Monday, June 21

Not First

This was linked to from everywhere today, but I didn't actually get a chance to read Errol Morris's "blogpost" until tonight, riding home on the B train. It's long, and footnoted (thus the quotation marks around blogpost), but worth a read. The part I liked the most builds off that old Rumsfeld quote about the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns. (I should clarify, this is an extended quotation Errol Morris includes in his post; it's not him writing.)

If I were given carte blanche to write about any topic I could, it would be about how much our ignorance, in general, shapes our lives in ways we do not know about. Put simply, people tend to do what they know and fail to do that which they have no conception of. In that way, ignorance profoundly channels the course we take in life. And unknown unknowns constitute a grand swath of everybody’s field of ignorance.


Unknown unknowns also exist at the level of solutions. People often come up with answers to problems that are o.k., but are not the best solutions. The reason they don’t come up with those solutions is that they are simply not aware of them. Stefan Fatsis, in his book “Word Freak,” talks about this when comparing everyday Scrabble players to professional ones. As he says: “In a way, the living-room player is lucky . . . He has no idea how miserably he fails with almost every turn, how many possible words or optimal plays slip by unnoticed. The idea of Scrabble greatness doesn’t exist for him.” (p. 128)

Unknown unknown solutions haunt the mediocre without their knowledge. The average detective does not realize the clues he or she neglects. The mediocre doctor is not aware of the diagnostic possibilities or treatments never considered. The run-of-the-mill lawyer fails to recognize the winning legal argument that is out there. People fail to reach their potential as professionals, lovers, parents and people simply because they are not aware of the possible.
That third paragraph is my favorite, although you kind of need the build-up.

Link: The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1) (Worth reading the whole thing to find out what "anosognosic" means!)

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