Embracing the Power of Uncertainty: Insights from Harvard’s Graduation Speech

In a world where certainty often reigns supreme, Harvard University’s recent graduation speech titled “The Power of Not Knowing” has sparked a wave of intrigue and introspection. The speaker, Kumar, took center stage to share her personal journey and how embracing the unknown has profoundly shaped her life. This captivating speech has resonated deeply with audiences, prompting reflections on our relationship with uncertainty and the untapped potential it holds.

Kumar’s narrative delves into the concept of “The Power of Not Knowing,” a philosophy that challenges conventional wisdom and celebrates the transformative nature of embracing ambiguity. By navigating uncharted territories and leaning into the discomfort of the unknown, Kumar illustrates how moments of uncertainty can serve as catalysts for growth, innovation, and self-discovery.

One of the key themes explored in the speech is the inherent fear many individuals harbor towards uncertainty and the unknown. Kumar’s message encourages listeners to reject the “ostrich mentality” of burying their heads in the sand, urging them instead to cultivate a mindset of curiosity, resilience, and adaptability. By honing their ability to break free from comfort zones and maintain a state of radical openness, individuals can harness the power of uncertainty as a tool for personal evolution and cognitive expansion.

The speech also underscores the significance of self-awareness and introspection in navigating the complexities of uncertainty. Encouraging individuals to approach the unknown with a sense of wonder and receptivity, Kumar advocates for a paradigm shift towards embracing ambiguity as a gateway to heightened self-awareness and personal growth.

As we reflect on Kumar’s enlightening discourse, it serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative potential that lies within the realm of uncertainty. By relinquishing the need for absolute certainty and embracing the inherent mysteries of life, we open ourselves to a world of endless possibilities, resilience, and personal empowerment. Kumar’s message resonates as a beacon of inspiration, guiding us towards a future where the unknown is not a source of fear, but a wellspring of growth and enlightenment.

Recently, a video of Harvard University’s graduation speech titled “The Power of Not Knowing (The Power of Not Knowing)” went viral on social platforms.

In her speech, graduate Kumar spoke of the tangible impact this power had on her.

She was just an ordinary girl growing up on the plains of Nebraska.

As the eldest daughter of South Asian immigrants, she was also the first in her family to attend college in the United States.

But when it came time to apply to college, she asked her parents for any advice. They shook their heads and said, “I don’t know.”

She asked what subject she should choose, but they still shook their heads and said the same thing.

The words “I don’t know” were like a big mountain, lying in front of her eyes, making her feel very scared.

It wasn’t until she walked from Nebraska to Harvard that she gradually realized something new from these words.

Before, she didn’t even know there was a field called “history of science”. Now she is already a graduate student in this field.

What force has been driving her to keep searching and finally achieved her current results?

She said this: “It is often moments of uncertainty that give birth to greater things than we can imagine.”

In life, many people are afraid of facing uncertainty and the unknown, but we also have to admit:

What really drives a person’s growth is often not the things he has come into contact with, but the unknown things.

If people want to get rid of mediocrity and continue to advance, they must continue to break boundaries and break out of self-enclosed mental models.

In the Temple of Delphi in ancient Greece, an oracle said: Socrates was the wisest man in Athens.
Socrates said: “I only know one thing, that I know nothing.”

Socrates adheres to a kind of “agnosticism”-the future is unknown, and I know that I don’t know.

 However, in real life, there are always a group of people:

After learning a little knowledge, they feel that they know everything in the world and cannot listen to opinions that are contrary to their knowledge;

After mastering some skills, I think I can sit back and relax, and never think about updating myself again.

 Such people are like trapped in an “information cocoon”.

Psychologist Sunstein said that when a person completely blocks external information and only accepts a single point of view, he will wrap himself up tighter and tighter like a cocoon, and eventually he will be unable to move forward.

People trapped in the “information cocoon” have entered a cognitive state where they think they know everything. They feel that they know everything and are arrogant.

Once someone puts forward a point of view that they don’t know, they will subconsciously resist and refute it.

In 1687, Newton proposed the law of universal gravitation, which promoted the research process of modern astrophysics.

However, a German professor named Fang Genba invited by the Tongwen Museum of the Qing Dynasty tried to overturn this law.

He felt that based on what he had learned over the years, there was no universal gravity at all in the world.

 However, he could not provide any strong evidence to prove his point of view.

Ding Haoliang, the host of Tongwen Museum, told him that this was contrary to correct science and asked him to learn more about new insights.

Fang Gen refused to listen, and even stubbornly stated his own opinions in class to mislead students.

 Soon, he was fired for disobeying teaching arrangements and ended up living on the street.

 Eventually he fell into poverty and died in abject poverty.

Philosopher Krishnamurti once said: “A mind trapped in the known can never understand the unknown.”

The people in this world who can never move forward are those who are stuck in the past.

 They cannot appreciate the mystery of the unknown.

They have been immersed in a false complacency, losing curiosity and desire to explore.

This kind of curiosity and desire to explore is precisely the key to a person’s rapid growth and cognitive upgrade.

In the end, these people who have lost their desire to explore will get stuck in their own inherent knowledge, be led by experience, and lead their lives into a dead end.


In the book “A Brief History of Humanity”, the author Yuval Harari tells a very interesting story.

 This is the world map of Europeans in 1459 AD.

It can be seen that the map seems to be meticulous in detail. Even the South African region, which Europeans knew nothing about at the time, is densely packed with information.

People of that era believed that there were only three continents in the world: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Apart from that, there were no other regions that they did not know about.

 Even the navigator Columbus believed in this map.

In 1492 AD, Columbus sailed west from Spain, hoping to find a new route to East Asia.

On the way, he landed on a new island, which is now the Bahamas (belonging to North America).

 But he stubbornly believed that this was a small island offshore East Asia.

 Until his death, he did not believe that he had discovered a new continent.

Until 1502-1504, Italian sailor Vespucci proposed in an article:

The island discovered by Columbus should not be located next to East Asia, but an entire New World.

 The Americas (North America and South America) gradually appeared on the world map. Speaking of this, the author Yuval Harari couldn’t help but sigh:

In the end, a quarter of the world’s landmass and two of the seven continents were named after an unknown Italian, and the only thing he did was have the courage to say “we don’t know.”

And his “I don’t know” spirit has also inspired many European geographers and scholars in almost all fields of knowledge in Europe.

Beginning in 1525, European maps of the world had a large amount of blank space.

 What does blank mean?

It means admitting that you don’t know, and that besides what you already know, there are still many things you haven’t reached yet.

Anyone with a little bit of curiosity will definitely ask after seeing this map: “What’s behind that?”

 There are no answers on the map.

These gaps acted as a magnet for Europeans to rush forward in hopes of filling them.

After that, European expeditions bypassed Africa, penetrated into the Americas, crossed the Pacific and Indian Oceans, established a network of bases and colonies around the world, and took control of the world’s discourse.

 What drives all this evolution is the “power of unknown”.

To this day, acknowledging the limitations of what you see is still the most important step for everyone to achieve progress in life.

If our cognition is compared to a small pond, then there is always a vast ocean outside this pond.

The vast majority of people spend their entire lives “with a leaf blocking their eyesight and not being able to see Mount Tai.” A small pond has trapped them all their lives.

But there are always some people who overcome their fear of the unknown, break boundaries, keep searching, and see higher-dimensional things.

What you and I have to do is to be like the latter, remain critical and skeptical of the known things, and remain awe and curious about the unknown things.

Only in this way can we break through the known obstacles and see the more distant world.


“Consciousness Only and the Middle Way” says: There are two major obstacles in a person’s life, the obstacle of defilements and the obstacle of knowledge.

 The troubles and obstacles are, simply put, self-grasping. Once the obsession comes out, troubles will arise.

The knowledge barrier means that in the process of growing up, we will be unknowingly hindered by existing knowledge and experience, thus losing the desire to explore the future.

 Knowledge is a shackle that imprisons people.

How can we break this shackles and evolve ourselves? Here are three suggestions for you:

 01. Reject the “ostrich mentality”.

When an ostrich encounters danger, it will bury its head in the sand, thinking that it is safe if it does not know or cannot see it.

 But doing this will never solve the crisis, and may even lead to death at the hands of the enemy.

The same is true in real life. Black swan events emerge one after another, and new challenges will appear at any time.

If we are like ostriches, hiding in our own comfort zone and turning a blind eye to the outside world, we will soon be abandoned by the times. Fan Deng once said:

Chaos and change are the norm in the world. We must learn to embrace uncertainty and deal with it correctly in order to become the controller of our own destiny.

 Opportunities are always reserved for those who dare to face the unknown.

 Although no one can predict what will happen in the future.

But as long as we can overcome the fear of the unknown and be fully prepared for uncertainty, we can eventually become the helmsman of our own lives in an uncertain world.

 02. Improve “circle-breaking ability”.

If we compare people’s “known” to a circle, at first we would look like this:

 As we know more, our ability to break the circle becomes stronger and stronger:

When our “knowns” accumulate to a certain extent, we come to the edge of the circle and try to push it:

 After unremitting efforts, we finally pushed a little bit:

But just because of your little push, the whole circle of your life has changed:

Breaking the circle, simply put, means breaking the inherent boundaries and connecting to a wider world.

 Although this process will be accompanied by labor pains and self-denial.

But if the circle is not broken, people’s knowledge and life boundaries will not change over time.

Li Ao said this when giving a speech at Peking University: “If people want to achieve freedom, they must turn to themselves and fight against their own instincts.”

The unknown world is so vast, and spending a lifetime reducing the areas of our ignorance is the greatest pleasure in life.

 03. Maintain the principle of “extreme openness”.

In his book “Principles”, Ray Dalio proposed a principle of “extreme openness”.

 What does “extreme openness” mean?

When facing new things and new knowledge, even if they conflict with our existing knowledge and experience, we must learn to look at it from a new perspective.

An extremely open mind is the best way for a person to break himself and evolve himself.

Existing knowledge is important, but if you stick to the “known” blindly, you will slip into the abyss of ignorance.

 As Dong Qing said:

“The meaning of life lies in pioneering rather than clinging on. We should never lose the courage to move forward at any time.”

When you constantly update and iterate what you know, you will no longer be constrained by an inherent thinking framework.

 In this year’s college entrance examination essay, I saw this sentence:

“Just like mankind’s journey into space, each of us is constantly reaching unknown territories.”

Whether it is cognitive breakthroughs, career challenges, or various changes in life, they are all unknown areas that we need to face.

In order to conquer these unknowns and complete the leap in life, we must break through the original mental model.

Insight into one’s own limitations and using ignorance to stimulate one’s desire to seek are the keys to upgrading one’s self-awareness.

As Emily Dickinson said: “Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”

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