Unknown Unknowns: The Problem of Hypocognition

This essay is a little different than the others so buckle up!

Last week I got the chance to catch up with a couple of articles that I’ve been putting for a while and in the process I came across this article in Scientific American titled “Unknown Unknowns: The Problem of Hypocognition”. This essay addresses the psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals cannot think about a concept because they have no mental representation of it. The articles cites compounding interest as a concept that at least two thirds of Americans are hypocognitive about. The consequence of this is that people do not save money because they do not understand the benefits of compounding interest.

According to Scientific American Hypocognition is “the lack of a linguistic or cognitive representation for an object, category, or idea.” The funny thing is that sometimes I would realize that I had no way of knowing something in the past because I didn’t have a label for it but I never thought that these was a phenomenon in and of itself. So I was essentially hypo cognitive about hypo cognition #Meta.

The Takeaway

In any case, I think that it’s an important concept for all of us to know about. Furthermore, I think that eliminating hypocognition is a skill that we can proactively develop. If we consciously try to think about phenomena that happens to us in our daily lives that we lack the right words to describe we are looking at an opportunity to eliminate hypocognition.

If you think about all of the knowledge that you posses as a network of data points (nodes) that are connected through experiences, logic and inference (edges), then eliminating hypocognition is all about moving to the outer edges of your network to consolidate new nodes. Once you acquire and consolidate new nodes you can form new edges, which will make all of your “knowledge” more valuable because you will be able to make more connections.

The problem with identifying hypocognition is that it requires an enormous amount of self-introspection. At the moment I don’t know how to get someone who isn’t self-introspective to be so but I can imagine that self-introspection must be prerequisite for identifying ones hypocognition.

This might sound like a convoluted idea and I apologize if I wasn’t able to convey it in a straightforward manner. However, I think it’s extremely powerful because knowing about own limitations can allow us to work on them. We should do that not because there’s is something wrong that we need to fix with ourselves but because it can extremely intellectually stimulating to get see the world through a different angle.