The Truth Is, You don't Know What You Don't Know

Joanne Reed

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The Truth is, You Don't know What you don't KnowPhoto by Diloka107 via freepik.com
“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence” – Charles Bukowski.

This is a brutal statement from Charles Bukowski but it contains a lot of truth in it and it encapsulates a lot of what is indeed wrong with the world these days. It is concise, straight to the point, and quite difficult to argue against. The truth, is we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know the questions we need to ask in order to find out because we are so stuck in our narrow-minded way of doing things.

According to Sadhguru I Don’t know holds tremendous possibilities. We should learn to say I don’t know more often, instead of jumping to conclusions. The moment you destroy, I Don’t know, you destroy all the possibilities of knowing. Confusion is better than stupid conclusions. In confusion, there is still a possibility.

The problem is that everyone is pretending to know things they don’t. In fact, too many people are dead certain about things that just aren’t true. The next time you hear something you are not sure about, instead of picking a side and believing or disbelieving, why not admit the truth: I don’t know. By refusing to draw a conclusion you keep your mind open, and you give the truth a chance to get in; but by drawing a conclusion you naturally become close-minded and dismissive towards all other possibilities.

The truth is, true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing – Socrates.

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The Truth is the more you know the more you realized you don't know.Photo by i-photos via freepik.com

According to the Ancient Greeks, the source of all wisdom and clarity is to know thyself. That moto Know Thyself was one of the maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

“The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.” Socrates

According to the Wise Man of Ancient Greece, you may find the path to wisdom, if you start from a position of humility and if you accept the extent of your ignorance. A lot of us like to think of ourselves as pretty smart, rational individuals and funny too. But what if we are wrong? Do we overestimate our own abilities? Are we completely blind to our own failings?

You probably don’t know as much as you think you do. When put to the test, most people find they can’t explain the workings of everyday things they think they understand. There is a great power in knowing what you don’t know. When we accept our ignorance and limitations, we become wiser.

Socrates is known as the wisest man in Athens, but he doubted this very much until he put it to the test. Socrates’ favorite pastime was the pursuit of Truth. His reputation as a philosopher spread across Athens and beyond. When told that the Oracle of Delphi revealed to one of his friends that he was the wisest man in Athens, Socrates responded, not by boasting or celebrating but by trying to prove the Oracle wrong. Socrates decided to find out if anyone knew what was truly worthwhile in life as anyone who knew that would surely be wiser than him. He questioned everyone he could find, but no one could give him a satisfactory answer. Instead, they all pretended to know something they clearly did not. Finally, he realized that the Oracle might be right after all; he was the wisest man in Athens because he alone was prepared to admit his own ignorance rather than pretend to know something he did not.

Too often we fall into the delusion of thinking we know a lot more than we really do, this concept is commonly known as illusory superiority. Recognizing what you don’t know actually puts you in a unique place of power. It can improve your choices in life, because it’s an honest view of your knowledge and capabilities, as well as your ignorance and limitations.

Understanding the limitations of your knowledge puts you at an advantage from people who overestimate their knowledge or aren’t aware of their own ignorance. This isn’t a negative thing, this is about being honest with yourself which means acknowledging both your strengths and your weaknesses.

If you are willing to keep an open mind about your beliefs and the possibility that you don’t have all the facts, you will be much better off than if you were to just take everything you believe as complete truth. See things the way they are, not how they could, should or might be. Same with people. Look at people as they are, not how they could, should or might be.

“Most people take their thoughts so seriously believing every thought that passes through their heads as if their thoughts represented the undeniable and irrefutable truth of the matter. But thoughts aren’t facts, what you think isn’t what it is. Thoughts are just thoughts. Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it is true” Sadhguru.

The Truth is, uncertainty is uncomfortable, but certainty is an absurd one – Voltaire

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Have you heard about the Lemon Man?Photo by Maks Lab via freepik.com

McArthur Wheeler also known as the Lemon Man became famous for his total lack of self-awareness and incredible level of stupidity. In 1995, McArthur Wheeler was arrested for robbing banks in broad day light, with no visible attempt at disguise. He believed that the lemon juice he wore on his face made him invisible to surveillance cameras.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias characterized by inappropriate overconfidence about mastery of a subject. The term was coined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999 in a study called Unskilled and Unaware of it: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.

The Lemon Man story is an example of self-awareness, or rather a lack of self-awareness which ended disastrously. Why do people fail to recognize their own incompetence? Because people who are incompetent at something are unable to recognize their own incompetence. Dunning himself stated that “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent”, but also noted the reason for this seems to be ignorance, not arrogance.

So, why is this a problem? It is a problem because if you have a tendency to overestimate your abilities you will end up making sub-optimal decisions until your misassumptions catch up with you.

Should you overestimate or underestimate your competence?

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Fake or Fact?Photo by Diloka107 via freepik.com

As well as showing that less-competent people tend to overestimate their abilities, the Dunning-Kruger effect study also showed that competent people tend to underestimate their own competence. This ability to underestimate our capabilities can also produce sub-optimal decisions but does have some positive impact by increasing our capacity for humility, curiosity, and a drive to improve ourselves.

That drive to improve ourselves can be deeply rooted in culture; researcher Dr Steven Hein, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, did similar studies to Dunning-Kruger but looking at the issue from a different angle y comparing North American and East Asian People. When asked to self-assess their abilities, Hein’s study reveals that East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities, with an aim toward improving the self and getting along with others, whilst the North American tend to overestimate their ability and competence.

There are cultural, social and individual motives that explain these tendencies. As Western society becomes more individualistic, a successful life is equated with confidence, self-assurance, and high-self esteem (often to the verge of arrogance). Conversely, East Asians tend to adopt a self-critical self-view, the downside effect of this being they tend not to feel so good about themselves.

Knowing thyself, knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important so that you can exploit your strengths and seek help in areas where you are weak. To know who you are is important, but in addition, belief and confidence are as big a part of the equation too.

There is a robust body of scientific and anecdotal evidence that suggests that people who believe they will become successful at something are most likely to succeed. Similarly, there are countless stories of cancer patients who credit their survival to a positive mindset and their determination to survive this terrible illness. Inspirational quotes such as Your thoughts determine you future are popular in the self-help sphere.

So, is it better to overestimate yourself or underestimate your abilities? The truth is always somewhere in the middle. Overestimate your futures and underestimate your past; acknowledge the fact that the more you know the more you realize you don’t know, this will give you the benefit of humility, but overestimate the future, because these positive expectations will give you the benefits of higher performance.

And this my dear friend, is your Quest!

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As an author, I made it my Quest to write about anything that nourishes and educates the mind with a zest of philosophy, plenty of good vibes, and this little 'Je ne sais quoi'. You can never underestimate the power of storytelling. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves, and about others.

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