My friend Vincent is on TV again. Disseminating knowledge. I like the new series, – if I’m allowed to invent: Vincent’s Vivacious Vent – for its bashing style. Rumsfeld’s famous epistemology blunder gets dissected, grand formal style, and in a rapid fashion that it makes my head spin. I hold my eyes fixed on Vincent’s hands. However, the cameraman didn’t do a very good job – he kept cutting most of his fingers thus leaving it up to the imagination to fill in the gaps. Thank God for the split in the sleeve! Now, there was a saving mind line to follow! Straight as an arrow and, very, how shall I put it, well, what do I know? Now, yes, what did Vincent say in the very short five minutes? He anticipated my question, though formulated in a breathless anaphora: “what do I know?” In the face of Rumsfeld’s statement – “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” – the reflective thought that must befall us is that knowing the “unknown unknowns,” which is a contradiction by assertion, should be valued for its potential to open our minds towards the kind of wisdom that Homer likes to deliver with a lot of dehortatio: “Never say anything, unless you’re sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.” Jolly good job.


Bent said…
It's not often that politicians formulate epistemic axioms on the go, so let's cut Rummy some slack on the logics front (not on the politics front - he was after all an evil Bushman)... It's pretty clear that his third axiom was intended to be pragmatic, not universal: there are things we don't (yet) know that we need to know.
However, I sorely missed Vincent engaging with the excluded fourth axiom (which Rumsfeld skipped too): Are there things we do not know that we know?
Anonymous said…
Let us mathematize this:


Here -1 is the known known and x is the known unknow. But no real number can satisfy this equation! So there must exist an unknown unknown. Or maybe not. Maybe it's just a part of our imagination. An imaginary unit.
Camelia said…
Of course the unknown unknown exists, only it exists in its unknown unknown form, that's why it's unknwon unknown. In other words, what the unknown unknown is, is known to the extent that we can imagine it. So you're on to something. Oh, where is Vincent when you need him! He is a master at knowing the unknown unknown. How do I know this? Because he will say nothing which demonstrates precisely my point. The way Vincent came out of Eubulides's paradox was by posing the question, 'what do I know?' instead of making more assertions, which shows that he doesn't know that he knows.

Popular Posts