Confess your ignorance, honor doubt, and embrace uncertainty

Have you ever been in a conversation, and someone (or you yourself) mentions a person, place, event, or another phenomenon; and the other person (or you) pretends to know about it but really has no idea at all? And perhaps that uncertainty is clear in the hesitating nod or the shortened affirmative word? 

How do we learn to do this? What is the social function of pretending to know something? How do you know what you know? Who benefits from claiming ignorance? What chemicals does the brain release when we consciously misrepresent our consciousness? Similarly, what is the neuroscience of confessing ignorance? What are the possibilities of embracing the uncertainty of saying, "I don't know"? And then listening to what might follow? Leah Hager Cohen's, I Don't Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn't), published by Riverhead Books in 2013, explores these and other questions. 

This post is not an excuse for a short book review—here is a link to a New York Journal of Books review that might be useful. Rather, this nudge is to consider a practice of admitting not knowing; or as the poet Mutulu Ogubala writes, "The more you know/the more you know you don't know/And if you don't know there's more you can know, you won't grow." Ask your friends this question and practice saying: "I don't know," or maybe sometimes, "I don't know, enough," or maybe "I don't know enough, yet."

The phenomenon of feigning knowledge is not simply about the everyday elements of social conversation and how we create relationships through sharing knowledge. It also applies to history, science, or current events. Admitting one does not know something, then asking questions about what knowledge would need to be gained to further understand an idea, event, or happening with greater depth and breadth, can be a moment of possibility, of community-building. What don't you know that you claim to actually know? How do you know you don't know? How can we "honor doubt" by asking questions? Perhaps it begins and continues in talking with others, with books, with media, and admitting what one has yet to learn.