Knowing that you know nothing - Socrates explains

Socrates is considered the founder of Western philosophy. Even though there are no records of him personally, he is mentioned in many of Plato's writings.

One of the most famous quotes from Socrates is "I know that I know nothing". By this Socrates does not mean that he knows absolutely nothing, he merely draws attention to the problem that the more we know, the more we realize how little we know. Every answer we get to one of our questions only leads to more questions. Every time something is explained, you end up having to explain the explanation.

"I know I don't know anything."


To put it in more understandable terms, let's briefly ask the simple question: Why do stones fall down? The explanation is relatively simple: it is due to gravity. But what is gravity? Does gravity act the same everywhere? Are there places without gravity? As you can quickly see, the answer to the original question does lead to an explanation, but it also leads to a bunch of new questions that we don't know the answer to, or don't know the answer to yet.

In psychology there is the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect. This describes how, as a beginner in a subject area, one tends to overestimate one's competence immeasurably. As knowledge progresses, we typically become disillusioned and get the impression that we know nothing at all about the subject - our own competence is underestimated. Only at a later stage and with a correspondingly high level of competence do we know what we actually know and also what we do not know. Simon has described in his article Are Philosophers Crazy? Where This Assumption Comes From also mentions the Dunning-Kruger effect to explain a possible reason why philosophers are often considered crazy.

So the more we know, the more we know what we don't know yet. With his quotation Socrates does not want to say that he did not know anything - respectively that we do not know anything - but rather that the more one knows, the more one recognizes that there is still so much more to know.

Only someone who overestimates his own competence immeasurably believes to know everything. Alone by the sheer size and complexity, which our universe brings with itself, it is impossible to know or to understand everything also only in the approach. Only when we admit to ourselves that we hardly know anything, we are able to perceive the world as objectively as possible. If we assume that we already know everything or much, it is difficult to see the world as it is and not as we think it is.

If you manage to become aware of your knowledge gaps, you will be ahead of most people and chances are you will already have a good level of knowledge about a certain subject.

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