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Rumsfeldian Algebra — Why Now?
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Rumsfeldian Algebra

Since you are reading this on a computer you are obviously aware of the seminal work of Claude Elwood Shannon, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits, that combined the Boolean algebra of George Boole with the binary numeral system that was presented by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his work, Explication de l’Arithmétique Binaire, and applied it to switching circuits, which is the basis for digital computer design. So there’s no reason to go into it.

Rumfeldian algebra is another synthesis of Boole’s concepts, but it uses known and unknown rather than true and false, and is applied to government decision-making.

Rumsfeld expressed the basic concept of the system in his award winning summary:

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.

This single statement covers three of the four conditions, known-known, unknown-known, and unknown-unknown, but fails to mention the unknown-known required to complete the set.

Fortunately earlier this year, Dr. Condoleezza Rice provided the missing element. While many spent hours building models to explain the apparent paradox of not knowing you know, Dr. Rice resolved this in a single press conference on a briefing given to her by George Tenet on the al Qaeda threat. Despite being concerned enough about what Mr. Tenet said to urge that the briefing be given to the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense, when asked about it later she found it “incomprehensible” that she had attended the briefing and couldn’t remember it for her testimony before the 9-11 Commission.

We can all hope that Mr. Rumsfeld and Dr. Rice will soon collaborate on a paper explaining this system. One would think that they would resign so as to have the time available to put their work in shape for peer review and publication.


1 Michael { 10.17.06 at 10:17 pm }

An anthology of “inspirational”-style aphorisms and the like that my mom had lying around the house when I was growing up contained the following, allegedly a Persian proverb:

“He who knows not,
And knows not that he knows not,
Is a fool–shun him.

He who knows not,
And knows that he knows not,
Is a child–teach him.

He who knows,
And knows not that he knows,
Is asleep–wake him.

He who knows,
And knows that he knows,
Is wise–follow him.”

I think I’d put the Shrubbery generally in the first category.

2 Bryan { 10.17.06 at 11:03 pm }

Vacuous, a word I rarely use, but it seems a precise description of the Shrubbery.

Well, most mathematical concepts came from that area. There is some rather amazing stuff produced by ancient Indians that provides a very accurate age for the universe.

In Rumfeld’s case, we know what he thought he knew – but he was mistaken.