Reflection on the Concept of Knowledge

1995 words (8 pages) Essay in Philosophy

29/03/18 Philosophy Reference this

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“That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.

  • Satyajith Botcha

Plato’ once said, “Knowledge is a justified, true belief.” [1]It’s not just systematic organization of facts, but what an individual deems true and invests faith in. When we talk about knowledge being “discarded,” does it mean that it’s nullified and not further used? Or, does it mean that it’s temporarily ignored due to differing opinions? In my opinion, knowledge can be debunked as in, discarded or temporarily put on hold, much like theories. As the statement is further explored, another questions arises as to who “accepts” knowledge or who “discards,” it? I believe, knowledge should always be backed by legitimate evidence.

In my study, I want to explore the multiple perspectives – the various possibilities, ideas, and the holistic view on which our world ought to be explored, in order to understand what knowledge truly is and its significance on our lives. One begins to question the usefulness of knowledge if it would eventually become obsolete anyways? If knowledge can change so easily, do we have the right to question the validity of the current theorems if they would only have a temporary existence?

I believe that eventually it is up to the individual to accept knowledge as it is today. However, if one wants to question it, they have the right to do so because, if no one questioned information newer information would never come into existence and the world would never progress. This does not mean that in our progress toward the future we can forget the past. In the modern world, two widely known areas of knowledge which have numerous practical applications, the natural sciences and history have undergone drastic changes revolutionizing each field. To further my study I will be using three different ways of knowing –reason, sense perception and emotion.

History as we know is a record of our entire past experiences, information and ideas. It shows us the way the world was, or what we thought was in the previous generations. We can clearly see through a panorama of perception, the radical change in knowledge, evident in modern human’s different way of thinking than from that of their ancestors. On the other hand, the natural sciences, we see sweeping changes all over the globe occurring even as we speak. We are given new things to see, to explore and to question due to the rapid development in technology and scientific research. But, how legitimate is this? Is it possible that some of the material we know today is perhaps less sensible than that of the ‘outdated’ discoveries, or information that our ancestors perceived as the right ones? If so, how do we bank on what is right and what is wrong, or how do we predict what could change and what could not?

A theory that has long been discarded is that of spontaneous generation[2]. This stated that human beings originated from inanimate lifeless substances, such as rocks. Our ancestors developed this through viewing the growth of maggots from rotting meat. Although this concept seems ridiculous now, we must understand that this theory was believed by most of the 19th century scientists. In fact, it was considered as a scientific fact. However, the theory of falsification[3] that basically tells us that there is an inherent possibility that a hypothesis or theory can be false is an example of the instability of knowledge. This is where those who believe in wide-range perception come in. This is where perception kicks in as a key element to survival and to understanding knowledge. “Spontaneous generation” was countered by Luis Pasteur in 1859, putting it to test[4]. He had placed two pieces of meat in separate jars, one opened and the other closed. He observed maggots only growing in the one that was opened. Thus, he concluded that the origins of the maggots must be from outside, living organisms in the air. In truth it was flies that had laid their eggs in the meat to nourish their young. In an instant our view of the world and the perspective of the origins of life were debunked. Nevertheless people began to believe just as completely in a whole new theory proposed by Pasteur[5]. On this basis, at this rate, if a major portion of an entire generation would believe in the same fact for years without doubt, then where does the fate of human kind lie?.

I believe that I can find the right information using both intuition and reasoning. For example, when you look at all the historians that worked hard to define knowledge through their works or investigations, you see flaws in the knowledge that we had blindly believed for generations. The internet era’s historic event, The World Trade Centre 9/11 attack, was claimed by conspiracy theorists to have collapsed in 9 seconds inciting probable links to the centre being rigged with explosives prior to the attack[6]. This theory was supported by Rosie O’Donnell who stated that investigation was must. If this wasn’t ever questioned, an entire historic event would simply be falsified in records due to a one person’s wrong research. Many people would’ve believed her account despite never even witnessing the actual footage of the building collapsing, which took almost 20 plus seconds. This defies the entire logic of the building falling at “free-fall” speed, shattering the entirely false conspiracy. Not only can such theory affect the emotional stability of researchers, patriots and common men and women, but can create a sore patch in the minds of the victims’ families that actually underwent trauma through such events. Nevertheless, we now understand that the peculiar collapsing of the building was due to the fact that it had been built with triangles around the sectors of the building because of its enormity. A majority of people, however, did not know the truth and based their views on less knowledge associated with something never completely understood. Only when people started looking into the matter themselves was it instantly debunked. If this same process was repeated throughout history, we could find many loopholes. Ultimately, it lies in the individual, whether one would accept or deny the knowledge granted. Perception is what drives this; people choose what they believe in.

Our reasoning cannot always be right but we are rational beings, capable of making informed decisions with some prior knowledge. Some essential human based facts always will persist and the key to understanding these facts is beyond simply accepting them. To truly understand a concept one must ask questions about that specific subject and their knowledge can either be further strengthened or their entire perception could change. People unnecessarily take information sculpted by someone else’s research without doing any of their own based on the idea that the researcher who took the time to do the investigation must be correct. It must be regarded as false until the point when the one who receives the information actually looks into the matter and validates the knowledge.

In a world where information changes every day, some persist, and some simply vanish creating needless new ideas. One such idea that had been so ingrained in the mind of humanity was the concept of a static universe. This image of the universe had persisted even until the twentieth century. In fact, one of the greatest intellectual minds Albert Einstein even believed in this concept. When he had created his theory of the universe, the general theory of relativity, in 1915 he added a completely irrelevant and seemingly random concept just to accommodate it. He introduced the idea of a cosmological constant, an all pervading force that would prevent the universe contracting from gravity and remain static. Before this, though Edwin Hubble had observed a red shift in the galaxies nearby and an even larger shift in those further. A red shift occurs when light that is emitted by a source, a galaxy for example, that is moving away from the observer becomes elongated. This phenomenon was observed on all sides of us and it increases with distance, meaning that the universe was expanding in all directions. Einstein did not accept this knowledge and had unnecessarily complicated his theory by adding a constant that clearly made no sense. The information that was proven true was not accepted, as a previous knowledge was stuck in his mind restricting his ability to formulate a realistic theory. Later, he understood the validity of the information and incorporated the idea of an expanding universe into his theory. A theory previously thought false was proven true and needlessly discarded.

But, the urge to question, the urge to want to know more will always be a crucial part of the human mind. This is what will lead us to want to change the knowledge we know today and enhance current knowledge. It doesn’t stop there though; perception is the key to becoming a knowledgeable thinker. If one thinks critically about all the minute and grand paradigms of the universe, the inventive scope for more knowledge could be limitless.

Bibliography

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Protagoras/protagoras_plato_knowledge.htm

http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/scientific-method5.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

http://listverse.com/2009/01/19/10-debunked-scientific-beliefs-of-the-past/

http://www.pasteurbrewing.com/the-life-and-work-of-louis-pasteur/experiments/louis-pasteurs-experiment-to-refute-spontaneous-generation/204.html

http://www.debunking911.com/freefall.htm

1


[1] http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Protagoras/protagoras_plato_knowledge.htm

[2] http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/scientific-experiments/scientific-method5.htm

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

[4] http://listverse.com/2009/01/19/10-debunked-scientific-beliefs-of-the-past/

[5] http://www.pasteurbrewing.com/the-life-and-work-of-louis-pasteur/experiments/louis-pasteurs-experiment-to-refute-spontaneous-generation/204.html

[6] http://www.debunking911.com/freefall.htm

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