the knowns

“There are known knowns…”, the gem made famous by Donald Rumsfeld, though in a sense originally appearing in the 50’s in the form of Johari window. I like to think these combinations as a framework for classifying information and our attitude towards gathering more of it.

 k-k (open / arena)

Known knowns are quite obvious. They are the knowledge one is aware of. However, don’t believe everything you think. The scientific method relies on rewriting or updating the current knowns. Most that were once known is now obsolete or outdated. So never get too sure or confident in your knowledge.

 u-k (blind spot)

Unknown knowns are perhaps those tacit and implicit pieces of information that lie in the subconscious. More dangerously, these might be things we refuse to accept or recognise.

Many of them are autonomous and linked to the System 1 type, instant reacting and thinking. The more one becomes aware of these unknowns, the better she can move to the System 2 and influence the processes between input and response.

 k-u (hidden / façade)

The less you know, the more you think you know. The more you study and learn, the more unknowns you collect. Gathering unknowns is like building a web of interconnected facts and contexts. This web can consist of ideas, and the details can be retrieved on-demand. As our “extended phenotype” now attributes to instant access to details and facts, knowing what data to retrieve has become more important.

 u-u (unknown)

The unknown unknowns are accessible by first exposing oneself to information. Only by acquiring an apprentice status, can one crack the doors of perception, and search for the known unknowns.

These are the things that one could hardly dream of before their introduction. Examples, for most of us, could be the coming AI revolution, or some scientific breakthrough. Examples of the past could be the germ or round-earth theories.

Arguably, unknown unknowns are endless, and while study and research expose some, the modern flood of information generates more. Then there are the unknowns not only to oneself but the whole humanity.

 the knowns of our lives

I believe our information gathering oscillates between arena and facade, relating to the specialist and generalist. Transforming u-u’s to k-u’s is for generalists and ignoring the u-u’s for specialists. Understanding little about several subjects allows for a more imaginative, albeit slower, response. Knowing much about little leads to solving the problem with the one favourite tool. Psychological and spiritual aides are for your blind-spots, whereas scientists and researchers for revealing the most obscure unknowns.


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