“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.” – Socrates
You’ve heard stuff like “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” right? I’ve always wondered what people meant by that. So I shouldn’t bother learning stuff? I shouldn’t study stuff “just a little”? I should acquire deep knowledge about one subject? I should study several opposing things? What are you trying to tell me!?
As far as I can tell it’s all of the above.
Have you ever had a situation where you’re sitting there and listening to someone talking and you realize that everything they’re saying is “old news” to you? Like, “Yeah, I know where this is going”. They’re looking for your advice, guidance or just for you to listen. You kind of zone out and start preparing your own remarks in your mind, take on the “expert posture” to show them that you know what you’re talking about. But then. Then they drop a truth bomb so huge it pushes all the air out of your lungs.
They’re waiting for a response and you’re just sitting there like an idiot and all that comes out is… It’s not even words or sounds like “ah” or “um”. It’s like this really drawn out “H”. You know “Hhhhhhh…”?
All the “wisdom”, “knowledge” and “reflection” goes straight out the window. You start to feel ashamed for not paying attention. You start to feel stupid for not knowing how to respond. Then comes one of two things. You either give the most trite response you can muster up in your mind or you tell the truth.
The truth. What a concept. The truth in three little words. Three little words that are so painful to say. I don’t know.
We look for certainty in our lives. That’s natural. We need to feel safe. We need to know that we’re loved. We need the sun to come up tomorrow. If we can’t have that certainty we get really anxious.
So we get those. We get to feel safe, we get to know we’re loved, the sun does come up. Yay! Then we start to look for certainty at higher levels of our needs.
We’re actualizing ourselves. Trouble ahead. We begin to identify ourselves and others from the vantage point of our knowledge. We must know a lot since we’ve made it this far. Life must be really simple. If everyone only knew this, this and this we’d all be superfantastic!
Wow. That’s… Are you hearing yourself?
That’s about the same time the bomb hits. All the things you were so certain of crumble at your feet. If you’re lucky there’s something in the rubble you can fix your eyes on. Something that reminds you that there was a time in your life when you didn’t know it all.
Go back. Realize that the work is never finished. We never know it all. We’re always learning. There’s no shame in admitting that.
We want to make sure we don’t get hurt: “Don’t worry!”. That our fort is inpenetrable: “I’m an expert!”. Then we find a crack: “What the hell is that!?”.
What i’ve learned is something I tell myself: “Maybe all I need right now is to not know.”
Then, of course, we set out to find the answers.
John Cleese talks about the Dunning-Kruger Effect:
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
“I believe this passionately: that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.” – Sir Ken Robinson
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki
“Writing anything as an expert is really poisonous to the writing process, because you lose the quality of discovery.” – Siddhartha Mukherjee