Curse of Partial Knowledge

Emre Soyer
Ed-Tech Talks
Published in
2 min readApr 7, 2022
Soyer 2022

In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche warns that “partial knowledge is more often victorious than full knowledge: it conceives things as simpler than they are and therefore makes its opinion easier to grasp and more persuasive.”

We rarely have all the information we need when we make decisions. This doesn’t necessarily cause problems when that partial knowledge is representative of the bigger picture we are interested.

But if evidence omits a certain important portion of that picture or adds irrelevant details, it would distort our understanding of the situation.

The nature of history itself makes partial knowledge inevitable. In Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer, sociologist Duncan Watts warns that “when we look to the past, we see only the things that happened — not all the things that might have happened but didn’t — and as a result, our commonsense explanations often mistake for cause and effect what is really just a sequence of events.”

The data we have may be detailed, abundant, fast and also accurate. But these wouldn’t guarantee competent decision making. What we need is the information to be representative of the problem we’re tackling.

2 critical questions can render decisions wiser:

-- What’s categorically missing from my data? Where can I find information about these aspects?

-- What information I have is irrelevant to my aims? How can I ensure to ignore or discount them?

--

--

Emre Soyer
Ed-Tech Talks

behavioral scientist, co-author of The Myth of Experience