UPDATE Sept 24 - check out this article about unpublished medical study data. This is a significant issue more generally for Science: the tendency for 'failed' studies to remain unpublished. The unknowledge concept would remedy this.
I was introduced to this concept via the book 'The Black Swan' by Nicholas Taleb.
The insight for me is that lack of knowledge can have a shape, and that shape becomes useful information. So, in a way, unknowledge is knowledge.
An example of unknowledge is the books I haven't read yet, or perhaps even heard of. A subset of these unknown books is the books that I will end up reading.
I know from the past that I am quite regularly introduced to a game-changing idea from a book I read. I mean an idea that I then take on board as salient. It changes the way I view life, or relationships. or something important, forever.
It stands to reason then, that there are books that I have not read yet, but I will, and they will change the way I perceive the world, or my inner world, or whatever it is, in a profound and lasting way.
It also stands to reason that there are books that I have not read yet, nor will ever read, that would change me if I read them. I will never know what those books are, obviously.
These unknowledge-sets - books that would change me, books that I will read that will change me, books that I will never read that would change me, have a shape. By pondering them my experience with books I have read is cast into relief. I can relate to previously-won insights with a new perspective.
Other unknowledge sets that intrigue me:
- people I will never meet
- people I have met who would have truly blessed me if I had bothered listening to them
- wisdom I have heard but wasn't paying attention to
- items that people have robbed from me but I didn't notice
- the date of my death
- what I could achieve if I tried harder, been more disciplined, loving, etc
- the disasters or dark places I could have already ended up in had I not been so determined, loving, etc
- people I have hurt but they never told me
- people who currently resent me but I am none the wiser to it.
- people whose thoughts I am influencing
- people who I genuinely helped via a kind word or some nice gesture, although they never told me
I typed these rapidly over 2 minutes. I could find 100s. I can know some of the containers, even if I don't know whether they contain anything, or what they contain. I can know varying degrees of information about unknowledge-sets.
Simply identifying the containers, I find wonderfully instructive.