You Probably Don’t Even Know That You Don’t Know: Here Are Five Reasons Why

“The general population doesn’t know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” ~ Noam Chomsky

99 percent of people don’t know that they don’t know. For the 1 percent that know that they don’t know, it’s doubly frustrating. They are frustrated that they don’t know, and they are frustrated in having to deal with the majority who don’t even know that they don’t know.

The former frustration can be managed by simply learning, questioning, and researching. The latter frustration, on the other hand, is not so easily managed. The gulf between those who know that they don’t know and those who don’t know that they don’t know is so wide that it is almost insurmountable. Indeed. As Aristotle surmised, “The educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living from the dead.” 

1. Cognitive Dissonance:

“Be Gentle. You are meeting parts of yourself you have been at war with.” ~ Unknown

Chances are high that you are part of the 99 percent who don’t even know that they don’t know. And the number one reason why you don’t know that you don’t know is because you aren’t even aware of how cognitive dissonance prevents you from knowing. 

Here’s the thing: we all know at least something. We were all born into a particular society and culture. What we “know” has been a conditioning by culture and an indoctrination by society. This sociocultural knowledge is like the comfort food of knowledge. It’s the water in which we’ve always swam. It’s so second nature that we don’t even think to question it. And that’s where we run into a wall.

Tommy Ingberg2

The reason why you don’t know that you don’t know is because at one point you may have questioned that sociocultural comfort food knowledge, but the answers (new knowledge) you discovered made you so uncomfortable that you subconsciously ignored it. It was so extremely uncomfortable to the stability of your worldview that you buried it. And you didn’t even realize that you did this. 

So, the first step toward knowing that you don’t know, rather than not knowing that you don’t know, is learning about how cognitive dissonance works, and then becoming aware of how it affects your reasoning.

2. You lack imagination:

“You don’t need to be gifted. You just need to have enough commitment to accept being bad at something for as long as it takes to get good at it.” ~ Neil Strauss

More than likely, if you don’t even know that you don’t know, you are seriously lacking in imagination. You might talk a big game about “stretching your comfort zone” or “thinking outside the box,” but when it really comes down to it, your lack of imagination prevents you from having the courage it would take to stretch your comfort zone or think outside the box. 

The heart of imagination is curiosity. Without curiosity you will never gain the wherewithal to wonder. Without wonder there’s no inquiry, no investigation, no questioning. And without inquiry you are stuck with cultural conditioning, indoctrination, propaganda, brainwashing, and the inability to navigate through the many minefields of misinformation.  

Chances are, if you don’t even know that you don’t know, you are a victim of all of these forms of comfort food knowledge. And you owe your continued victimhood to a serious lack of imagination. 

3. You are cut off from reality:

“We don’t always know ourselves as well as we think, and sometimes we convince ourselves of that which is evidently false or overwhelmingly improbable.” ~ Katie Javanaud

Due to lack of imagination and cognitive dissonance, you probably aren’t even aware that you are cut off from reality.

You have been seduced so completely by the comfort food knowledge that you have fallen – hook, line, and sinker – into a state of willful ignorance. You have encased yourself inside a bomb shelter of cognitive fallacy. Any true information that might go against your reenforced narrative is rejected immediately. 

As such, you would rather be blissfully ignorant than well-informed but uncomfortable. Inside the bliss of your ignorance everything is safe and secure. You’re comfortable there. There’s no need to think, no need to question. Your worldview is set, rigid, uncompromising. Why even entertain any worldview that makes you uncomfortable, no matter how true it might seem?

Ironically, a part of you, deep down inside, craves the truth. This repressed part of you longs for change, for new knowledge, for novelty. It yearns to be reprogrammed. It burns with curiosity and hungers to be reconnected with reality.

4. You practice inflexible ideologies:

“So, the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Just because you are cut off from reality doesn’t mean that you won’t have anything to do. It takes great effort to bolster the ramparts of your bomb shelter of cognitive fallacy. And so you become quite proactive with maintaining inflexible ideologies which keep your flimsy fortress of comfort from crashing down. 

as Nietzsche said we all need our delusions to live

The problem is that such ideologies make you incredibly intolerant of others. You are only able to see the worst in others. This is because of your cognitive dissonance, lack of imagination, and divorce from reality. Your inflexible ideology keeps it all knotted together. You use it as a battering ram in the arena of social discourse. Unflinching, unmoving, obstinate to a fault, it’s “your way or the highway” and everyone else better watch out.

As such, you are incapable of understanding that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. Instead, everything is black and white. Because of this, all you feel is hate. Your solution to problems is either violence or calling the cops. You would rather preserve the injustice of the authority that keeps your comfort-food knowledge secure than question that authority and extend justice through new knowledge. 

5. The profoundly sick society has conditioned you to be sick:

“It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~ Krishnamurti 

You don’t understand how health works. Raised, as you were, in a sick culture that force-fed you the comfort-food knowledge that has kept you trapped, you cannot see how incredibly sick you are. Even glaringly obvious truths such as the following go in one ear and out the other…

How do we know that our society is profoundly sick?

    1. Our society pollutes the air it needs to breathe.

    2. Our society pollutes the water it needs to drink.

    3. Our society pollutes the food it needs to eat.

    4. Our society pollutes the minds it needs to evolve with.

Chances are your cognitive dissonance immediately rejects this. Followed by your lack of imagination, which make you incapable of thinking about solutions. Then your divorce from reality just shrugs it off as “it’s just the way things are.” And then, finally, your inflexible ideology comes in to save you from any further discomfort by reinforcing its shi**y values as justified and good. Thus reversing the meaning of Health itself. Congratulations! You’ve become a victim of Orwellian doublespeak, and you’ve further entrenched yourself in a state of not knowing that you don’t know. 

Conclusion: What can you do about it? 

“You have to take seriously the notion that understanding the universe is your responsibility, because the only understanding of the universe that will be useful to you is your own understanding.” ~ Terence McKenna

So how do you climb out of the abyss of not knowing that you don’t know? You climb up into the open, into a state of knowing that you don’t know. Here are a couple ways to accomplish that.

  • Understand how power really works.
  • Understand how health works and then get healthy: mind, body, and soul.
  • Don’t be afraid to question things, especially yourself and your worldview. 
  • Become aware of cognitive dissonance by automatically assuming you are suffering from it.
  • Practice stretching your comfort zone by taking leaps of courage into the unknown.
  • Challenge your imagination by putting yourself in the shoes of others.
  • Reconnect with reality through solitude and meditation.
  • Check your values: If your values are based upon violence or coercion being the solution to problems then you need to change your values. 

Image Source:

Photo by Tommy Ingberg
Art by Maggie Taylor

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