Don’t be deterred by the feeling of smallness that results from expanding your knowledge.
As you learn more you will inevitably realize how much you don’t know.
This may even make you feel stupid.
But don’t let it stop you.
Life is not about protecting your ego from any sign that it might be overinflated.
Again, the process perspective is a big part of the solution for forward progress.
The other crucial part is to recognize the whole dynamic of why of learning more can overwhelm you.
Let’s create a diagram in our heads to make sense of this.
Draw a circle.
Fill it in black.
Everything in that circle is what you know.
It is your knowledge.
Extend the radius of the circle a few inches beyond the perimeter of the circle and shade this area grey.
This is everything “You know you don’t know”.
The reason you feel stupid whenever you learn something new is because the grey area always expands faster than the black area.
Or in other words, your awareness of your “un-knowledge” always expands faster than your “knowledge”.
And although this may feel disheartening it really shouldn’t.
1) Knowing you don’t know something isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually a really GOOD thing.
Knowing “you don’t know something” prevents you from being blindsided by it.
If you don’t know anything about asset allocation you might decide to invest your entire net worth in the stock market because it feels right, and foolishly expose yourself to so much risk you lose all your money due to inability to withstand natural volatility.
But if “you know you don’t know” anything about asset allocation you can hire a money manager to properly balance the risk in your portfolio.
If “you know you don’t know” something you can ask for help.
The real evil is not “knowing you don’t know” something.
It’s “Not knowing you don’t know something”.
Or, in other words, “What you don’t know you don’t know”.
Scholar Umberto Eco famously had a library with 30,000 books, most of which he never read. This he called his “anti-library”
Nassim Taleb highlighted this story of the Anti-Library as a way of reducing exposure to Black Swans. Big disastrous events hardly anybody saw coming like 9/11 Terrorist attacks, Katrina and the broken levees, and 2008 financial crises.
Let’s return to the diagram of the circle.
The black area is “what you know”.
The grey area is “what you know you don’t know”.
The rest of the empty space is “what you don’t know you don’t know”
Whenever the circle increases. The black increases. The grey increases more. But the white area shrinks.
2) The more you know the more you can do.
How could this possibly be a bad thing?
So what, if you can’t learn EVERYTHING?
Get over your omniscient God Complex.
Life is about learning, growing, adapting and creating.
The more you know the more you can build.
You’ve learned how to walk, how to speak, how to read, how to write. Don’t stop there.
You can learn to create products, services, and theories that CHANGE PEOPLE’S LIVES.
That DRIVE HUMANITY FORWARD.
But not if you stop learning because it makes you feel stupid and uncomfortable.
“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
– Steve Jobs
3) No Man is an Island
“No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
– John Donne
Our circle of knowledge does not stand alone and isolated in this world.
Our circle of knowledge is connected in some sense to every single human on this planet.
Furthermore, our circle of knowledge can be seen as connected to every single human who has EVER LIVED!
We are all part of one vast evolutionary tree.
Yet the process of knowledge acquisition begins not just with humans, but 13.75 Billion Years ago with the singular big bang of energy that gave rise to the known universe and has been creating more order, more complexity, more syntropy more sentience and more beauty ever since.
Our circle of knowledge does not stand alone.
Our circle of knowledge is one continuous patch of a universal quilt that is always expanding.
Lest the grandiosity make you feel insignificant again, it need not.
Throughout history, humans have pushed their individual circles farther than anyone in human history ever has before.
This story points to the great spiritual truth of the relationship between the “ONE” and “THE MANY”.
We do not stand alone.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.
When we reach new heights, this is called discovery.
And the global quilt of human knowledge grows because one individual was brave enough, determined enough, to venture into the perilous clouds of the unknown and extend their circle of knowledge farther than anyone had before.
But discovery isn’t the only thing that matters.
There’s also invention.
Invention occurs when we combine our circles of knowledge and abilities in new ways, often in collaboration with other people and their complimentary circles of knowledge, to create artwork, objects and tools that push new boundaries, expand human consciousness and amplify human potential.
In fact, discovery and invention are inextricably intertwined like the double helix of DNA.
The discovery of knowledge enables the creation of new tools that enable the exploration of the world in new ways, which in return let us acquire new knowledge about the world.
So goes the emergent self-propagating cycle autopoiesis
And lest you think it’s all an exterior process, we must not forget the role of art, poetry and metaphor which expand consciousness in ways that let us ask questions we never dared to ask before.
Return once more to the diagram of the circle.
Why do questions matter?
Questions are what drive the vast barren landscape of white
So in turn they can made black
And stitched into the fabric of the known universe.
I will leave you with a few quotes on the primacy of questions:
To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.
Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.
– Edgar Cayce