Knowledge awareness

Examining categories of the known and unknown.

There are two variables of interest here, each of which have two possible states.
  1. The first variable is 'knowledge possession' (whether people possesses knowledge about something). Either they know it, or they don't.

  2. The second variable is 'self-awareness' (whether people are aware of whether they possess that knowledge). Either they know whether they're knowledgeable, or they don't know whether they're knowledgeable.

Table 1: States of self-awareness and knowledge
Knowledge possession
Present Absent
Self-awareness Present You know that you know (1,1) You know that you don't know (0,1)
Absent You don't know that you know (1,0) You don't know that you don't know (0,0)

Let's look at each combination of possibilities in turn.
  1. You know that you know (1,1).
    This is relatively straightforward. You know something (e.g. the answer to 'How many books are there in the Bible?'), and you also know that you know it.

  2. You know that you don't know (0,1).
    This is when you've identified a gap in your knowledge (so self-awareness is present) and are asking questions (such as, 'Why does evil exist?'), but don't yet know the answer.

  3. You don't know that you know (1,0).
    This gets more tricky. You actually know something subconsciously, but you don't realise that you know it- maybe you're in denial, or maybe you just haven't had time to think about it in depth.

    For example, maybe you've been in a bad mood all morning, and it's only later in the day that you remember that you'd a bad dream last night, which was the likely cause of your moodiness. Before you recall that you had that dream, you're in a state of 'not knowing that you know.

    Here's an example in a religious context: Someone attends religious services at a particular institution primarily because he or she secretly likes one of the other attendees. Many people, in this situation, are perfectly aware that their motive for attending religious services is purely in order to see this person, but in our hypothetical scenario, the individual we're talking about hasn't quite realised this yet. Furthermore, this individual has little interest in God, and only subscribes to the faith half-heartecly. In this case, this person 'knows' that his or her main reason for attendance is to see that special someone, but does not yet realise that his or her own belief in God is waning.

  4. You don't know that you don't know (0,0).
    This is a genuine black hole in terms of knowledge and self-awareness. Not only do you not know something, you have absolutely no idea that you don't know it. It's hard to even imagine what this degree of ignorance encompasses, because we don't have a clue about it. It's akin to an ant not realising that it doesn't know what quantum physics is.

If we have a question for our fellow believers or religious leaders, their reply will depend on which quadrant they occupy.

Let's look at these scenarios in the context of religion, and figure out how people tend to reply to questions, based on their states of knowledge and self-awareness.

  1. Quadrant (1,1):

    Let's say we asked a question to which people know the answer ('How many books are there in the Christian Bible?'), and they're perfectly happy to tell us- 'There are 66 books.'

    That's straightforward enough. If they had some other reason for not telling us ('Don't be lazy, go check it up yourself!'), even though they knew the answer, then that's a slightly different situation, but in essence, they did possess both the knowledge and the self-awareness.

  2. Quadrant (0,1):

    (e.g. 'What happens to the souls of babies when they die?')
    People may respond truthfully that they just don't know, or they may deflect questions that they're unable to answer, to avoid looking ignorant. This category of questions often requires us to rely on blind faith. (For more on the subject of unanswered questions about the universe, refer to the section on Unsolved Mysteries.)

  3. Quadrant (1,0):

    (e.g. for Christian believers: 'Do you genuinely believe that God told Moses to build an Ark, and that Moses gathered two animals of every species?')

    Most Christians know deep down that this is impossible, and indeed, ludicrous, but suppress their criticism for the sake of keeping the peace. If we allow ourselves to admit that one Bible story after another is false, then the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. (Read more about these issues in the sections on Question Evasion and Fact Rejection.)

  4. Quadrant (0,0):

    (e.g. 'Can you list examples of homosexuality and polygamy that take place naturally in the animal kingdom?')

    Some of us aren't too familiar with the biological underpinnings of animal behaviour, genetics, and evolution. If we've no idea that such behaviours exist, or are under the impression that such things are impossible because we've been told that God considers them an abomination, then until someone asks us that question, or we learn about it somewhere, the subject belongs to the realm of 'We don't know that we don't know.'

    Often, we think that we know the correct answer to something, when in fact we're wrong. We may try, with our sincere and best efforts, to produce an explanation, and when more questions crop up, we go on trying the fill the gaps, grasping at straws and constructing elaborate but inadequate answers. (Refer to the section on Confabulation for about this process.)
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