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How can anyone start looking for the unknown unknowns? What can I or anyone say, except,”Watch for anything that is unusual and doesn’t fit a local environment.” Even though there have been in excess of one hundred billion people live on this earth, there are probably things which any of those people could have observed which would change our way of seeing the world. Chances are that once someone says one of these unknown unknowns that are perfectly knowable, then everyone will think, or say something like, “I knew that all along.” Isaac Newton’s laws are my favorite example. For every action there is an equal reaction. That is so simple a statement, and yet it changed the world, because it made inertia a real thing and it made it easy to compute how much force was needed to move objects. If something weighs twice as much as another object you must push twice as hard to get it to move a given distance. It is obvious, but when it is stated clearly it can be used for many more complex actions.

I suspect that many famous quotations have in them a kernel of the unknown unknowns buried in them, and that is why they carry weight. In reading A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, by H. L. Mencken it becomes apparent that the quotations upon a given subject, which are arranged by date over the centuries, get clearer and more precise. When this process is happening, and consistently happening over thousands of years, it is a clear indicator that something even more profound is probably still there in the unknown to be revealed. All it takes is arranging a few words in just the right sequence to reveal the deeper idea.

There were old literary contests in the 1950’s offering prizes for saying something on a given topic in twenty-five words or less. It was an archaic precursor of Twitter and its limitation to 140 characters. Probably even that limiting format could be used to publish and distribute truly profound new revelations. If only you said just the right words.

I did some patent research several years ago, and discovered the same phenomenon of improvement with inventions; that is, some invention based on some obscure idea  kept getting better over the years. What was strange is that some of the patents that came out a hundred years later, and functioned much better, could have been proposed at the very beginning. One strange example of this is the symbol of terrorism, the spherical bomb with a fuse burning at the top. That was two hemispheres of molded lead held together by running a bolt through them from north to south. It was difficult to make, and didn’t contain the explosive powder very well, and thus didn’t function very well as a bomb. Nowadays the exact same type of bomb was used in the Boston Marathon bombing, but used standard home pressure cooker  pots for the container. Those can be bought at a thrift store for a couple of bucks, and will contain the explosion much better. But these are all simple pipe bombs which can be easily made from any standard plumbing pipe.

Unusual observations are difficult to remember because they have weak links to standard observation.

It is important to carry a notebook with you at all times to write down unusual observations.