Understanding What We Don’t Know: Expanding Our Knowledge

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How do you know what you don’t know if you don’t know what you don’t know?

It sounds like a riddle from the three stooges. But understanding the limits of our own knowledge is more important and more difficult than most people realize.

As we navigate through life, we encounter a complex world of knowledge, BS, personal beliefs, and wild assumptions.

But how do we distinguish between what we truly know and what we merely assume or believe to be true?

The answer to this question may be rooted in deep self-awareness and understanding of the human brain and human bias.

In this article we’ll explore these concepts, offering insight into recognizing the boundaries of our knowledge.

Understanding Our Own Knowledge and Its Limits

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In our day-to-day lives, the decisions we make teeter on the fulcrum between known facts and assumptions.

For example, when we stumble upon the boundaries of our understanding, we often to default towards oversimplifying matters, which inadvertently clouds our perceptions.

Take, for instance, mental health. Offering advice like “just smile more” to those battling depression grossly oversimplifies a complex, multifaceted issue.

Similarly, politics isn’t just a game of simple opinions.

A surface-level stance rarely scratches the depths of intricate socio-economic policy and geopolitical matters.

Our brains are not physically capable of seeing ourselves objectively.

According to Timothy Wilson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia,  most people know their current mood but often misidentify the causes of their current mood. People often link their mood external factors like the weather or days of the week.

As it turns out, we predict others’ moods better than our own, which suggests that often internal reflection of knowledge is a definite blind spot.

Critical thinking is the key to differentiating assumptions and beliefs from factual knowledge.

By questioning, analyzing, and evaluating, we can transform our subjective viewpoints into objective, evidence-based knowledge, driving us towards more informed decision-making.

From Assumptions to Certain Knowledge

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Making the leap from ‘’beliefs and assumptions’’ to ‘’concrete knowledge’’ requires effort, analysis, acquiring diverse viewpoints, and strong devotion to the objective thinking.

Assumptions and beliefs are often born out of sub-conscious personal bias or societal bias.

There are two types of assumptions we create.
  1. Conscious assumptions formed by our experiences, which guide us in social interactions and contribute to our mental safety.
  2. Subconscious assumptions, less obvious but powerfully shaped by our upbringing and repeated experiences.

Applying objectivity, logical reasoning, and critical thinking helps validate assumptions, differentiate facts from beliefs, and guide better decision-making.

By using tools like mindfulness, cognitive reframing, and new perspectives to help weed out fiction from fact, gradually we can shift from belief-based assumptions, towards a realm of actionable concrete knowledge.

Deciphering Reliable Sources of Information

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One of the most critical parts on understanding what’s true and what’s not is determining the source of information.

Here’s some examples of what to look out for…

1. Evidence-Based InformationSearch for hard evidence like data, statistics, or research findings that back up the claims. Be wary of sources presenting opinions as facts without supporting evidence.
2. Source ReputationInvestigate the source’s credibility. Traditional news outlets, government websites, and academic institutions typically provide reliable information. However, be cautious with TV and social media, where sensationalized or unverified information may circulate.
3. Peer ReviewIn academic and scientific fields, peer-reviewed articles are validated for accuracy by experts in the same field. This process is less common in TV and social media, but there can be exceptions, particularly on platforms dedicated to academic discussions.
4. Relevance and ContextCheck whether the information is directly related to the topic in question and if it’s presented in the correct context. Be skeptical of sources that misuse or misinterpret data to fit a specific narrative.
5. Publication DateEspecially in quickly changing fields like science or tech, newer information is usually more accurate. Older posts or articles might no longer be relevant or accurate.
6. Bias Detection and Conflicts of InterestRecognize that all sources have some level of bias. Reliable sources strive to present balanced information, showing different viewpoints. Be cautious of sources only showing one side of a story. Look out for potential conflicts of interest, such as financial ties that might influence the information presented. For instance, a positive review of a product may be less trustworthy if the reviewer received payment or the product for free from the manufacturer.
7. Fact-CheckVerify the information with other trustworthy sources or use fact-checking websites, especially when dealing with potentially misleading platforms like social media.
8. Trust but VerifyEven if a source has been reliable in the past, always approach new information with a critical eye. Remember, even reputable sources can sometimes publish incorrect information.

The Influence of Ego, Statistics, and Feelings

Realizing ‘’what we don’t know’’ isn’t always easy or apparent. And that type of self-awareness is often filtered by the ego’s influence, along with our interpretation of stats, and the body’s chemical reaction with of emotions.

Breaking down these intertwined complexities can help us see fact from fiction, allowing us to expand our learning capacity so we can learn more about everything, and improve our decision-making skills.

Is Your Ego in the Driver’s Seat:

Understanding What We Don't Know: Expanding Our Knowledge

Our ego – our ideal mental ‘selfie’ – often filters our perceptions and our claims. It can propel us forward and cause us to make assertions without substantial proof…, all to avoid ‘looking stupid’.

However, this ego-driven approach ‘stunts our growth’ by overlooking our knowledge gaps.

By practicing humility and mindfulness, we can acknowledge our uncertainties. This fosters an environment ripe for learning and personal growth.

Using (and cherry-picking)  Stats:

In our gotta-go-fast world, we often rely on stats to make sense of things.

But stats are more like a rough sketch than a detailed photograph. They can be tilted or misread in all sorts of ways.

It’s best not to put all our eggs in the stats basket.

They’re part of the story, but they’re not the whole story.

If we treat stats like the absolute gospel, we might gloss over the unique details or miss the bigger picture.

Think for yourself.

Check the stats from different perspectives and cross-reference them with different opposing sources.

Letting Our Emotions Call the Shots:

Whether it’s our emotional feelings, our vibes, or our gut intuition our emotions can offer us some pretty useful insights. But they can also cloud our logic and make us leap to conclusions quicker than we’d like sometimes.

Our emotional response is linked to our past experiences, biases, and mental shortcuts, which can sometimes send us down the wrong path with assumptions.

That’s where emotional intelligence (EQ) comes in – EQ acts as our emotional GPS. By understanding others and our own emotions, and by knowing when to take control, we can figure out when our emotions are guiding us right and when they’re not.

Understanding Why We Believe What We Really Don’t Know

In today’s digital age, through TV media chanels, internet media, and social media, we’re all subject to information overload (and mis-information overload).

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Understanding how this landscape molds our beliefs is vital.

Here’s a concise look at a few influences, (plus actionable tips to see through blind spots).

ChallengeDescriptionAction Step
Echo Chambers & GroupthinkThe internet’s algorithms are pros at creating “echo chambers,” serving up info that matches our current views. This can push us into “groupthink,” where we just mirror the popular opinion.Diversify your online presence. Look for different perspectives to get a well-rounded view of the world.
Cognitive Biases & Perceived TruthConfirmation bias can make us latch onto info that vibes with our beliefs while we ignore what doesn’t fit. Plus, the “illusory truth effect” makes us think info is more credible if it’s repeated, regardless of its truthiness.Take time for some mindful self-reflection. Be aware of these biases and when they might be messing with your judgment.
Social Media, Misinformation, & AdvertisersBoth social media and news outlets can spread misinformation like wildfire. And advertisers? They’re pros at playing our cognitive biases and emotions like a fiddle to shape our preferences.Boost your media literacy skills. Learn to spot reliable sources and understand the sneaky tactics advertisers use to sway your opinions.
Forging Robust BeliefsWith so much info at our fingertips, critical thinking and digital literacy are key. Recognizing our biases and understanding how algorithms manipulate us is crucial for questioning and refining our beliefs.Start thinking like a scientist. Make your conclusions based on evidence, and be ready to change your tune when new evidence comes to light.

Remember, developing a balanced perspective is a journey, not a destination.

What’s that mean?

These steps aren’t just one-time actions but habits to cultivate.

By actively seeking diverse viewpoints, questioning our biases, and sharpening our critical thinking daily, we can navigate the digital information maze more effectively.

5 Action Steps For Embracing the Limits of Our Knowledge

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Action StepsWhat It’s AboutPositive Impacts
1. Coping with UncertaintyUnderstanding that we don’t know everything helps us navigate the great unknown.Ignites our curiosity and promotes a mindset that’s all about exploration and discovery, which is super handy in our speedy, always-on-the-move world.
2. Staying Open to New InformationRecognizing that our understanding has its limits keeps us open to fresh perspectives.Makes us more adaptable and able to tweak our viewpoints based on new evidence, leading to smarter decision-making.
3. Avoiding OverconfidenceBeing aware of our knowledge boundaries can help keep our confidence from turning into cockiness, which can stop learning in its tracks.Straddles the line between confidence and healthy skepticism, paving the way for a better approach to understanding the world around us.
4. Preventing the Spread of False InformationKnowing what we don’t know can keep us from spreading unverified info.Puts the brakes on the spread of misinformation, which is a major issue in our digital era.
5. Fostering Constructive DialogueAdmitting the limits of our knowledge paves the way for respectful conversations.Enables collaborative learning and creates a culture where diverse viewpoints are given the thumbs-up.

In a nutshell, embracing our knowledge limits is not a setback, but a leap forward.

It steers us towards continuous learning, enables informed decision-making, and cultivates an atmosphere of curiosity and respect.

For the modern learner, knowing what you don’t know is a vital step towards wisdom.

Final Thoughts:

Unpacking our knowledge gaps is more than a reality check – it’s our ladder to growth.

In the digital sea of ‘’knowledge’’ today, it’s all about understanding sources of reliable information agreed upon from different perspectives.

 Unfortunately today, we need to be more savvy as we sift through the fake news, and learn to agree to news that we don’t necessarily like.  

Don’t forget, recognizing the limits of our knowledge isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a way of life.

It important to always keep an open mind, stay grounded, and be a shepherd of productive conversations.

Not knowing something isn’t a personal fail – it’s a personal opportunity. It gives us the opportunity to learn.

At the end of the day, knowing our limits and how to push them is our passport to lifelong meaning, learning, and adventure. Embrace the unknown, keep it 100, and remember: admitting ignorance is the best way for gaining more knowledge.

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