Unthought knowns, unknown thoughts, and such stuff

As Distinguished Eagle Scout Donald Rumsfeld famously put things back in 2002 :

“There are known knowns (the things we know we know) but we also know there are known unknowns (that is to say we know there’s some things we do not know) but there are also unknown unknowns (the ones we don’t know we don’t know).”

Unintentionally or not, his perspicacious philosophical pronouncement overlooked one crucial category of ‘knowns’. They are the ‘Unthought Knowns’ – previously described in the work of professor Christopher Bollas via his seminal book ‘The shadow of the object: Psychoanalysis of the unknown thought’,

‘Unthought knowns’ might be thought of as ‘processes which are lived and known’ but which one does not think about. But, perhaps reflecting their inherent ‘unthoughtaboutness’, they did not receive very much attention in the academic literature after their first appearance in 1987. They did resurface, however, twenty years later in a paper from Ajeet Mathur and Sari Mattila ‘Thinking versus knowing: how unthought knowns embed collectively.’ (In: Remenyi, D. [ed.] ICICKM 2007, 4th International Conference on Intellectual Capital, Knowledge Management and Organisational Learning, 15-16 October, 2007, South-Africa Academic Conferences Limited. pp. 263-270)

The authors’ experimental work, which included investigations featuring action research methods based around fears, anxieties, fantasies, and speculations, bore fruit :

“The paper suggests ways to understand the collective embeddedness of unthought knowns and concludes that such embeddedness can be both enabling and disabling.”

Also don’t miss: ‘Applications of unawareness’