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Learning stuff you know you don’t know July 17, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.

A Friday, off-topic post ūüôā

OK, how many people remember the much maligned speech by Donald Rumsfeld about {and I paraphrase} “things we know, things we don’t know, things we know we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know”.

If you want, you can watch the dear chap himself saying it here. {I’m afraid this is a slightly maligning version, but not as bad as most I found}.

Leaving aside it was Mr Rumsfeld who said it and thus accounted for some of the endless scorn poured upon the speech, I think it was a very, very valid observation by his speech writers. I always think that people laughing at the “idiocy” of the speech have missed something. The idea is nothing new, Henry David Therou for example said

“To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”

{an excellent quote, for which I thank Wikipedia and Google  РI knew I did not know any good quotes but I knew they existed and I just did not know them}.

I think it is very valid to realise you don’t know stuff in your chosen area of knowledge but that you recognise that lack and that there is thus more to learn. It also means that people who do already know an awful lot in one area of knowledge, they probably have gaps you can help fill. So speak up when you think you know something, even¬†to¬†acknowledged¬†experts. It gives you a really warm glow inside when you do teach somone you regard as an expert something new. And you know what? Most of those experts will be really appreciative for you even trying, let alone succeeding. ¬†

I could¬†of course¬† be saying all this to give my utterences about not knowing stuff a veneer of philosphical respectability, but I really¬†do believe and have done for¬†many years now, that we should be able to say we do not know something and it be respected that we acknowledge that gap. I don’t take glory in my stupidity {for even my ego could not hold up under all that amount of glory ūüôā¬†} but I like to feel that if I can be honest about my stupidity I can thus be honest about my knowledge, and¬†be quietly¬†happy with¬†what I know and what I can do.¬†

OK, so none of this is specific to Oracle but it is no less valid for being applicable to all knowledge. I guess I’m trying to say that I think it is OK {and should be publically acceptable}¬†to admit not knowing stuff and it is equally OK and good for all of us to try and teach others,¬†even if we feel individually that we maybe do not have that much to add. ¬†

What prompted this philosophical outpouring? I found out today that I don’t even know how to peel a banana. And probably most of you don’t either. But Monkeys do.

This is the video.

Go on, watch the video, the boss is in a meeting. It makes you think….


1. Noons - July 17, 2009

Rumsfeld, Thoreau and monkey feeding all in one single post!
You, I, Alex and Doug need to meet: I think we’d manage to fold the space-time continuum!

mwidlake - July 17, 2009

You have to reverse the polarity of the neutron flux to achieve that… {homage to old-style Doctor Who}

2. PdV - July 17, 2009

Excellent post for a Friday (or any other day).

And boy, there are a lot of architects out there that dont know what they dont know… Try telling them about the expanding circle of knowledge and the circumference of darkness (see your earlier post, and Jonathans comment). Very few take a good hint: “in der Beschr√§nkung zeigt sich der Meister” (nouns have capitals in german)

Coincidences: I’m eating a banana as we read, and I’ve been told how to peel bananas early in highschool or so (indeed, to show us that monkeys were clever…). But… I still do it the wrong way round. What does that tell me?
A record stuck on a scratch ?

3. Neil Chandler - July 18, 2009

I wonder where you got the idea for this post, Martin. :o)

Peit, just how DO you peel bananas? There can be only one way, surely.

mwidlake - July 18, 2009

The idea? From the little video I link to at the end of the post Neil. Go watch the video. Then wonder about the modern UK schooling system that allows children to enter the world as young adults, without the banana-peeling skills our Mainland European cousins are taught.
After all , with so many of us starting life as code monkeys, peeling bananas is vital. (And don’t ask Piet – he knows the right way and still does it wrong! Tsch).

4. PdV - July 19, 2009

ehm, it isnt on the official curriculum, that I know of.
But our natural history teacher wanted to demonstrate it, monkeys etc…
We had a good laugh, and like I said, promptly kept doing it the wrong way.

What is the “right” way anyway… (havnt you seen the video?)

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