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"To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty." Lao Tzu Source

I could not understand this quote since the words are not very clear. For example, does the word "Not" negate the whole "to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty"?

Can someone explain it?

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    I think it's a translation of 知,不知,上; 不知,知,病 (literal translation: [know, not know, above; not know, know, sick]). – Damkerng T. Dec 2 '15 at 5:53
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Breaking it up a little: "To know | yet to think that one does not know | is best; Not to know | yet to think that one knows | will lead to difficulty."

The two phrases are alike but reversed: Knowing while not thinking that one knows is good. Not knowing while thinking that one knows is bad.

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"To know yet to think that one does not know is best;
Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
"
- Lao Tzu

The best thing is to know the answer, while thinking that you do not know.

Mistakenly being sure that you know the answer in cases where you actually do not know the answer will lead to difficulty.

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The sentence can be changed like this: " The fact that you know something but you believe you don't know it is better than the fact that you don't know anything but you tell everybody you know. The second fact might cause trouble."

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  • Ok, thank, seem I caught you. So, "you know things yet you think that you do not know is best", "You do Not to know yet you think that you do know will lead to difficulty" – Tom Dec 2 '15 at 5:11
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In the original post's quotation, the word "not" just negates "to know". The negation turns "something you know" (a "known") into "something you do not know" (an "unknown"). "not to know" is on the opposite side of the "yet" conjunction from "to think that one knows".

As Donald Rumsfeld explained:

  • There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know.
  • There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know.
  • But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

Lao Tzu was saying it is better to be underconfident (not trust that you know something) than to be overconfident (to think you know something, but be wrong).

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  • So, what about "Not" ? is it a word that negate the whole "to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty." ? – Tom Dec 2 '15 at 5:07
  • @Tom - Sorry, I misread your comment. In answer to your question "not" negates only "to know". You could expand the wording to "To not know but to think that one knows will cause problems", which should read more easily. – Spratty Dec 2 '15 at 9:53
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Better to question, than to think you have the only answer.

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