How do you know what you don't know?


There is so much you -- I -- don't know. The sum total of every single thing I can possibly say I know is nothing -- I can't even characterize it as a drop, a droplet, an atom, it's nothing -- next to what there is to know.

And I think I know a lot. ;-) At least I like to know things and I seek out all kinds of information which is pretty easy to do these days since we all carry an encyclopedia around in our pockets. Indeed a library. More even!

That entire collection of bits, bytes, facts and fictions is nothing compared to what we, as a world, don't know. What I don't know is infinite.

I started down this path just wondering how many of us know the actual difference between a million and a billion. We hear talk of billionaires nowadays. Billionaires. Do you really know how much a billion is? Or two billion? 10 billion? Look here. In US money, you can carry a million bucks, in $100 bills, in a backpack. A billion in $100s? That would take 10 forklifted pallets! BIG difference.

The thing is, we may realize there are things we don't know. We think we're open-minded. Or sophisticated and self-aware. We know our own limitations and short-comings. Right? Don't we?

In Daniel Kahnemann's brilliant Thinking, Fast and Slow, he presents the concept WYSIATI or What You See Is All There Is. In short, it is the very natural, very human tendency to use the information we have at hand as if it is the only information available. It is not at all normal for us to ask, "What don't I know here?" When making a decision, whether simple or complicated, typically we don't wait for more information. We move forward with what we know.

Here's the thing. There's a lot you don't know. How do you know what you don't know? You slow down. You believe this is true. You listen. You listen again. You seek out opinions contrary to your own. You hear your inner voice saying, "Yeah, but..." and you stop. And you turn your attention outward again and you listen. And you see beyond "all there is."

© 2015 - 2020 by Meg Reilly. All rights reserved.

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