Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Unknown Unknowns of Dr Tony Tan?

The Unknown Unknowns of Dr Tony Tan?

Yes. This is bad English.  But if you think of it philosophically, especially in Singlish with a little Hokkien: you don’t know means you don’t know la; perhaps you can “catch” the meaning.    

Here is the original “master piece”:

“[T]here 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.”

The above statement was made by Rumsfeld on February 12, 2002 at a press briefing where he addressed the absence of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.[1] It was criticised as an abuse of language by, among others, the Plain English Campaign.[2] However, linguist Geoffrey Pullum disagreed, saying the quotation was "completely straightforward" and "impeccable, syntactically, semantically, logically, and rhetorically.

What has this got to do with Dr. Tan?

There are no updates or further clarifications after the publications of the following news reports and statement:

<Tony Tan refutes allegations of preferential treatment for son> (Today 30 Jul)

<Tony Tan refutes allegations about preferential treatment towards son> (asiaone 29 Jul)

<Statement from Dr Tony Tan facebook:
I am deeply disappointed by the false rumours currently circulating. I am confident that Singaporeans are savvy enough to see through these distractions and will make up their minds based on solid facts and focus on the real issues at hand.>
(29 July)

<Dr Tony Tan facebook:
In the midst of all the heated debate over baseless allegations, I want to address an important question I posed at the start of the week: “As a Singaporean, what do you think it is most important to protect at the moment? > (30 Jul)

So, are these rumours or facts, or using Rumsfeld’s quote: unknown unknowns.   

In fact, Confucius has a famous saying: if you know that you don’t know, it means you know. (不知为不知,是知也). What Master Kong says is “acknowledging you don’t know” in fact means you know your ‘don’t know’.   

For the case of Dr Tan, there are many possibilities: known unknowns, unknown knowns, known known, and unknown unknowns and others.

Therefore, it could be a rumour, it could be a fact, or a combination of rumours and facts. If you ask me, I don’t know I know the answer.

The unknown unknowns of Dr Tan and our reserve?

Tony Tan is a former GIC deputy chairman and executive director who certainly know everything in the GIC and as he said at the press conference, his knowledge will help him in safeguarding our reserve.

The unknown known
<Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) executive director Tony Tan, did not rule himself out when asked if he could make a bid for the job of President.
Speaking at a press briefing on leadership changes at GIC, Dr Tony Tan read out a prepared statement: "Like all Singaporeans, I am watching the political climate closely."> (Toady 8 Jun)

In early June, to the public it was an ‘unknown’, or even could be a rumour. But to Dr Tony Tan and the top PAP leaders, it was already a known fact – a known known. 

The known unknows
<The former Deputy Prime Minister added it is "clear that the next President of Singapore will hold office during a period of enormous change". He said: "In such times, my view is that it is more important than ever to have a President with a steady hand and a deep understanding of the complexities behind each decision the President may have to make." He declined to elaborate in response to further questions from the journalists.> (Today 8 Jun)   

<Singapore in uncharted territory, says Tony Tan> (, 3 Aug)

<NTUC not backing any presidential candidates yet>
(, 3 Aug )

What we know are “enormous change”, “steady hand”, “complexities” and “uncharted territory” etc. What we don’t know is ‘has this got to do with our reserve’ besides our economy? Are there already some ‘unknows’ that some people already know?

Oh! It could be another rumour or if you turn the coin, it could be a fact too. Therefore, another Chinese great philosophy master, Laozi, points out that it could be a sick-mindedness.
Chapter 71 of Dao De Jing (Laozi) on Sick-Mindedness:

‘Who knows that he does not know is the highest;
Who (pretends to) know what he does not know is sick-minded.
And who recognizes sick-mindedness as sick-mindedness is not sick-minded.
The Sage is not sick-minded.
Because he recognizes sick-mindedness as sick-mindness,
Therefore he is not sick-minded. ‘
(Translated by Lin Yu-tang)

Or, if you prefer the explanation in unkown unknowns:

Knowing that you do not know, is superiority;
Not knowing this knowledge, is defectiveness.
Only by defecting defectives,
Can one be void of defectiveness.
The master is void of defectiveness,
Because of the defecting of defectives
Hence is void of defectiveness.

Perhaps, it is better not to know the unknown unknowns.  The more you know, the more you don’t know and you will end up having another sleepless night.

Like the debt ceiling in the USA, the more you know, then you don’t know how many more sleepless nights you will have! 

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