The Importance of What We Don’t Know

This, being my first ever blog post, is a concept close to my heart. Something I regularly observe. A perspective of how our intellectual standing is left to the society for determination, and about how we have been conditioned to overlook the role played by unawareness.

Knowledge, information, understanding, are all almost everyday keywords if you are a grad student or a researcher (actually “data” tops all these, but more on that later). We are all constantly moving towards gaining more knowledge, more information, more awareness.

How do we do it? Books, teachers, parents? Yes, all of these to an extent. But these are finite, and these are the means of gaining more information, not the reasons.

What actually teaches us is unawareness. Not deliberate ignorance, but unfamiliarity. The concept of “not knowing” is always underestimated. It is ridiculed, it is something we are asked to move away from, and it is frowned upon. You feel left out in a coffee-time conversation about the Superbowl, you are made to feel uncomfortable in a research lab meeting if you cannot understand or contribute to a concept. But that is not the problem – the problem is what you feel after the coffee or the meeting, what the effect of determining your unawareness is. We often walk out feeling mediocre and ordinary. We fear the judgement of our peers, of our superiors.

Let’s for a moment troubleshoot this scenario. Society has never taught us to feel “okay” about not knowing. Take school – the more information you cram into your head the more points you score on a test. And hence, they decide that you are more knowledgeable than your classmates. Education stops after an assessment. In my opinion, that is where it should start. After being assessed for what we “know”, we should be urged to know what we don’t. But instead, we are left to mull over lost points trying to figure out where we went wrong. “Not knowing” is not wrong, it is a gateway to knowing more.

The lab meeting, the coffee-time talk, the test, were all determinants of the fact that you lack some knowledge. Cherish that outcome. Be positively cognizant of the fact that you do not understand an experiment, or a sport, or a mathematical derivation. Use that as a force to propel you toward knowing more. Be glad that you are fortunate enough to be in possession of an organ that can gather information endlessly.

Another important element of one’s unawareness is those stares and scoffs and frowns we are all so familiar with – we either get them or give them. We have grown culturally to be a judgmental society. We judge nervous classmates, and know-it-all classmates, we judge colored hair and bald heads, we judge alcoholics and teetotalers. Bringing about a societal change is next to impossible, however much it is encouraged. Let’s try it at a personal level, a selfish level – let’s accept this judgmental society, and move on to be better by our own standards, not by the society’s.

To give this another perspective, one huge effect of this societal judgment is withdrawal. We tend to only surround ourselves with people we are familiar and comfortable with. People who will not mock or snigger at us for not knowing. Having said that unawareness is the root of learning, let’s look at this society as a method of determining our obliviousness, and in turn a way of empowering us intellectually. Stepping out from familiar circles, and interacting with the smirking society, can actually be turned around to be helpful instead of denigrating.

Almost every single day in the past five years, I have been going to my biology lab, and performing tons of experiments. All the successful experiments have made me happy. I hum a gay tune while drinking some coffee. And all the unsuccessful experiments have made me a better scientist. I tend to not thank my failed experiments enough for what I am today, and often thank my coffee instead, but this is my chance, to acknowledge and dedicate my first blog post to them. For after all, they made me drink more coffee in the first place.

5 thoughts on “The Importance of What We Don’t Know

  1. Subha, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable, yet thought provoking read. I must thank you for resonating certain aspects that I am in complete agreement with. Your assertion that education must begin after an assessment rather than ending at it touches all the right chords. Once again, kudos to you and certainly looking for to reading more. Cheers!!

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  2. Good one Subha !! Keep it coming 🙂 Like you said, this societal judgement is indeed helpful and not denigrating. On that very same note, I just want to share this old English saying, “Train your mind & heart to see the good in everything. There is always something to be grateful for.”

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  3. We are defined by our knowledge while we should actually be defined by our ignorance. Heard this recently. When you are too worried about what others/society thinks – one are not likely to accept ignorance in oneself.

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