It’s weird when you know nothing about something and then find out you knew even less than you thought you didn't know...
This is a sentence I found myself typing in an e-mail to a dear friend of mine who won’t worry too much about whether I am making sense. It was in relation to a process I was attempting to execute in the field of IT – my least favourite field; a field that for me is full of immovable boulders, stony places, hidden snakes, arid patches, weeds and things that bite and jump out at you when you are already ankle-deep in cow pats.
And I found myself with a new grudging respect for the (then) US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld – he of the famous 2002 (evidence for weapons of mass destruction) quote -
There are known knowns. These are the things we know we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns (i.e.) There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
I suspect this is what I meant to say - but who knows?
It occurred to me in my revelation of the ever widening expanse of my own ignorance, that there are so many different kinds of things we don’t know we don’t know.
Some things are utterly crazy. Take parenting for example. None of us really know anything about it until we know something and realise we knew nowt. And people (in my humble experience) who think they have it licked usually have less of a clue than those of us who accept our limitations. But it’s madder still. Parenting is something you learn WHEN you have children. And if you are like me – by the time you think you almost have a handle on the basics – your kids are nearly grown up!!! WHAT IS THE POINT OF THAT?
To be fair there is sometimes stuff you know and don’t know how you know but you just do. Like we – most of us – knew it was stupid and wrong to invade Iraq – even without benefit of all the information that should have been available. We knew in our gut – we knew in our water – we knew in our very essence (and yes at some point I will try to get through more than three blogs in a row without mentioning the worst foreign policy disaster of modern times).
There are things we ought to know because they are so utterly obvious but we choose not to. This is why money programmes on Radio 4 are still in the happy position of being able to churn out identikit stories of people giving all their money to complete strangers or buying plots of land in a faraway galaxy with their life savings. But this is a different kind of ignorance. This is actually willful blindness. In many cases it is greed that leads to this sort of not-seeing. Because we all actually know that if something seems too good to be true - it is.
I believe there was a time in recent history when – at least in Europe – there was a class of gentlemen who might have been able to get a grip on a significant proportion of the recorded knowledge of the age and really feel they had it tied up. It was a fleeting moment when the educated and privileged classes had collated recorded knowledge from many civilisations and had the leisure time to absorb that knowledge. However – from the time of the Industrial Revolution (that gave many of these wealthy people their comfortable leisure) the ‘discoveries’ we made and the additions we piled on to our stock of recorded data increased in speed, momentum, depth, height, breadth to such a degree that even the most learned gentleman would have to accept that what he was being faced with was a vastness no one could ever encompass with one brain. In effect knowledge got away from us. And this has been the case since Adam bit the apple or atoms went pop.
On a day to day basis – all we can really hope for is to wonder at the things we don’t know.
Anyone who tells you the opposite is proving him or herself a fool.
This week’s recommended blog from the archives
78 Free Schools? Come to my Free Hospital.