Tuesday, December 09, 2008

knowing what we know, and don't

marjorie says...

The headline of John Fleck's Upfront piece in the Albuquerque Journal is a pretty simple maxim: We know so much, Yet so little. Fleck talks about "the smartest person I know," which is a moniker he only bestows on a few people--in this case physicist Carlton Cave. What makes Cave so smart?

...only a few get the label "smartest person I know." Caves is one.

They share an important characteristic. In addition to knowing a lot, understanding it deeply and explaining it well, they are especially careful about understanding what they don't know.

Given the 58-year-old Caves' chosen profession — the strange world of theoretical quantum physics — that is a good thing. Serious conversation with members of his tribe eventually runs aground on the shoals of the things we don't know.

I like that last bit..."the shoals of the things we don't know." I agree with Fleck. To know what you don't know has got to be one of the things that makes a person truly smart. When it comes to "smart people" who run the world, I tend to think the actual application of this maxim --knowing what you don't know-- could make someone not only smart but maybe truly great. What gets a person to greatness, big or small, is when the outcome of their efforts incorporates not just what they know, but also what they don't know. You know, the "what ifs."