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The Things You Know You Don't Know But Refuse to Look Up

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Seriously Random Lists | November 2, 2015 |


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The eminent sage and junkie Donald Rumsfeld once argued that there are known-knowns, unknown-knowns, known-unknowns, and unknown-unknowns. The last are the most dangerous to making decisions, because they are the elements of reality that you simply don’t know that you don’t know. They’re not just the shoals on which you crash your ship, they’re the fact that you don’t know shoals are a thing that exist in the first place.

In the age of instant google-fu, the casual known-unknown is a strange thing. It’s something that you know that you don’t know. Which is a little weird, because you could probably figure it out within moments if you just tried. Often they represent “known wisdom”, i.e. those things that everyone knows but you don’t necessarily know any of the details of. So they fit in this perfectly bizarre sweet spot, in which you are aware of not knowing something, but even so the value of knowing it doesn’t rise above the minimal cost of finding out.

So, the following are the most significant known-unknowns I have. And I won’t be reading the comments, because these are my small ignorances that I cherish in the sea of information. We all need a few, some greater and some lesser.

1. Everyone knows that hippies are disgusting and smell like patchouli. I don’t know what patchouli is or what it smells like.

2. I have never spelled the word “midevil [sic]” right on the first try. There are insane extra vowels in there. “Rythym [sic]” is the opposite. It’s spelled with consonants and prayer.

3. I understand what “writing something off” means metaphorically, but have no idea what it actually means in accounting terms (other than “lying with numbers” because that’s what most of accounting seems to be).

4. Everyone knows that the Republican and Democratic symbols are an elephant and a donkey, and I’m sure there’s an entirely underwhelming reason why.

5. Taylor Swift’s music is terrible. I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to a Taylor Swift song, but why take the terrible chance?

6. Having actually passed an electrical engineering course, I have no idea how electricity actually makes things move and do stuff, other than “magic.”

7. Hair conditioner. I have no idea what it does other than smell fruity.

8. I don’t understand why trees lose perfectly good leaves once per year. And I refuse to find out because I’m not giving them any more of my effort after hatefully making me their lawn bitch during November.

9. At least 3/4 of the buttons in my car.

10. The spleen. I’m half sure it has no purpose just like the appendix, and moderately certain it’s somewhere in the abdomen. But I’m also honestly suspicious that it doesn’t actually exist.

Share your known-unknowns below.


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