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What is Knowledge?


Mackerel spratts, Ardmore, Conamara

Knowledge is fundamental to all human interactions. The ability to distinguish between fact and opinion and to constantly question what we call knowledge, is vital to human progress. Armed with knowledge, one can accomplish many things. How useful is knowledge? - the everyday use of GPS depends on William Rowan Hamilton's creation of quaternions and Einstein's theory of general relativity, however this is not what the operator needs to know. If knowledge is the way to truth then science is the express route route to enlightenment. Most of knowledge relies on trusting sources. Trust in science is a justified true belief, the knowledge true science generates is reliable.

Our knowledge may not survive us, when a language is lost its method or reasoning is gone and cannot be recovered. There are c.6,500 languages spoken world wide, the Nubian culture preceding the Egyptian Pharaohs have left little from their culture of 9000BCE.

Claims and counterclaims of false 'noos', dodgy experts and media mendacity are dominated by an individual with the combined power and wealth to dominate social media in 2017. Healthy scepticism and destructive criticism is a fine line, this individual is not aware of the consequences. Through blind luck, stupidity becomes genius yet wisdom may become folly. Adhering to the old way of knowing and not the new way of learning is problematic.

We may only infer an animal's state of mind from our observations, yet inference rarely informs the complete situation, a human baby thoroughly examines an object to discover how the world works other primates do not engage in like manner. This innate curiosity and linguistic ability allows an immense repository of abstract knowledge about everything around humans. Animal abilities cannot be dismissed, crows recognise people and are used to human behaviour.

Humans and computers - computers ultimately rely on human input to program them, yet, human thought is a complex mess. Humans build powerful telescopes, microscopes and computers yet humans will never overcome the limits of the human mind because our perspective on reality will always be skewed because we are part of reality. Sometimes people we do not imagine can do things no one can imagine.

The human brain has 100 billion neurons connected by a labyrinth of 100 trillion synapses which is an information storage capacity of petabytes - millions of gigabytes. The amount and complexity of human knowledge and the means of acquiring it by means of spoken language, written language, printing and now the internet, in this profusion of information, the barrier to progress does not depend on the quantity of knowledge our brains can hold but in its quality.

The theory describing particles and matter confirm that information is a common language. Is the ontological, a real concept from which space, time and matter emerge or is knowledge epistemic something that represents our state of knowledge about reality. Here humans encounter the fundamental barrier of self reference - how much could we ever know? We cannot know the universe because we ourselves are part of it. Knowledge may be everything, but we are stuck working out whether everything is knowledge.

Finally Who am I? Can we secure a true picture of our self that corresponds with reality? First there is the phenomenal self, corresponding to our sense of existing. This is not always a reliable source of true knowledge about ourselves. The epistemic self which makes us aware of our motivations is a way of discovering who we are. Day dreaming, when the phenomenal self wanders, with the self, into the dream world, however, on becoming aware of the day dreaming, the epistemic self reasserts itself only to recede as the day dreaming starts again. The epistemic self is the objective of mindfulness and meditation. The grand delusion of our self somehow existing apart from our bodies is the ontological/fantasy, the 'I' constitutes our brain and body, so that when the body dies the 'I' dies also. This is not the desired or emotionally attractive result.

Source: New Scientist, April 2017

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