Moving from not-knowing to seeing the unknown

The following thought experiment will seem silly in light of all the advances in neuroscience about how the brain works. But let’s see how far we can push the conjecture toward a useful relevance.

Assume your brain is a chamber holding two kinds of spaces: filled spaces of what you know and empty spaces for what you do not know. Suppose that at times each filled space emanates a beam of bright light that, when combined with beams of light from the other filled spaces, produce an overall brilliance where the only shapes left visible in the brain are the dark cavities that this light did not reach or penetrate.

Suppose the reverse also happens (this proposed famously by psychoanalyst, W.R. Bion): Each empty space at other times emanates a penetrating beam of darkness so absorbing when combined with the beams from other empty spaces, that the only shapes left visible are the lighted cavities the dense blackness did not reach.

Think of the dark cavities that persist even in the glare of what your brain knows as what it really doesn’t know, while the lighted cavities that persist in the blackness of what your brain doesn’t know, in turn, are what it actually does know.

Now compare: The archipelago of the densely lighted and the densely darken need not correspond to the original filled and empty spaces. Indeed, the correspondence is rarely one-to-one. That is, your brain thought it knew some things which it now sees it didn’t know; and some of what it thought it didn’t know is shown now to be what it knew all along.

This thought experiment suggests that our brains, in order to move from “not-knowing” to “seeing the unknown” requires at least moving from what we thought we knew or didn’t (those filled and empty spaces) closer to what we actually do and do not know (its cluster of lighted and darkened cavities).

If so, then this is the question: Why would anyone believe that you can shift from looking onto unknowns without knowing they are there (the notorious unknown unknowns) to seeing unknowns and knowing it, if you have not demonstrated beforehand the realization that you didn’t know what you thought you knew, you did know more than you initially thought, or both? I consider this question to be very relevant for policy and management.

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