I Know That I Know Nothing

By Anthony Gold

In 1995, a bank robber nabbed two banks in Pittsburgh on the same day. He was apprehended within a few hours of the heists. How was he caught so quickly?

He had covered his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that it would prevent him from being recorded by the security cameras. Once the images were shown on the news, an informant provided the man’s name and address.

Before you dismiss the thief’s apparent stupidity, he based his theory on two pieces of data: (1) lemon juice has been used as a type of “invisible ink” in which it only appears when heated; and (2) the man had taken a Polaroid picture of his face covered in lemon juice and was not able to recognize any distinguishing characteristics.

This particular case led many researchers and psychologists into the realm of metacognitive competence – which is essentially the “knowing about knowing” or how we assess our own competence.

And it turns out that many people tend to not only overestimate their own abilities, but we often fail to recognize the magnitude by which that is so. Especially in areas for which we don’t have very much competence.

As one of the seminal researchers in the field states, “If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent. The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need in order to recognize what a right answer is.”

The ultimate deceiver of competence is the ego. The ego teaches (and convinces) us that happiness can be found in the world – and that through the amassing of money, health, and other bodies we can enjoy such spoils.

Yet, as each aspect of the world fails to bring us the peace we so desire (as it always will), we fool ourselves into thinking a different job, another person, a new location, etc. might finally be the answer. It’s as if we’ve doused ourselves in ego “lemon juice” and trudge off to the next conquest believing it might actually succeed.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.  ~Charles Darwin

Conversely, the right-minded thought system of the holy spirit counsels us that happiness and peace are found within. And to recognize the incompetence (and ineffectiveness) of the ego and its external projections is the first step toward achieving such bliss.

To say, “Of myself I can do nothing” is to gain all power. And yet it is but a seeming paradox. As God created you, you have all power. The image you made of yourself has none. The Holy Spirit knows the truth about you. The image you made does not. (M-29.4)

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.  ~Confucius

And perhaps the ultimate in self-referential, paradoxical awareness is the answer Socrates is said to have received from the oracle of Delphi in answer to the question, “Who is the wisest man in Greece?”

I know that I know nothing.

Join us in Monday’s class where we will explore this concept of ego incompetence and its ceaseless quests for what it will never find. And, we’ll also discuss a much more effective replacement for lemon juice – something that actually enables us to achieve everything we really want. I look forward to seeing you then.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *