Friday, 10 September 2010

Rumsfeld on unknown unknowns

Baggini gives a version of Rumsfeld's speech, which he points out to be philosophically correct but in a context that I cannot find on videos of the speech. I cannot find a video of the section "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are interesting to me, because as we know there are ...". All the videos I can find show Rummy to be evasive and suggest he does not merit the benefit of the doubt he is given by Baggini, as he ends the interview saying I am not going to tell you which they are (known unknowns or unknown unknowns).

The video is here but it might be edited:
Most complete - starts at "There are .."
He also seems to have used the same speech more than once.
Here is another video.

Here is the official transcript version used by Baggini:

Rumsfeld: Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.
This is the problem of induction and the weakness of positivism. We just cannot know what we do not know. The typical example is swans are white, and experience said this was true until we found black swans. You can never prove a hypothesis you can only falsify it - see Karl Popper on refutations.

The term was used by the US military before Rumsfeld in giving guidance for war games and suggesting unknown unknowns should be incorporated into games so that they were unfair, because real life is unfair. For the Star Trek geeks an example of this is Kirk's response to the Kobayashi Maru simulation from the
Wrath of Khan.

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