Imagine sitting in front of a table eight feet in diameter. Place a dime in the middle. Then imagine that the dime represents what we know, and the rest of the table represents what we don’t know. We all know that what we do know is the basis of the many decisions we make in our business. We also know that the field represents the unknown (but knowable to us) is huge. We have a hunch that if we invested more time, we could increase our knowledge base and get smarter about many things.
Let’s assume for a moment that over the next 20 years we’ll read twice as many books and magazines. Let’s assume that we will visit twice as many Websites and learn from twice as many people who possess more knowledge we have acquired. What will happen 20 years from today is that the dime may have increased to the size of a quarter, and all we’ve done is increase the circumference of our ignorance.
But while we’ve doubled our learning capacity for 20 years, we know that the size of the table (what is knowable) will have increased to the size of the state of Montana. In other words, what we don’t know that we don’t know has increased exponentially.
Are we getting smarter, or are we becoming more ignorant?
How should we think about this? Is information technology a blessing that benefits us all? Or are we creating a society that will be progressively more ignorant as we create more information and knowledge?
Here is another paradox: As the available knowledge increases, so does our ability to access the available knowledge. In the past our pain was associated with a lack of access to knowledge. We knew less, but the information we needed was hidden in libraries and the brains of hard-to-access experts. Today we know a lot more, and everyone can access a great deal of the world’s knowledge, and we experience the pain that comes from excess.
Internet technology offers promising solutions. Jimmy Wales inspired people around the world to co-create 13 million articles in 262 languages for Wikipedia. This monumental, living universe of knowledge allows us rapid access to it, which is a huge step forward. But knowledge repositories can’t fix the ignorance that comes from not knowing what we don’t know.
Knowledge is no longer power
As we survey the large field of knowledge that we can access from our browsers, we realize that knowledge is no longer power. Everybody can access knowledge with a few keystrokes. We live in a world of excess of information, and everybody has access to excess. The power has shifted from the ability to access knowledge to the ability to ask the right questions. Success today depends on asking better questions so we can tap into what we don’t know that we don’t know.
Are questions more important than knowledge?
Picasso once said, “Computers are useless. They only can give you answers.” Voltaire suggested, “Judge others by their questions, rather than by their answers.” Ignorance is like playing a game of hide-and-seek. We are blindfolded, but we know that the blinders only remove our vision, not reality itself. Reality is always there, but our awareness tends to lag behind. Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg framed the issue succinctly by stating, “Nature does not reveal its secrets. It only responds to our method of questioning.”
We are part of a system that collaborates autonomously
Each of our body systems is interconnected and dependent on one another. Science suggests that all of nature is a communication channel; it transmits the past to the future by storing information in the present and handing it off to the next generation, along with the code that insures survival and improvement. In other words, we all carry a vast knowledge universe that’s highly adaptive and capable of ensuring progress. While nature’s systems are designed to work autonomously, the human capacity to think leads to choices that either enhance or interfere with natures’ work. That creates the conversation platform for human values, morality, and ethics.
Intuition generates thoughts that fuel our curiosity
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said that “all thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us.” Let’s think about that quote in the context of the 8-feet-wide table and our dime that we want to increase to the size of a quarter. We know what we know, and we know that what we don’t know is knowable, but we are not aware of what we don’t know. Our intuition tells us that there are knowable areas that we can seek out, question, and examine. The idea that our intuition is a source of knowledge goes back to the French philosopher Descartes, who wrote in his doctrine Veracitas Dei that our intuition does not deceive us because God is truthful and will not deceive us.
Do we know more than we think or think more than we know?
Here is the beautiful part: We are all a lot more knowledgeable than we think we are, because our present moment is a function of our awareness and intuition. As we move into a new moment, our brain will organize its computing power (generate more questions and search for more answers) according to the challenges involved in the new task at hand. The punch line belongs to Kant: “All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”
Isn’t it reasonable to say that we need to co-create new models of collaboration so we can advance society by uncovering, exploring, and questioning what we don’t know that we don’t know?
Please share your comment on this post.
Email this blog to a friend