I Know Nothing


Knowing nothing is knowing a lot.

“I know that I know nothing.” Wise words credited to Socrates, but were likely spoken by his student, Plato, whose own student was Aristotle. For three of the greatest minds who ever lived; knowing nothing seems unlikely.

The truth is, they are right. They knew nothing and neither do we. What we think we know; even if we have proof, is subject to change, therefore, we could not have known it to begin with. What we thought we knew; changes, so it is no longer what we thought it was.

Unfortunately, most of us are set in what we believe, even if what we believe was never true—or it was half true and half false. Change is a law of nature; everything changes constantly, which doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to the way human beings think. We believe our perceptions, when these perceptions are not necessarily true.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all stopped going around believing that we know—anything? Isn’t it our often-strong insistence that we are “right” or “we know” which causes so many problems? Isn’t this the biggest reason for political and religious arguments, creating feelings of discontent or distance from each other?

I Know That I Know Nothing − Alfred Korzybski


When Alfred Korzybski said, “the map is not the territory,” he basically echoed Plato: I know that I know nothing.

Korzybski’s statement describes how we all gather and process information through our emotional and rational minds, which seek to measure and categorize a thing, which is not representative of the thing (or person) itself, just our individual perceptions (points of view) and descriptions of it. And yet, by our categorizations and beliefs, we think we know it, and still, we do not.

“How is it that humans have progressed so rapidly in science, mathematics, and engineering, yet we continue to exhibit behaviors that result in misunderstanding, suspicion, bigotry, hatred, and even violence in our dealings with other people and with other cultures?”— Alfred Korzybski

It would seem that the measure of intellect isn’t in what you know, it’s in knowing there is much to learn. Maybe it’s best to be open-minded and adopt an attitude of I don’t know, because no matter what we think we know, in fact, we know nothing.