I was recently introduced to the contemporary philosopher who presented the theory of knowns and unknowns. I had heard the thesis quite a few times before but the source or what context it rises from had never been revealed.
The theorem goes like this:
There are known knowns, things you know that you know.
And there are unknown known, things you know that you dont know.
Then there are unknown unknowns, things which you dont know that you dont know.
And that’s fine enough. The problem is.. the problem I’ve had with the way in which it has been used is that most of the time it has been refered to when the person in reality is talking about the unmentioned fourth term, the unknown knowns. That is all those things in which you are not consciously aware of, they are the rules and facts and principles you live by and that affect your decisions and dictates the outcome. All that which you never ever would admit. All those predispositions you dismiss with some explanation of rational reasoning. All those things whos existence you could never acknowledge as something that has actual real and relevant substance.
In addition to those three there are also unknown knowns, there are things that we dont know we know. The things that we have unlearned.
I have found that if you dont take the unknown knowns of other people in to consideration the world is a very scarry and unbearably unpredictable place to live. As a parent of a child who had great difficulties in comprehending unspoken rules I saw first hand exactly how traumatising this can be. I realised to a new extent just how widely spread this phenomenon is and how deeply incorporated it is in just about every living person and every kind of situation involving human interaction. In what ways it works as well as to what extent it is prohibited to examine it varies from one individual to an other and on the social and societal context of the situation at hand.
What I did not comprehend at first was how this has nothing to do with how comfortable you are in going against political correctness or the outspoken unspoken rules of sociaty because that is still in the realm of known knowns or known unknowns. The reality of unknown knowns is something completely different and it is much more lightly to show as unexplainable exclusion and well concealed systematic sabotage when challenged.
For me this concept of unknown knowns to some extent explains how there can be such a thing as an intelligent idiot.
It was through this missing part I finally after such a long time got the backstory on this popular and frequently repeated philosophical quote. This probably is because only a madman would dare to give such an acknowledgment to a fool. The original citation is from February 2002 and reads as follows:
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
This was stated by Donald Rumsfelt at the U.S. Department of Defence during a news briefing on the lack of evidence of Iraq suplying terrorists with weapons of mass distruction.