Things we know we don’t know


THERE are basically, two sides to the art of ‘knowing’, meaning, to know something, and for that matter, anything.
The most obvious is that of ‘the things we know we know’ or simply put, the things we know. But the less frequently, or not even thought about is that of ‘the things we know we don’t know’. Well, you may be saying, this sounds outright funny, weird, and completely illogical.
Don’t just as yet pass a judgement or draw a conclusion, but read on a few more lines. Trust me, you will get to appreciate the fact that there are things we know we simply know nothing about.
You might be asking yourself, why I’m writing something even I don’t know about. Well, the answer is simple. It is interesting and life-changing. The moment I came across this concept and decided to think about it, it has made some differences in the way I perceived learning and therefore, knowledge.
I have learnt a few more things that I did not know, that I assumed I knew, or even more, I have struggled to grasp through formal education. That is why I want to share this, believing many more people need to know about it.
Learning is not an easy task, as we all know. It gets even more frustrating the times when you just cannot quite easily grasp concepts presented. Learning requires focus. But unlearning and relearning requires much more – it requires choosing courage over comfort. It challenges us to build the intellectual and emotional muscle we need to stay curious enough about the world to actually learn about it, and change it for better.
Keeping an open mind is a teachable skill that we can learn to keep it open. The mind is not a fire that needs to be ignited, but is like a parachute that functions only when it is open. Always live with a receptive mind, turned on and tuned in that you catch the life-changing vibrations and signals meant for you.
Education of the present day is dictated by the needs of the industrial revolution. A lot of information is taught to a lot of people for them to produce a specific product or complete a specified task. But now, in the age of computers where information is so abundant and cheap, how well does this system of education hold up?
Students are asked to regurgitate, in other word, vomit out established knowledge and not to solve unsolved questions. Students spend years learning theories and theorems which, let’s be honest, they’ll never use in real life over learning something new that will benefit our society or human civilisation as a whole.
As humanity strives to find certainty in an uncertain world, it begs the question, aren’t we mistaking the abundance of information for sufficiency of knowledge? This is where the process of ‘lygometry’ comes into play.
Lygometry is quantifying the lack of knowledge. It is the basis of the things we know we don’t know or a process where you measure things you know that you do not know, questions on knowledge that you know you don’t have. It is like searching or ask the questions about those dark or shadowy places which you know you know nothing about. Sounds absurd, ridiculous, silly, or irrational, doesn’t it? How does one quantify what they don’t know? And you would be right. As crazy as it sounds, that is where true learning begins.
Let us get this clear, we don’t intend on calling out our system of education but, it’s the perfect knowledge that our educators project us that some of us find problematic. As a student of natural and the medical sciences, I was taught certain theories, concepts, formulas, and equations, but never did a teacher come into a class and tell us students that broadly speaking we don’t know for example, what gravity really is. Never did an educator come into class and say, “here is everything we know about so and so, and here is that which we don’t know about that.” It is statements like these that lygometry tries to quantify.
Lygometry is simply defined as a process of measuring things that we know we don’t know. It is a fairly new concept that has been coined by Amin Toufani, former chairman of Singularity University. It can be applied to help us understand things better and devise better ways to improve our education systems, our businesses, development of new technologies, and even our day to day lives. Lygometry can help us to know many important things that we don’t know, and to see whatever we are doing with a refined perception. We start to see a bigger picture, and a better version of our insights and creative efforts
There isn’t a lot of information about lygometry over the Internet or in documented texts or scripts. Despite that fact, I would like to think that of it as a concept that may have been practiced for centuries under different names and banners. Even though being an ancient practice, it has emerged more or less, as a new way of thinking. This means that knowing lygometry is in fact an attempt to know something we don’t know. As such, in itself, is a lygometric process.
Lygometry would draw your questions down to the very core of things of interest, for you to ask the most basic but important questions. Simply put, when you start measuring things that you know you don’t know, you will know where to start finding the answers to them. This concept works in unison with a number of other very fundamental concepts.
The theory of backward induction, or the field of knowledge called reverse engineering allows you to track the things you know you don’t know by working on them backwards. Reverse engineering has proven to save a lot of experimental time and money. And nothing is more valuable for a startup than saving these resources.
Reverse engineering is a process in which software, machines, aircraft, architectural structures and other products are deconstructed to extract design information from them. It often involves deconstructing individual components of larger products. The challenge is to gain a working knowledge of the original design by disassembling the product piece-by-piece or layer-by-layer in order to determine how a part was designed so that you can recreate it.
Reverse engineering is perhaps the most accurate way to recreate the designs for items that went out of production decades beforehand. In cases where the original blueprints are long since lost or destroyed, reverse engineering is perhaps the only way to bring such products back to life. If you can obtain a working model of an old product, you can typically trace the steps of its design and use those insights to construct a new model, repair a part or improve future products.
Thus, reverse engineering is simply a lygometric process. It plays a valuable role in many different areas of work, to enable us to know things we know nothing about. It finds its application in manufacturing and mining industries, in research and diagnostic laboratories, even in our education systems, and in many other fields. The process helps us to figure out failures, identify problems, so to know things we do not know, in order to establish corrective measures.
Another concept that would very well consolidate the idea of lygometry is the first principles thinking. This concept would guide you to systematically come up with new solutions by way of reverse-engineering societal challenges. It encourages you to critically question the assumptions of challenges and break them down into basic components. After which you ask more critical questions that will surely inspire new ideas in a way that reassembles the components from the ground up.
The methodology itself dates back to classical ancient times, when it was first introduced by Aristotle and later applied by Euclid a mathematician in his geometrical proofs. It was then further developed during the Renaissance by Descartes’ foundationalism as well as in the age of Enlightenment through Kant’s writings on reason, and with Marx’s experimentation on pairing first principles with ideology.
The world of today is more interconnected and dynamic than ever before. Although this fact has come with many benefits, it has also resulted in an ever-growing number of societal challenges around the globe. The lack of existing solutions to these challenges calls for new methods of developing innovative and practical ideas. This means we have to work backward to know the things we do not know.
I believe, together with first principles thinking, the idea of lygometry would create surprising outcomes if and when used appropriately.

Rethinking and unlearning
Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there is another set of cognitive skills that might matter more, the ability to rethink and unlearn.
In our daily lives, too many of us favour the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions, when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process.
The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse. There is evidence that being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. Thus, the brighter or more learned we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become. We should learn to let go of views that are no longer serving us well and prize mental flexibility, humility, and curiosity over foolish consistency.

That brings us to another field of knowledge that lygometry gets well acquainted with. Metacognition is the ability to think about and regulate one’s own thoughts, and in a simpler sense, it is the art of ‘thinking about thinking’.
Encouraging metacognition is therefore a relatively straightforward and cheap way to improve learning. It is a particularly appealing target for improving learning because it doesn’t require expensive specialist equipment, and is thought to have its biggest impact on disadvantaged students. The critical art of thinking and rethinking enables us to learn to question our opinions and believes. Through this, we can embrace the joy of being wrong, harness the surprising advantages of impostor syndrome, bring tone into charge conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.
We are thinkers and creators, and yet we naively play the role of the created. We see ourselves as helpless sheep buffeted around by the God who made us. We kneel like frightened children, begging for help, for forgiveness, for good luck. But, once we realise that we are truly created in the Creator’s image, the very image of God, we will start to understand that we too must be creators.
When we understand this fact, the doors will burst wide open for human potential. If the Infinite had not desired man to be wise and knowledgeable, He would not have bestowed upon him the faculty of knowing. It is a sensible thing to say that every person is born intelligent, but being brilliant or stupid is only a matter of conditioning, which basically means one’s upbringing, training, and education.
I have my own collection of experiences regarding those moments during my student days and in my professional life as well, where I realised I just didn’t know or just could not understand a concept. Those were just the most frustrating moments. You would agree that sometimes, things just do not add up. I believe, these are the opportunities for us to acknowledge that there are things we just don’t know, which trigger us to try to know that which we do not know. Once we get to appreciate that, only then true learning starts.
It may sound weird but, even if it’s a relatively new concept, humans are born with an innate or natural ability to do lygometry. As children, everyone is very good at keeping track of things that don’t make sense to them and they are not shy or scared to ask questions. But as we grow and get more and more educated, this ability gradually diminishes. The creator of the concept of lygometry, Amin Toufani believes that the extent of knowledge and wisdom should never end at what we know.
But it is the ability to know what we don’t know that defines us as an intelligent species. After all, even Socrates, one of the greatest original thinkers that ever lived once said, “I know that I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing”. If knowledge is power, then knowing things we do not know is wisdom. Isn’t this lygometry?

Source of information:

  • First Principles Thinking Review 2020 Volume 1 Issue 1 by Factory for Innovative Policy Solutions, viewed on Sept 18, 2021,
  • Learning to learn, viewed 26 November 2021,
  • Thinking about thinking, viewed 26 November 2021,
  • What is Reverse Engineering and how does it work?, viewed 26 November 2021,

Gelinde Narekine is a technical officer in the discipline of Medical Laboratory Science, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of UPNG.