Knowledge that does not know itself
Revisiting Donald Rumsfeld’s sage words on knowns and unknowns, philosopher Mark Kingwell helpfully unpacks different species within Rumsfeld’s missing fourth quadrant of knowledge: the Unknown Knowns.
Some might be our subconscious dreamscape of suppressed knowledge — a form of surreal self-mapping, which sometimes surfaces in disguise into the conscious world.
Others might be the very real workings of our selves within the world, through the store of tacit knowledge we bring to our daily practices: knowledge that’s routinised, submerged.
Alongside these contraflows, our unacknowledged ‘frame of relevance’ determines what knowledge we allow into our thinking, and shared ‘common sense’ assumptions provide the ideological waters we don’t see we’re swimming in. “They’re present, powerful, they guide our actions and thoughts. We know them but, in a certain weird way, we don’t know them.”
Kingwell urges us to make the invisible visible: “this is the only way to break free of the shackles of your frame, to take your unknown knowns and make them known knowns.” I think maybe there’s an intermediate, and more conversational, step: to shift unknowns knowns into known unknowns: making shared questions to work on rather than new certainties to assert. Challenging common sense with common sensemaking?