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Epistemology

The Need for Ignorance

*Preface:
1. You must read this post before you read the one you are currently reading.
 
2. Everything stated below is a topic of conversation, and is under continual development and change. Please, comment below, because it is very hard to address the fundamental flaws in your own work.
 

Knowledge is the basis of progression, of our culture, and of our existence. We are dependent on knowledge for everything. My question is: why do we allow such clear inaccuracies in knowledge to exist, if it is so prevalent in human’s lives?

This question is broad, especially considering the fact that knowledge and human’s existence go hand in hand. Regardless of your belief about the inception of the human race, knowledge has been around for a very, very long time. If it has been around so long, how have we been unable to conquer it? To solidify it? To find lasting confirmation in it?

A good place to start is the pragmatical aspect of knowledge. After all, each time we enter a new era of knowledge, we are destroying everything we have built previous to that.

This subject was discussed in class in great depth – the way we shift our knowledge between paradigms. By the end of the discussion, I had formulated a simple image of how paradigms reconstruct themselves between paradigms.

The theory is that all of knowledge is a building. This building has many layers, many levels of knowledge, which we have accumulated within a paradigm. Each time we find new information we add it to the top of the building, building higher and higher. If we find that one piece of information or knowledge was inaccurate, we remove it. Now, if this piece of the building happened to be near the top, it causes little destruction, as only the top must be reconstructed. What happens if the base is removed? The entire building comes crashing down. But wait. Each of these pieces are still extremely useful, as an independent piece. The only problem we faced was the lack of as strong base.

For this reason, we must create a new base. This new base is stronger, and the rest of the pieces of the old building are reorganized, in a new, different way, on top of the new base. In this way, I believe that each time we resolve to create a new base, we are entering a new paradigm. We are not simply discarding all previous knowledge, but building it on an entirely different foundation, one that is (sometimes) stronger.

The first question one must ask is: is it worth it? Is it good to create one very, very tall structure in which all of humanity’s knowledge remains in, or is it better to periodically knock it down and build a newer one?

In my opinion, I believe that we must build as tall and long lasting towers as we can, for as long as we can. Though there is opposition to this mindset, my motives are simple; progress. It is impossible to make tangible progress in our society, in our world, without an existing building. No matter how wrong we are, no matter how poor of a foundation this building has, it is better than a building stranded in a perpetual cycle of construction. There is no way that we as a human race can progress while existing between buildings. Obviously, the human race will progress exponentially faster if we continually create these new buildings, but what hurry are we in? If we are to be searching for a non-existent truth, why rush?

I was approached with a historical example in response to this – don’t we live in a better society today, than we did in the 14th and 15th century? I would respond to this as such:

Established that it is beneficial to the human race (on a short-term basis, of course) to remain in a single building, it is perfectly viable to have accuracy within that building that lasts. That is the goal – for a single building to last as long as it possibly can. While there may be a “better life for all” existing in the future, we must first search the present paradigm to see if this is possible. We must push each building, each paradigm we exist in to its maximum capacity before we start the next one.

While we do not have complete equality, justice, or happiness among all people, I believe that we have potential. Potential for a strong building, one that lasts, one that supports the world in the way that the world so desires.

The purpose of this miniature spiel was reveal why we tolerate inaccuracies in knowledge. In a general sense, I believe that it is because we, as a society, have faith in the paradigm we are in. We see potential for our paradigm, our building. In fact, the large majority of the people within our existing paradigm have found satisfaction in this paradigm of knowledge.

If we were to take everything written above and use it as a model, there would still be a fundamental problem in the nature of this conclusion – how do you remain within a single paradigm, without falling to ignorance?

As a result, this would mean questioning everything but the base of the paradigm we remain in. And one would question, wouldn’t this be in complete opposition to everything that Kuhn ever stated?

One way to combat this ignorance would be to decrease the following period between society and philosophical trailblazers. This would mean allowing a longer time for philosophers to develop the basis for a new paradigm before shifting. In this way, you would not only allow for more progress within the current paradigm, but you would allow for a stronger base to be built in the future paradigm.

One idea, one purpose is behind all of this. My (unconfirmed) belief is that human race as a whole is progressing at a fast enough rate that paradigmal shifts are not necessary in order to bring massive change in the world. If so, then it would only be logical to remain within a paradigm that offers stability, and the most short-term progress.

Let us all be ignorant. In the name of progress.

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “The Need for Ignorance

  1. > We must push each building, each paradigm we exist in to its maximum capacity before we start the next one.

    But it is is always a matter of trade-offs. If the first floor were built to ‘the maximum capacity’ it would be just one big block of titanium or steel or some such thing. But it wouldn’t be very useful, and it would be too expensive. In practice, we use cheaper materials, like concrete with rebar, and in practice, we hollow it out, so we have some living space along with support for the next floor.

    The development of knowledge is like that too. We can’t wait until each paradigm is pushed to its maximum, because it’s not practical. Once the paradigm is no longer useful, or once the paradigm costs too much to maintain, it’s time to move on. A person could for example spend the rest of his life perfecting the mathematical ideas advanced by Pythagoras and Euclid, but after a certain point this becomes inefficient and expensive.

    A better maxim is: move on when it’s practical to move on.

    Posted by Stephen Downes | November 12, 2012, 12:45 pm
    • That makes total sense.

      I was actually approached with that idea a few hours after I made this blog, as others had seen the same ‘problem’ with my ideas. And I agree with you – pushing a paradigm to its maximum is not the way to go, and yes, it would be better to move on when it is practical.

      What I struggled with when writing was: what is practical? How do you define ‘practical’? In previous times, yes, I do believe we shifted paradigms once it became practical. Or maybe held on a tad too long. Then came Kuhn.

      I believe it can be compared with consumerism today. Lets say you have an iPhone, 4S. Now, it may be perfectly fit to last 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, maybe even 5 years, if taken care of. But we do not hang on to an outdate phone, do we? Rather, because it is advertised that there are newer, better, faster iPhones, we spend an excessive amount of money replacing our phones on a yearly basis (not all, but many of us).

      Kuhn is that advertiser. That marketer, who says “look, look, there are better paradigms out there. Go after newer paradigms, do all you can, don’t rely on your old one”. In modern times, we are pushed to shift paradigms as often as possible.

      Our view of a “practical” time for a paradigm shift is skewed, in my opinion. And if we overshoot, if we hang on to the paradigm we have for as long as we can, we’re bound to land somewhere in the middle.

      Would that make sense?

      Posted by JonathanToews | November 13, 2012, 5:53 am
      • I think you are misinterpreting or misjudging Kuhn. Kuhn does not try to push you to adopt an always new paradigm, he just tries to explain how we shift from one paradigm to a new one. If I use your iPhone analogy I would say he’s the one telling you that the reason you change iPhones his because of consumerism and marketing.
        The other thing I wanted to point out was that Kuhn paradigm shift theory was not that much focused on individual paradigm shifts than on community and society shifts. What he was trying to understand and define is how the scientific community as a whole (and the entire society after them) shifts from one paradigm (let say Newtonian physics) to a new one (Einstein relativity). And as your analogy suggests there are not only scientific or objective components to these shifts and what new paradigm is chosen. Scientists are humans, not robots, so they are also influenced by “marketing”, “publicity”, and “influence” in their adoption of a new and better paradigm.

        Posted by Celso Gonzalez | November 14, 2012, 6:10 pm
        • These are really helpful distinctions, Celso, especially as relates to the cause(s) of paradigm shifts not being necessarily rational (I always think of the quote about the fact “that the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone.”), or personal phenomena. While aspects of the paradigm can be helpful in thinking about our own learning and development (especially, I think, around the new vocabulary new paradigms bring with them. The English teacher in me is fascinated by the way that language can pave the way for new ideas (or hold us back).

          Looking ahead at our Aesthetics unit, I think our appreciation of emotion, beauty and art might contribute interesting threads to this conversation about paradigms, personal or otherwise.

          Posted by bryanjack | November 14, 2012, 6:41 pm
    • I think there are constraints in the current paradigm (the one you are trying to leave behind) as well as on the new paradigm (the one you want to adopt). I think to change paradigms you need to have a “better” paradigm to move on. Now we could discuss during hours about what is a “better” paradigm, but I think at a minimum it should satisfy the following criteria: it must exist, it must work as well as the current one, it must solve some of the flaws of the current one.
      This could explain why we moved from the Newton to Einstein relativity, but it would also explains why we still did not move from quantum physics and general relativity, even if these two paradigms seem to be incompatible.

      Posted by Celso Gonzalez | November 14, 2012, 6:23 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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