Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Belief systems – known unknowns

People believe in certain things like money, philosophy, politics, religion, science and the truth. This list may not even be exhaustive.  It took me a while to collect these 6 items as this topic – belief systems – is rather controversial. Each individual items has an extreme version in real life as any belief is subject to extremism.

Money was not the 1st belief that came to my mind. Actually the resulting extremism made me realise that money is a belief too. The absolute belief in money is illustrated by the “Greed is good” statement by Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. Since that movie things went even worse.

Philosophy was a hard one too. Some people also included this one in belief systems but it took me a while before it fully sank in. For many centuries people believed that other people were inferior considering their faith, skin colour or sex (e.g., anti-semitism, racism, sexism).

Dictatorships are a rather clear example of political extremism. For many people, Politics is actually the very first item that comes to mind when contemplating about belief systems.

Unfortunately, religious extremism is rather common nowadays with organisations like ISIL / ISIS.

Including Science in belief systems is quite controversial. I am not talking about scientific facts. I am talking about the god-like belief that any direction in science always is for the greater good of mankind. Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer (“father of the atomic bomb”) symbolises for many the foolishness of scientists thinking they could control how others would use their research.

Truth was the last one to come on my list. I didn’t even see that one coming to my list although my divorce should have taught me better. Some people strongly believe in their version of the truth. In such a discussion facts suddenly become opinions. Call it self-deception:

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

A quote by Soren Kierkegaard

In the middle of this – dice shaped – object are terms like democracy, facts and knowledge.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced some important concepts in his book Fooled By Randomness (2001) like:

  • known knowns, 
  • known unknowns, 
  • unknown knowns,
  • unknown unknowns.

In his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, the core message is that unknown unknowns are responsible for the greatest societal change. Source: Wikipedia. Also see my earlier blog named The Environment – probability x impact.

Mr. Taleb’s classification is quite helpful for coming to the following summary:

  • known knowns: we know that we know – facts
  • known unknowns: we know that we do not know – beliefs
  • unknown knowns: we do not know that we know – intuition
  • unknown unknowns: we do not know that we do not know – imagination.

We know that we do not know but we believe in it anyway. The classification by Mr Taleb makes very clear how much more advanced human intelligence is – and will always be – compared to artificial intelligence. I sincerely doubt that artificial intelligence will ever be able to reach levels 2 to 4: beliefs, intuition, and imagination.

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”

A quote by Albert Einstein


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