Let me ask you this. What's your reaction to someone who shoots his mouth off to you about something they clearly know nothing about, but something you know about? (Like that guy I met who tried telling me, and another computer science student how it was because he worked at a call center that told people how to reboot their cable modems.) My reaction is usually "What a donkey. They don't know what they're talking about." Then what they have to say, on other topics, loses credibility.

Now think of someone you know who, instead of having something to say about everything, says "You know, I don't know," to some things. You think "That person is willing to admit they don't know." It lends credence to what they say when they actually have something to say.

Decide which person you want to be.

And keep in mind, both Tony Robbins and Tyler Durden say "Stop trying to be perfect!" which implies the statement "Stop trying to know everything!"

Of course, this forces me to examine what I know about. Precious little. Even what I do know about, I know very little.

It also raises the question of how I know what I know. Most of it is by authority. When you go to school, you get mostly authoritative knowledge. Stuff in text books and lectures. Some would say experience is a better teacher than any classroom. I'm not sure about that. When it comes to complicated things like relationships you might have patterns that direct all your relationships, and therefor your learning and knowledge on the subject. For example, if you're co-dependent then that will shape you're relationships and you'll learn completely different things than someone who has hermit tendencies.

Also, when it comes to a skill....I'm still skeptical. Why can I write better HTML/CSS code than some people who have been doing it much longer than I? And furthermore, why do I keep changing tenses in this post?

Then there's the confirmation bias. You pay attention to evidence that backs up what you already believe, and mitigate the evidence that runs contrary to what you believe. If you're predisposed to like Bush, then you will find reasons to like him, and evidence that what he's doing is good. If you don't then you'll find evidence that he's just messed things up and doesn't know what he's doing.

And, of course, the whole thing assumes you're not insane, or in a giant Matrix-esque machine.

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