Sometimes I find that the greatest obstacle to understanding is the idea of knowledge. You see knowledge can act as a bias, if you let it. When we think we know something, we risk closing off alternative possibilities with the assumption that our knowledge is correct and complete. This way of thinking not only limits our understanding, but also closes the mind to new information that may contradict our perceived knowledge.
As former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” It is important to note that some, or all, of the things we consider to be “known knowns” could actually be “unknown unknowns.” Therefore known knowns are things that we think we know.
It is possible to know something in a specific context; in math we know that 1+1=2 because we consider that 1 is a mathematical object with certain characteristics. However, 1+1=3 is also possible under another set of assumptions: 1 woman + 1 man can result in 3 humans under the right circumstances and given enough time. Given this characteristic of knowledge, it is very important to remember the context of our knowledge.
All information comes to us through our perceptions. We observe specific phenomena, directly or indirectly, and then we assess and categorize the observations to build an idea. Knowledge does not denote certainty in a broad sense, but rather in a specific sense. In our environment, nature is continually changing and adapting, what may have been observed in the past could occur differently in the present.
This is where the “known unknowns” category comes in. When we admit that we do not know for certain, we become open to new possibilities and solutions that otherwise would have been discarded as being contrary to our perceived knowledge.
Keeping an open mind is of utmost importance for building understanding. The first step of the learning process is admitting that there will always be much to learn.
Integrity Health is a franchise company residing in New Hampshire. We specialize in health coaching centers combining fitness with weight loss to optimize and promote optimal health. We are also the national purveyors of the EZCOACH Fitness Prescription System licensed by fitness professionals.