Thursday, March 5, 2009

Forget what you know. It is hindering your progress.

Some time ago, I found myself at some sort of big self-help thing that gave the facade of helping you unlock your own potential and find a new state of being, but at $600 for the "introductory" program, it smelt a bit like someone's money-making system. In the end they didn't get my money but I did manage to pick up a bit of free advice. They broke knowledge into three types:
  • The things I know that I know
  • The things I know that I don't know, and
  • The things that I don't know that I don't know.
The things I know that I know are things like my birthday, my parent's names, the approximate speed of sound in air, etc.  The things I know I don't know are things like the exact population of my city, the volume of sydney harbour, the mind of a woman.
Now when it comes to the things that I don't know that I don't know, well I can't give an example for the simple reason that if I could, it would be classified in the one of the previous two categories.  The point of that expensive self-help program was simply that the key to unlocking your potential lies in your ability to be open to the things that you don't know that you don't know.  It kind of messes with the mind a little but if you think about it, it actually makes good sense.

But I have been pondering some of these thoughts in the last day or so and I think I can add a new category to the list:
  • The things I think I know that I really don't know
When it comes to the rapid movement of technology, it is this very thing that hampers our ability to reach for the stars.  Technology is continuously changing the rules.  We think we understand the game and so we start playing it one way. After a little while, we check the scoreboard only to find that we have actually been playing on a field that is far removed from where the real game is at. Why? Because we thought we knew something and so we didn't think that we needed to check it again.

We are living in the so-called information age. Information is available to us like never before in history and is being continuously expanded on at a break neck pace. As a consequence, our brains have developed keen filtering processes that help us partition up information and navigate our way through.  Some things we accept on face value. Other things we examine more closely. But having reached a conclusion about something, we rarely revisit it unless we perceive that some other piece of new information warrants a rethink.
But what if we never receive that new piece of information? What if we continue on our way thinking that we know something when in fact we don't? We are actually in a worse state than absolute ignorance.  We are trapped in an erroneous paradigm with no way to get out and no sense that we are in the wrong place.
To add to the deception, we often build on our conclusions.  So conclusions that we have arrived at in the past will often form the basis of further conclusions that we make today.  But what if our original conclusion is wrong and we don't know it?  All of a sudden the house of cards starts tumbling down.

In the film "The Matrix", Neo is encouraged to free his mind; to not be constrained by what he thinks is real. In the Matrix, there are rules that are meant to be bent, and some which are meant to be broken.  By thinking that we know what we know, we forget to question where our degrees of freedom lie.  Because of what we 'know', we hinder our progress.


  1. Neo has/had a choice... the blue pill or the red pill, stay entrapped in the facade of life in the arcade game or experience real life, real horror and real love. It seems that many of us must choose the arcade game, the "fear" of real life, the uncertainty of love and probability of pain, loss and horror appears to be overwhelming to the masses.

    Examples are abundant... the economic crisis where at a glance thieves are stealing our futures, our childrens' futures... etc... or the arcade game where we may believe the thieves are actually our saviors. Is government hear lovingly to provide for our safety or our slavery? What or Who is the master of the Matrix?

    There is another obvious category of knowledge, or supposed knowledge... Propaganda. Culturally we all think we know something as a group (except for the "lunatic fringe" screaming we are walking into the hungry mouth of the beast) but the knowledge is vacant of "fact", it is a myth.

    As an Electrical Engineer I have been asking myself how much of our "knowledge" is in fact cultural "myth". Has specialization left our minds vacant? Exploring these thoughts has brought me back to research some turn of the century engineering texts. It seems that in the late 1890's (before the great awakening of the 1910's and 1920's) engineers were much more comfortable "knowing" that their knowledge was in fact fractional. (You may find some interesting re-prints of engineering texts from this period at LINDSAY books on-line --- I am not associated with that site).

    Of course, knowledge is never truly developed through simple study. It is the application that breeds insight, that develops "skills" and leads to expertise (*at the peril of developing your own cultural myths*).

    My point is rather simple: To experience your potential you must abandon fear (face fear) and embrace life (including pain and horror). It is not so much about being open to new thought processes as it is rejecting cultural perceptions. This requires more of an emotional awakening then it does an intellectual pursuit: To join the lunatic fringe and set your own sail.

  2. For a long time I have been drugged by the blue pill. I think I'm going to take the red one and make real changes in my life.