Monday, March 24, 2008

What You Don't Know

"He who knows not and knows not that he knows not,
He is a fool: Shun him.
He who knows not and knows that he knows not,
He is simple: Teach him.
He who knows and knows not that he knows,
He is asleep: Wake him.
He who knows and knows that he knows,
He is wise: Follow him."

That's listed in my "Treasury of the Familiar" as an Arab Proverb.  It may be from the hadith, I would like if it were.

People can't see their own blind spots.  That inability to see it pretty much defines a blind spot, so that is okay. Still...

Too much pussy-footing.  Why is it that really, really painfully dumb people think that they are smart?  Is there a mechanism for that?  Probably something as simple as that people who are insecure about their abilities and intelligence keep learning and the people that are so sure either stop or simply cherry pick for things that confirm their own beliefs... which we all do to some extent.

Also, the strength of an opinion is almost inversely proportional to the strength of its basis.  I see this commonly in politics where things that we will not even understand for two generations or more, and decisions that were made with information that the opiners could not have are condemned or praised with religious zeal.  Speaking of religion... maybe it is just my extended circle of friends, but has anyone who has ever had direct contact with  a (what's the noun I want here? God? Great Spirit? Satori? Deep religious experience?) ever felt the need to kill the people who disagreed?  That seems the job of the ones who haven't.  Maybe. Counter examples welcome.

A friend challenges opinions with a simple formula: "First, tell me what you know. Then tell me what you don't know. Only then tell me what you think." I'd attribute it, but he stole it from somebody else.

If we're honest, we'll probably never get past the list of 'don't knows' even on a relatively simple subject.  Which is cool, because if you love the subject that is a list of research possibilities and new learning. Unless you already think you know it all. Ahem.

A tactical plan has a list of critical information: threats, hostages, weapons, history, dynamics, resources... it's a damn big list.  A lot of those will have UNK written beside them, sometimes right up until the situation is resolved.  You contingency plan a lot of it: If one hostage versus two; if hostages together versus hostages separate.  But a potential killer is to put something down as 'known' which is untrue.  UNK frees you to improvise.  Finding an error of fact from your briefing in the middle of the operation makes everything you thought you knew suspect.  It could be a trap. It feels like betrayal. Morale, decisiveness, team cohesion can all collapse in a second. It will only be recovered by esprit and decisive leadership.

What are your 'don't knows'? Especially in the things that you value most, the things that you consider yourself an expert in.  I guarantee you the list is long.  We are all 'simple' and can be taught.  If the list isn't long or (especially) if you fail the jikkyoshado rule and defend your views against direct experience (especially your own!!!) re-think it, baby.  That way is the easy path to bar-stool experts and arm-chair generals.


Steve Perry said...

Well, the list of what I don't know would fill most of the books ever printed. I am woefully ignorant, the width and breadth of it is vast. So much about which I haven't a clue. The more I learn, the more I realize how much it's just a scratch on the surface.

Thing is, the cure for ignorance is known: knowledge. Sometimes it is direct, sometimes not so much -- I never been to India, but I do believe it's there.

Einstein's theories were mostly inside his head. He did thought-experiments, because for a lot of what he came up with, there wasn't any practical ways to test it. Later, many of his ideas proved to be on the money. (There is a worrisome bit about gravity and slingshot effects on small satellites perculating, so the jury isn't altogether in on Al's accuracy.) But not bad for a guy what spun it up in his own mind.

Stupidity, on the other hand, tends to be chronic and sometimes fatal.
Of those things I'd claim to know, one of them is that I'm not too stupid most of the time.

But, since I've conjured up Uncle Albert, lemme go with, it's all relative, isn't it? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man might not be the king, but he does have a tactical advantage in some situations ...

Kai Jones said...

In the Pesach haggadah there's a story about the four sons: One wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question. Each son asks a different question about the service, and gets a different answer. Among other things, this parable is about perspective.

Loudernhel said...

Have we talked about "The Rapture Of The Shallows?"



Irene said...

Well, one thing I've observed is that 'smart' and 'stupid' aren't really opposite poles. Really smart people can, at the same time, be really dumb. (Bill Clinton comes to mind... very smart man, but wow he was incredibly stupid in some ways!)
I think the difference is, perhaps... something like wisdom, Wisdom is the ability to foresee the consequences of actions, the ability to see or at least be aware of your own blind spots, and use that to guide your decisions. Something like that.
And ignorance/education is purely orthogonal to both intelligence and wisdom.