From unaware unknowns to aware knowns

In 1955, two American psychologists Joseph Luft (1916–2014) and Harrington Ingham (1916–1995) developed the Johari Window.  Their goal was to model the relationship between self and others to improve self-awareness and personal development among individuals in a group.

The Jorahi Window Model

This idea of distinguishing between what is known and unknown between self and others has been built on over the years, away from the original use in psychology and towards a more general view based on awareness and knowledge. You may have heard of expressions such as “known knowns” (aware knowledge) and “unknown unknowns” (unaware lack of knowledge) that are sometimes represented as in the matrix below.

Matrix of awareness vs knowledge

What this awareness vs knowledge matrix fails to represent is the unavoidable relationship between self and others, as in the Johari Window. In this article, I present my own view that combines the concepts of awareness, knowledge, self, and others.

To begin with, I consider the “self vs others” concept more generally as “local vs global”, as illustrated in the table below:

Examples of local vs global perspectives
Local Global
Me Humankind
Team Company
Company Industry

Then, I aim to distinguish between awareness and knowledge. Awareness comes first since the question must be asked before you are locally aware of your knowledge of the answer. If something is unknown, it has not been identified; the question has not been asked. Awareness of the question must arise before knowledge of the relevant solution can arise. At the same time, solutions may exist to unanswered questions, but we cannot assign solutions to questions without the questions too.

From “unaware” to “aware” is a process of realization or discovery of a problem or question.

From “unknown” to “known” is a process of finding a solution to a problem that you are aware of.

Bringing this all together results in the following diagram (note that the horizontal axis has been swapped compared to the other two diagrams, so that top right is the “positive” direction rather than top left):

From unware unknowns to aware knowns

Ways to aware knowledge given awareness:

  1. Reinvent the wheel
  2. Use existing knowledge
  3. Discover new knowledge

Ways to aware knowledge given knowledge:

  1. Have existing insight
  2. Use existing insight
  3. Have new insight

Ways to awareness without knowledge:

  1. Ask existing questions
  2. Use existing questions
  3. Ask new questions

By looking at things from this angle, we can see that:

  1. Using only local awareness and local knowledge is a poor use of resources
  2. Efficient use of existing resources comes from “standing on the shoulders of giants” and looking to expand local awareness and knowledge by leaning on the success of those that have come before us
  3. The other edge of the sword is exploring new frontiers by means of discovering new questions and new solutions or new ways of applying existing solutions to existing questions. In this way, the global set of awareness and knowledge increases, for future generations to continue to find new ways to iterate in this great game we call life.

Closing thoughts on the terminology used and how it might fit together:

  • Awareness is the fundamental mechanism a conscious agent has for acquiring data
  • Knowledge is awareness of information by a conscious agent
  • Information is data that has been interpreted by a conscious agent for their own purpose e.g. prediction or pattern recognition
  • Data is the smallest unit of uninterpreted information in the context in use by a conscious agent e.g. when reading a book the smallest unit might be the words, but for someone analyzing words the smallest unit might be the letters; data has subjective units
  • Information can be encoded back as data e.g. text, speech, images
  • Information is self-referential; data leads to information which can act as the data for further information.
  • A conscious agent is something like me or (possibly) you that appears to “think therefore I am”

A common inter-subjective data basis is the binary system; encoding information using bits 0s and 1s to represent discriminatory power. This is by no means a universal basis since it only carries the meaning we associate to the discriminatory ability of the bits. It may be possible to have a universal data basis defined in terms of the Planck units (which appear to be the smallest discrete units the universe has on offer).

System of perception

What are your thoughts? I found this topic especially useful as a reminder that we do not typically operate in closed bounded systems. More often, we are part of something larger than our immediate surroundings and it is important to remember that feedback loops exist between self and others.

Chasing your tail

Warning: thought dump ahead!

Attachment to the outcome of an event leads to a subjective spectrum of measurements of the (usually implicit) metrics that you are using to monitor apparent change. Your preferences about which direction you want these metrics to go in seems to be how the attachment presents itself.

Thinking of ways to game this, let’s explore a few strategies and see what happens.

At one extreme, you could take the position “I have no preferences”. This is kind of self-contradicting since this is a preference in itself. A step further could be to have no preference for having preferences. Huh?

Is it possible to have no preferences? Let’s look at the word “preference” first, starting with a dictionary definition:

a greater liking for one alternative over another or others

We need to go deeper down the rabbit hole. What does “liking” mean? Back to the dictionary…

a feeling of regard or fondness

This is not really helping, we are just arriving at more words that are not objectively defined. Hmm.

Let’s use the facts. To have a preference, we have to have at least two possibilities. We could say that the word preference is a kind of directionality or scoring system for the possible outcomes.

Alright, so one strategy is to weight the scores equally for all outcomes. I can see a few problems with that. As before, this strategy (and perhaps any strategy?) is a kind of preference. By choosing a scoring system, you have weighted that system above all others.

Is it possible to not choose a scoring system? Perhaps…

Certainly, it is possible to not explicitly choose a system. But it seems as if there is always going to be an implicit system in place. Without preference, it would not take long before you got run over by a truck because you did not have a preference for the outcome of crossing the road!

Alright, so it looks like there are going to be at least a handful of fundamental preferences that anyone reading this is going to have. First and foremost would be the self-preservation instinct.

Another way we can look at this is to inspect the “at least two possibilities” bit. What if there were only one possibility? In that case, there would be no preference because there is no choice about what to have a preference for.

So, how could there be only one possibility? Well, I suppose the only way to do that would be to not distinguish between outcomes. The phrase “whatever happens, happens” comes to mind.

Of course, you could argue that the model of not distinguishing between outcomes is a kind of scoring system in itself. In a way, it is isomorphic to the perspective of equally weighting all possible outcomes. Nonetheless, it certainly sounds like a simpler way of framing things.

To not distinguish between outcomes would be something like the absence of chopping and categorising things up. Lack of labelling. A willingness to not know and not understand.

How far could you take this? I think this approach leads to the experience of a lack of agency. By agency, I mean the impression that you have control over the outcome of events. If you have stopped distinguishing between outcomes, it seems that you would also have stopped getting the impression that you were influencing those outcomes.

The suggestion that lack of agency is even possible can be a scary thought for some people. I think this is perhaps tied to the fear of losing control, identity, self, ego, whatever you want to call it.

So, then what? I think the end game is that, with this approach, you retain a fresh sense of wonder about each and every moment as it unfolds. Unsure what to expect and untied to what happens. The most appropriate word that comes to mind is “freedom”.