Monday 30 April 2007

How we Know what we Know

We are probably all familiar with statements such as 'Knowledge is Power', or 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. However, most of us never stop to consider how we acquire knowledge. For some people this involves hours of study, for others, it seems to be absobed without effort, almost like osmosis.

One of the most famous, or perhaps infamous pronouncements on the nature of knowledge came from Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of State for Defence. He baffled millions of people by offering the following at a Press Conference . . . . .

As we know, There are known knowns. There are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns, The ones we don't know we don't know.
(Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing)

Confused? Most people are, at first reading. However, if you go back and read his statement slowly, line by line - and actually stop to think about it for a moment - the mist begins to clear a little. Perhaps it does make sense after all.

In fact, the basis for his statement has a solid foundation in Educational Theory about how we learn. The scientific approach to a learning cycle - especially to learning a skill - suggests that it involves the following stages:

Stage 1 Unconscious Incompetence
Essentially this is the 'things that we don't know, we don't know'. An example might be driving a car . . . as a child we are quite happy simply to be transported from A to B, we don't know (or care) that we are not able to do this ourselves

Stage 2 Conscious Incompetence
This is where we develop an awareness that there are things that we don't know, and would like to learn. Using the car driving analogy, this usually happens in teenage years, when we develop an interest in being able to master this skill independently

Stage 3 Conscious Competence
This applies when we are in the process of learning a new skill, and suddenly we 'know that we know' how to do something, even though the process may feel awkward, complex and difficult to master. We consciously concentrate on the discrete stages, and are acutely aware of each distinct element in the process (e.g. simultaneously pressing clutch & changing gears etc).

Stage 4 Unconscious Competence
This is the final stage in our learning transition, when we have mastered the skill to such a degree that we undertake it automatically, without conscious thought. Those of us who have learned to drive will be aware that, after a short time, our ability (or competence) reaches such a high level that we no longer need to concentrate on the elements - we carry them out unconsciously.

Friday 6 April 2007

Life's Obligations and Obstacles

Recently I came across an article by Life Coach Shalini Sinha, which struck a cord with me. In the article, she states some fundamental truths, some of which I have repeated (and added some personal thoughts to) below. Her fundamental message was that:-

There is nothing you have to do with your life. Absolutely nothing. There is no particular job you have to have. You don't have to earn loads of money. There is no right person you have to spend your time with. You don't have to get married or have children. There is nothing specific you have to eat. Nowhere in particular you have to go. There is nothing you have to do.
Sound like a cryptic riddle for the meaning of life? For most of us, it is. On any given morning, we face a list of things we have to do and things we should do. We are driven by obligation; driven by external pressures and demands. In this, what we really want has moved so far down the list it barely registers anymore.

Still, the secret to life is that there is genuinely no requirement. This is your life, and the most definite thing we know about it is that it can be as unique as you are. It needn't look like the examples you see around you. You have the freedom to do this differently. Most importantly, there is nothing you are supposed to do, no right or wrong answer, no prescription.

The ugly truth is that most of us don't feel this. We don't feel we have an inherent value - that our birth, our formation, in and of itself, was remarkable enough to give value to our lives. Not only do we make many key decisions based on a distorted sense of what we should be doing, but we also fill our days with mundane actions that reflect what we believe others (friends, family or community) expect of us. Worse again, we often ‘catastrophise’ and make a major fuss over things which are, on reflection, trivial and meaningless. Unfortunately, this can often only be seen with the benefit of hindsight and the perspective that the passing of time brings.

In an increasingly busy world, few of us feel in control of our lives. Instead, we are being driven somewhere that often neither makes sense nor nurtures our own confidence, imagination or values. And, we feel powerless to stop this. We feel too isolated to take risks and believe in our own vision for life. The only thing we have to do in life is express ourselves. Express our sense of joy, our values and our capabilities. But somehow we are fearful.

The words of Marianne Williamson – famously quoted by Nelson Mandela – have relevance here:-

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Often our upbringing and conditioning suffocates our sense of wonder, and suppresses our feelings of self worth. By the time we become teenagers, we are very insecure about ourselves. Many of us have gained deeply entrenched struggles of feeling invisible, unloved and invaluable, and we carry these into our adulthood. There is something we are doing wrong with each other if this is happening. Something we are doing wrong with ourselves. However we have to fight with conformity and retain our true sense of worth, of value, of self. We have to retain our sense of wonder.

Remember as Bob Moorehead reminds us . . . . Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.

The Bigger Picture: Nothing to Do by Shalini Sinha. Irish Times Health Supplement – 3rd April 2007.

Return to Love – Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson (1992) Harper Collins

Dr Bob Moorehead -