The curse of knowledge, aka hindsight biasmajor contributor to academese is a cognitive blind spot called the Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know. The term comes from economics, but the general inability to set aside something that you know but someone else does not know is such a pervasive affliction of the human mind that psychologists keep discovering related versions of it and giving it new names: egocentrism, hindsight bias, false consensus, illusory transparency, mind-blindness, failure to mentalize, and lack of a theory of mind. In a textbook demonstration, a 3-year-old who sees a toy being hidden while a second child is out of the room assumes that the other child will look for it in its actual location rather than where she last saw it. Children mostly outgrow the inability to separate their own knowledge from someone else’s, but not entirely. Even adults slightly tilt their guess about where a person will look for a hidden object in the direction of where they themselves know the object to be. And they mistakenly assume that their private knowledge and skills—the words and facts they know, the puzzles they can solve, the gadgets they can operate—are second nature to everyone else, too.
Certainly for artists of all stripes, the unknown, the idea or the form or the tale that has not yet arrived, is what must be found. It is the job of artists to open doors and invite in prophesies, the unknown, the unfamiliar; it’s where their work comes from, although its arrival signals the beginning of the long disciplined process of making it their own. Scientists too, as J. Robert Oppenheimer once remarked, “live always at the ‘edge of mystery’ – the boundary of the unknown.” But they transform the unknown into the known, haul it in like fishermen; artists get you out into that dark sea.
We cannot wipe the mind clean of its knowing, as one would wash a face, for, indeed, paradoxically, we need that knowing. It is an essential part of living and not to be despised. Only when the mind attempts to usurp the whole realm of consciousness, of which, after all, it is but a fragment, are the possibilities of discovering Unknowing overlaid and lost. The world belongs to silence and stillness. Unknowing, itself being empty, can be approached only in moments of emptiness which the ego-mind mistakes for boredom and hastens to assuage that condition with ever more and more learning. To it the phrase “I do not know” is one of self-reproach. But for one intent on seeking the Unknown, that “I do not know” is the door to it, the “Open Sesame” which to pronounce costs nothing less than everything. So, he drops from his busy awareness into the stillness whence life springs, into the void within him.