Know Don’t Know

One more go at critiquing the bid to “eliminate your bias.”

… got the T-shirt to prove it

First, though, because context is everything, a brief lowdown on the KDK Matrix and its forerunner, the ‘Johari Window’…

I. The Original Johari Window

Like mine, maybe your first introduction to this simple yet dynamic 2×2 matrix was back in its heyday: the late-90s conference heuristic, offered by some clever presenter to facilitate self- and group-awareness.

The Johari Window is named for the two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, who devised it in 1955. Luft and Ingham’s original objective was “to examine our behaviour in relation to others” (p. 10) as it derived from a presumed “commitment to a philosophy of interpersonal consultation” (p. 20). Their work built in part upon that of social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, whose preceding development of field theory detailed the study of individual behaviour in social contexts.

The Johari Window
Image Credit w:User:Simon Shek – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Johari_Window.PNG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4565679

Of course, people have since derived other versions… a Nohari Window, to compare specifically negative traits, and a more abstract study of (principally parenting) relationships that falls under the banner of Meta-Emotion.

And I adapted the Johari Window, too, by revising and rearranging its four defining conditions for a heuristic to suit the coursework I taught in my classroom: the Know-Don’t Know Matrix.

II. The Know-Don’t Know Matrix

First of all… no, it’s not real life. It’s a diagram. So, no, it doesn’t exactly reflect the living and learning it attempts to describe – no analogy could, not exactly. Then, lucky for us, analogies are as instructive for what they can’t offer as what they can: of this one, as any, make what you will.

The descriptions below are hardly exhaustive, much less definitive. They’re simply the way students and I came to understand our adaptation while applying it together during coursework. But I have made one substantive update here to our earlier model, maybe because I’m a wee bit older now, myself: I’ve added reverse-arrows that point back from education, experience, and the present moment (“you are here”) to represent reflection, memory, and the concept at issue, bias.

The quadrants are numbered as we read… across from left to right, then down:

– QI: KK (Things that We Know We Know)
– QII: KDK (Things that We Know We Don’t Know)
– QIII: DKK (Things that We Don’t Know We Know)
– QIV: DKDK (Things that We Don’t Know We Don’t Know)

Each description details that quadrant unto itself and only mentions the other three as necessary, so for a concerted understanding of the entire model, you’re better off reading all four and gradually piecing them together. I recall one student loosely imagining the dynamic movement of the 2D arrows as “living” and the whole model of lines and words as “life” – and really, what better example do you need of making what you will from an instructive analogy.

As with us back in the classroom, the aim here is to get people thinking. So if something stands out as particularly egregious or in need of considered revision, please let me know.

Quadrant I: Things that We Know We Know

Without getting philosophical, we might label QI as Awareness or Knowledge. Whatever we call it, let’s consider QI as representing everyday life and living, where we spend our waking hours.

As we travel life’s tangents, we might think of ourselves as encroaching ever further into Quadrants II and III, and thereby Quadrant IV. How intentionally we pursue education into QII or endure the arrival of QIII’s experience will vary. In fact, though, our general cultural ambition is, and has been, to encroach as much as possible before we die. Another way to put it is that we’re trying to make QI as large as possible throughout our lives.

Meanwhile, in proceeding from birth (“you are born”) to this present moment (“you are here”), throughout that totality of life lived so far, each of us can claim that we have come from somewhere in the past and, further, that we stand somewhere – someplace – at the present moment. Any ‘present moment’ we might call our setting, and whether that’s the English class version of setting as time and place or the Cuisinart version of setting as Lo-Med-Hi, either way, let’s consider it our bias, attributable to our past. Sometimes, this look back from the present moment is called an education or experience, but in keeping with an intended dynamism, I’m describing education and experience as our looking ahead, countered by the looking back of reflection and memory.

What propels us down each tangent differs: education – or so-called ‘book smarts’ – is an intentional effort that takes place over the passage of time, usually (though not entirely) as some kind of formal schooling. These days, the broader objective of education is sometimes utilitarian or, more popular recently, pragmatic. Whatever the basis, though, the aim of education is commonly (though not exclusively) some kind of applicable objective, such as in answer to the question, “What do you do?”

As for experience – so-called ‘street smarts’ – of course, we all make plans most days, things to do. But with the passing of time, experience just seems to arrive on the doorstep, sometimes regardless of intention or even in spite of our best efforts! Conspiring with that cheerful reality are the joys of ageing, and in this more passive way, maybe experience is better understood from a teleological perspective, as having not objectives but outcomes, which are not necessarily intentional. You can grasp this ambiguity from our cultural bumper stickers, like the optimistic “Wheel of Fortune,” the weary “Been There, Done That,” and the fatalist “It Is What It Is.”

We’re often encouraged, living day-to-day, to be content in the present, to live in the moment. For me, as long as we balance some grasp on looking back with a desire for looking ahead, this seems like pretty sound advice.

Quadrant II: Things that We Know We Don’t Know

We might label QII as Curiosity or Room to Grow or even Motivation. Anyway, let’s consider it representing the objectives we have while seeking to learn something as yet unlearned.

Labelling QII as Unawareness or Ignorance might seem straightforward. But these words are misleading for being passive, for suggesting that what’s unknown is off the radar screen, and this is not what QII represents. QII represents things that we’re well aware we know nothing about – I know nothing about rocket science or, for that matter, brain surgery. As such, QII advancement is the result of intention and effort, and QII outcomes are the consequence of education, whether formal schooling or something more casual. In fact, Unawareness or Ignorance might better suit QIII although neither QII nor QIII is a true opposite to QI.

One inescapable demand of QII is the passage of time. On the model, this is suggested by the dashed arrow that points back from “education” to indicate the ad nauseam reflection that students are asked to do, whether they want to or not. One obviously cannot reflect until the focus is in the past.

Quadrant III: Things that We Don’t Know We Know

A suitable label for QIII might be Latency or Potential, representing an open-minded attitude that’s willing to discover things. QIII can incite potent ambition, like that sixth sense when something just clicks and ideas just start to flow.

Yet not everyone’s so predisposed, particularly if we’ve been dragged into something kicking and screaming – meanwhile, what are things that we don’t know we know if not Unawareness or Ignorance, or maybe Indifference. However, besides these QIII can incite discomfort and anxiety. I suppose this is only natural since we’re not always so able or willing to face what we encounter, and fair enough that QIII can be as much a rude awakening as a pleasant surprise. If crystal balls ever went on sale, probably everybody would get one.

The bottom line for QIII, I suppose, is simply to grow from having logged an experience at all as compared to realising some worthwhile take-away. What this means for QIII, as with QII, is an acknowledgement of the passing of time. This is represented on the model by the dashed arrow, pointing back from “memory,” which doubles as the arrival of the rest of the world into our life, whether we wanted it there or not.

Quadrant IV: Things that We Don’t Know We Don’t Know

The best label for QIV is probably Oblivious, and let’s consider it representing, well, everything. Someone’s bound to raise objection: “… but how could we even know?” – right, well, need I say more? Let’s grant more positive recognition of QIV to those humble Socratics who willingly offer their admission that “the more I learn, the less I know.”

On the model, all the arrows and lines are drawn to separate what is known and finite in QI from the infinite void that comprises QIV. As someone might shine a light towards the darkness – or even right into it – even so, QIV (which actually includes QII and QIII) is not a place we can dwell until we get there, at which time we’re probably better off saying we’ve enlarged QI.

Toeing this edge of things that we don’t know we don’t know fuels the curiosity of QII and impels the anxiety of QIII. Yet as we only live next to QIV, here in QI, we risk drifting or dwelling beyond that liminal space before ever getting there. Elsewhere, I’ve called this the Fantasyland of Should, and I’ve found it’s a popular place among young people, probably because the forward-arrow is so long. But dwelling in QIV doesn’t have to be so judgmental; it can also be the Dreamland of Wish, where it makes no difference who you are.

Whatever to call it, though… beyond leaving us feeling motivated or potent, wistful or uneasy, QIV may simply leave us feeling flat-out disordered and lost, displacing anything we’d otherwise experience in that precise moment, the longer we stay there. In the same way, looking back instead of forward, QIV can entice us away from reflecting upon learning or recalling experiences so much that we end up dwelling in the past, which again distracts us from the present moment, the longer we linger there.

In fairness to many generations across many cultures… as distinct from fantasies and dreams, QIV is the Spirit-filled Land of Faith, perhaps even more certain as a setting than here-and-now QI. But whatever QIV means to anyone, one indisputable fact remains – without getting philosophical – about where we exist at the confluence of time-and-place, of self + education + experience. That spot on the model labelled ‘you are here’, where all four quadrants connect: that is this very moment, right now, every time and place it happens.

III. So What?all that We Know

With the model’s components now at least a little clearer, let’s consider why any of this matters, such as how it might be of any use. Recall my aim is to critique the ill-conceived nonsense about “eliminating your bias.”

To keep things simple, I focus principally on QI and QIV, the latter of which subsumes QII and QIII.

As we live, we travel a tangent between life experience and formal education, such that we’re forever encroaching further and deeper into boundless QIV, Things that We Don’t Know We Don’t Know (DKDK). Because DKDK is infinite, the further we go, the more that infinity affirms itself to us – the aforementioned Socratic paradox: ‘The more I learn, the more I don’t know’. As noted, this can be an intimidating confrontation. Or it can be a confidence booster because, yes, we can definitely expand our own knowledge when there’s an unlimited amount of knowledge to tap. By the way, unless you agree with the previous sentence, the question I’m about to pose will make no sense, so here they are together:

We can definitely expand our own knowledge when there’s an unlimited amount of knowledge to tap, yet what expanse of knowledge even makes sense to conceive, much less aspire toward, if our finite capacity is measured against an infinite one?

At first, this may seem like no distinction, but bear with it. For starters, here I am calling our capacities finite, at least by connotation if not precisely by definition. I think we’re better off to presume our capacities finite than to assume with imprudence their limitlessness – it’s too late not to spill milk when the glass is overflowing.

So this frames the problem I have with the perspective that claims, ‘Our bias is our limitation’. From this perspective, we have infinite capacity if – somehow – we just overcome our limits, eliminate our bias. But for the ambitious sojourner, who traverses ever further, ever deeper along DKDK’s infinite tangent, where the only promise ahead is to imagine and make things up in that oblivion of darkness… how frequently their gaze must be looking backward upon itself as the reference point for anything tangible, back upon their pesky limiting bias, from which their travel is meant to detach. I just can’t help feeling this backs-turned approach risks going wayward for being misguided, if not also asking for trouble.

Along the way, sure, constant reminders keep our sojourner aware of what’s ‘behind’ them, i.e. of what’s literally ahead of them along the tangent into DKDK – if only they’d turn from their bias to see forward a little more, and see… what? apart from the void of the vast unknown. With this perspective, ‘Our bias is our limitation’, our sojourner aspires not to move their boundary stones but to eliminate them and, so doing, to satiate some never-to-be-filled-to-the-brim ‘potential’? of theirs – like I said, capacity no longer seems the right word, but surely no one believes themselves to be infinite. Only hubris could back this up. How about we give an ‘A’ for effort… but even then, I’m pretty sure an ‘A’ for effort was nothing Daedalus ever considered while watching Icarus drown.

Someone says, “This perspective is admirable for encouraging learning and growth and improvement!” And limitless potential says, “You can be anything you want to be!” and so forth blah blah etc, and then, just to underscore your inadequacy, self-righteousness says, “Don’t tell me you’re honestly into stomping children’s dreams – don’t be that guy.”

Yet looking backward for tangibility, even if this can be anything more than a self-regarding perspective, even so looking back always at least sustains a self-regarding perspective: how am I doing? what’s my bias now? where am I this moment? Granted, looking back can and will also look ahead, but not with the certainty that accompanies looking back. In that imbalance, favouring what’s behind in spite of aspiring to progress that leaves it all behind, in that contradiction I see avoidable and therefore foolish error.

Indeed, how could someone decide to eliminate or overcome their own bias, especially as it grows with ‘limitless potential’, unless by some continual effort at the very same time to be assessing it… in order to eliminate it? …every time they add to it. There’s freedom in this? Indeed, there is no negative freedom, i.e. ‘freedom from’ bias. There’s only more bias. It literally seems futile, and kind of stupid, to be undoing all the work at the same time you’re doing it.

There is no negative ‘freedom from’ bias. There’s only more bias, and it seems kind of stupid to be undoing all the work at the same time you’re doing it.

I prefer another perspective, ‘Our limitation is our bias’, which is more than just witless gainsaying. From this perspective, our sojourner directs their gaze not back the way they came but forward along the same tangent they travel. While looking forward, up, down, to the left, to the right, and sure, sometimes backwards too… as they do all this, they’re aware (QI KK) of their widening capabilities, understood inversely as reduced personal limitations. Maybe let’s call this growth. And maybe you’re now spotting a nuanced aspect of relativity at play here.

With the passing of time, traversing ever further, ever deeper into DKDK, our sojourner’s capabilities do grow. Why I prefer the second perspective is the nuance that neither ‘growth’ nor its corollary, ‘shrinking’, have any meaning when their measure is infinite. What makes the second perspective worthy is not that it encourages learning and growth and improvement for their own sake, i.e. let’s become a bigger, better, somehow less-biased self: this ambition describes the first perspective, ‘Our bias is our limitation’. No, why I prefer the second perspective, ‘Our limitation is our bias’, is because it encourages a willingness to learn and grow and improve for the sake of all that can be learned, i.e. let’s go explore something bigger than and other than ‘self’. For looking forward, not backward, outward, not inward, the second perspective has a motive of curiosity: inquisitive, a little adventurous, a little sceptical – like Socratic humility, open to whatever comes along.

Such an attitude has neither to eliminate nor preclude the bias it has developed since starting out. Along the journey, such an attitude might fairly take up a decision to grasp something encountered as entirely and valuably new. In fact, such an attitude might even hang onto its original bias in order to understand and appreciate and measure anything new as real growth. And if this compares to the first perspective for bias being a tangible measure, it contrasts with the first perspective for bias being an intentional value. What the second perspective offers is a far more appealing alternative: a positive freedom, the ‘freedom to’ be and become ourselves. To let go, to get out from under shelter, to risk a little vulnerability, and in growing a little bigger than before, to still appreciate ‘self’ along the way. Not just self, but ‘self’, which is another nuance the first perspective can’t claim.

When our time and attention are spent looking back upon ourselves, we risk missing out on what we encounter. When we embrace our bias as our limitation, our time and attention are spent looking forward, and ‘self’ can be conceived and appreciated rather than aggrandized. When we embrace our bias, and actively include it on our tangents, we don’t merely allow ourselves a chance to broaden horizons, we enable ourselves to transect them.

From Doomberg – “Wide Awake”

From Doomberg – “Wide Awake”

More wary prescience from Doomberg, worth sharing here for its plea to raise the level of discourse.

Their succinct article about science and culture and overwrought assurance stirs a discussion echoed more than once on The Rhetorical WHY about perspective and pride and rush to judgment.

But this is no bottle episode, and you’ll need to commit some thorough attention of your own to reading other posts… here and here, say, and here and here, and here, and here – and here – and of course here, and even here. And, for good measure, here, and here and here.

A lot of people seem to value healthy scepticism and critical thinking. Yet if one motive for critical thinking, scepticism, and counterargument is the promise offered by free thinking, rigour, and greater precision, then surely another motive, very different, must speak for itself when a predilection for fear stifles debate. And with the chance to speak long enough, fear can become a way of thinking, and a way of being. This matters because fear is destructive; therefore, this ought to matter to everyone. This is more than just easy-blame cancel culture, with its fear of consequence. This is something more inherent, a clash of traits, or of perspectives.

Meanwhile, enjoying the creature comforts of ideological self-assurance… well, like delusion, hubris has reason like no other. As for do-gooders and creeping incrementalism… where often there’s courage found in selfless advocacy, where is there advocacy found in self-expressive purity? Where choice is irreconcilable, we may one day sigh and be sorry we abandoned what would have made all the difference.

Common Ground

“…a world without bias would be flat and dull and monotonous,” so if you think this pic is oversaturated, maybe the world has too much bias… or could it be you simply see a world with too much bias?

Photo Credit: analogicus on Pixabay

Click here to read On Bias
Click here to read Crossed Purposes

On Bias: Epilogue. Common Ground

Look at the feature photo, with its glowing colours and rays of magical sunlight, etc etc.

Someone might argue that a certain ‘bias’ is partial to the orange-red colours on the left side while another certain ‘bias’ is partial to the lush green on the right. Even to suggest Fall and Spring is merely my interpretation, and you’d be free to take it or leave it. And fair enough, which is really the point: all of this is simply chocolate-vanilla, everyone with their own preference, which is the broader point I’ve been making: everybody is biased. It’s a trait we all have in common. Not whether you prefer Fall to Spring or vice-versa or even something else, not even about this particular photo because maybe you prefer Winter or Summer, or maybe you prefer real roads in real forests versus photographed roads in photo-shopped forests. But whatever it is you or I or anyone prefers, we each lay claim to our own.

Then we support our claims… as I mention in the photo caption, someone might argue that the colours are just too saturated, that this photo has been edited to make those rays of sunshine seem almost heavenly or something. In my English class, I might have supported this by noting that the photo is taken from the ground-level, not the treetops, or I might have pointed out how the road curves, suggesting some lack of omniscience, as if we can only remember out-of-sight places we’ve been or imagine not-yet-in-sight places we’re going – whatever, it doesn’t matter. Since the photo editor isn’t likely in the room with us anyway, the specific interpretation is not the point so much as simply having an interpretation at all.

We interpret at all because we’re biased, and interpreting is a step in learning. If you don’t value learning, stop reading now, and sorry to have used up your time. But if you do value learning, if you’re curious as to what’s around that curve in the road ahead, then don’t stop here too long, just admiring the trees or basking in the glow: imagine, predict, and wonder, then interpret, then share, and listen and reflect and discuss. That is education. And then follow up further on your own. That is study: imagine, predict, and wonder some more, and come back to interpret, and share, and listen and reflect and discuss, then follow up further on your own… see how this works, this process of study and education and further study and further education?

One outcome of this process would not only be a pretty revealing insight into one’s own character but also the possible character of the photo editor who likely wasn’t even in the room with you:

  1. the editor is someone who values heavenly connection, or
  2. the editor is someone who wants to suggest they value heavenly connection, or
  3. the editor is someone who wants us to think they value heavenly connection, or
  4. the editor is someone who wants others to be reminded of heavenly connection, or
  5. the editor is someone who wants to…

We can’t know, of course, because even if the editor were in the room with us, they may withhold their particular motives behind this photo. Nevertheless, say we gather a sense of their previous editing work and build a case toward their possible motives in this case, from which we could suggest further possibilities: if (1), (2), (3), and (4) all happen to be true, the suggestion could be that the editor is someone who values heavenly connection. However, if only (3) by itself is true, the suggestion could be that what the editor values is not necessarily heavenly connection but rather the kind of impression they aim to lay upon others.

And on it goes, limited only by our imagination, suggestions about the possible interpretations any one of us may have about this decision by a photo editor regarding an element in a photo, each possible interpretation as revealing about we who interpret as about the editor we characterise or the photo we parse.

But bias is not the interpretation you have or even the interpretation you prefer after hearing a few, even if that amounts to Hmm, I’m not too sure just now; this is often attributed to us as our opinion, but bias is more than that. Bias is the plainer fact that – at every given moment – everyone will have some kind of interpretation. Bias is the nature in its entirety that one perspective exists distinctly from any others, the very nature that an individual occupies a vantage, a perch from which to perceive, a point-of-view that cannot be simultaneously occupied by another, except on Star Trek, but only shared with another. Bias is the finite oneness that is ‘you’, which cannot be ‘me’ or any ‘one’ else because we all each have this very same oneness. This finite limitation, this scope of ‘who I am’, this boundary that distinguishes ‘what is me’ from ‘what is not me’, and to which we each lay claim, this is our bias.

Our bias: we can inform it, we can expand it, we can manage our way within it, but we can neither eliminate it nor overcome it because we are not infinite. We might help ourselves feel better by telling each other, “No limits!” especially as this inspirational cheer salutes the fight against social injustice and cultural oppression, which is a current dominant motive, the sentiment of which to encourage and motivate people is appreciable. Yet having opened the door that this perspective opens, where it aims I fear is not where it ultimately leads: “No limits!” suggests infinite capability, which is literally impossible and, thereby, ironic. We are not infinite. We have limits, and the cheer “No limits!” may better be amended to “Educate and study!” But who’d ever shout that, much less put it on a placard or a t-shirt?

If the difference between ‘Our bias is our limitation’ and ‘Our limitation is our bias’ is one of perspective, then it’s also one of misunderstanding or perhaps even simply wishing away human characteristics.

I wrote about something close to this once before, where again a simple reversal of phrase is more than just clever word play. It’s literally about life and living and enacting who we are.

I don’t know why Bible Hub sets its Commentaries page with the King James version – it wouldn’t be my first choice translation, but they list 22 across the top of every page, so take your pick.

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