The complexities of knowledge

“Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning,” according to Wikipedia’s definition. Knowledge can also refer to theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Plato believed that knowledge came from believing something to be true, along with it actually being true, and with being justified in believing it to be true. In my opinion, this is a good way of understanding knowledge, because we are (psychologically) required to believe something to be true in order to count it in our head as knowledge; otherwise it’s speculation, or fake news.

However, that requirement of belief is what often limits us, because believing in something is much more stronger and much more permanent than understanding or knowing it.

Most of us are way too subjective in the way in which we understand and know the world. We pick and choose what we want to accept as true and claim ignorance on the rest.

“Knowledge in the West has traditionally meant ‘knowing’ something in the grand order of things. We’ve assumed that when we know something, it’s settled,” said David Weinberger, author of TOO BIG TO KNOW: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room, in an interview to KMWorld.

And the same can be said of when we realize that what we thought we knew was not true at all. It is actually hard for us to accept when our knowledge is disproven. It’s cognitive dissonance. It’s as if our whole lives had been a lie.

But considering the technology that we have access to now, and the changes we have witnessed in the world, it shouldn’t be as shocking when something we believed in is proved to be wrong.

The fact is that knowledge is constantly changing – we claim to know something for thousands of years, without questioning it, and then new technologies and epiphanies show us that we were wrong all along. Ignoring this fact is what keeps our minds closed, to new ideas and new possibilities.

And there are too many things that are too complicated for us to be sure about. Our knowledge of the world will always be limited, because we’re limited creatures, and the more we understand this, the more we’ll be able to open our minds and the more we’ll be willing to accept new ideas and embrace progress.

“We live in a culture of casual certitude. This had always been the case, no matter how often that certainty has failed. Though no generation believes there’s nothing left to learn, every generation unconsciously assumes that what has already been defined and accepted is (probably) pretty close to how reality will be viewed in perpetuity. And then, of course, time passes. Ideas shift. Opinions invert. What once seemed reasonable eventually becomes absurd, replaced by modern perspectives that feel even more refutable and secure – until, of course, they don’t,” writes Chuck Klosterman in his book But What If We’re Wrong?


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