Bri Manning

Types of Ignorance

May 19, 2017

Not everyone can know everything. Unfortunately, some people think they do. The buckets people can fall into as I see them are like this:

  1. not knowing what you don’t know
  2. thinking you understand what you don’t know
  3. knowing what you don’t know
  4. knowing

The first one is pretty benign. If you know so little about something, you can’t know what you don’t even know about. You don’t know the jargon or how a system works. On top of that, you don’t even know that there’s a system there.

The second one is the dangerous one. This is where being sophomoric comes in. You think you know how it all fits together. You think you understand a system or how something works. You usually think you’re in phase four, unfortunately.

The third one is starting to understand the system. Going from the second phase to the third phase is sobering. You see there are moving parts, but you don’t know how they work, but you know they exist.

Finally, there’s understanding. Getting here from the third phase can be a long slow process. Often, you don’t even realize you’ve moved into the fourth phase.

This is obviously oversimplified. I use “not knowing what you don’t know” all the time in programming. When a new project starts, you often don’t know what the pain points are going to be if it’s a new type of project. It’s required to realize that there are going to be undefinable unknowns. Some may think it’s an unacceptable risk, but it’s an unavoidable one.

What made me consider this was Trump.

He’s made it clear for some time that he’s in the second phase on most things. He doesn’t understand that there are things he doesn’t understand. We only have to look at how he’s managed investigations, realized healthcare was complicated, and grasped that politics in Asia aren’t simple. That’s the most dangerous phase to be in. He doesn’t know the consequences, but he thinks he does. One can be forgiven for not knowing something. When you believe you do understand something while being clueless is something else.