Why It Makes Sense to Say, ‘I Don’t Know’

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picjumbo.com_IMG_0409“It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

Have you ever watched a film and, as the credits rolled, you sat there, stunned, realizing you’d made assumptions, even crafted a storyline, different from how it all turned out? Think of the movies, The Sixth Sense, or Memento.

It may be no surprise to you that we do this – construct incomplete or flat-out false stories – in our lives, as well.

Why do we do this? Well, the fields of neuroscience, biology, and psychology offer insights.

On a daily basis, our eyes are hit with vast amounts of visual details. When this information hits the fovea, the small spot at the back of the eyeball, we take in only a fraction of them. That means we’ve got an incomplete picture. What happens next? Well, we make the rest of it up. Our brains construct a story “from memory or patterns that we recognize from past experience.”

This means our mental models – our perceptions of the world – inform the stories we construct. Essentially, “[a]ll we need is a tiny bit of information to make huge leaps of inference based on our models,” whether or not we’re accurate in our assumptions.

Add to that our tendency “to favor information, true or not, that confirms [our] preexisting beliefs” – otherwise known as confirmation bias — and we’ve got strong evidence to support the fact that, in many cases, we really don’t know.

How does it help to know this? It can get us out of our own way, so we don’t take things so personally. Let’s face it. We probably don’t know the whole story. Recognizing these tendencies can open us to more possibilities and greater empathy for ourselves and others.

It makes a lot of sense to say, I don’t know. What do you think?

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2 Comments

  1. elisabethjohnson on September 29, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    There’s nothing I don’t love about this. Was actually starting to compose a post of my own about similar thoughts this am, without the fovea knowledge. Thanks, Gayle 🙂 you made my day….always working to stay open and fresh, but it’s a life’s work.



  2. Gayle on September 29, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Liz, thanks for your kind words. Glad you liked it. If I left anything unsaid on this topic, let me know. Would love you to write a guest post for my blog! : )