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Epistemology
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Knowledge

 
 

Knowledge is experienced through reasoning based on memories stored in the brain, and is often actualised or supplemented by what we perceive in the moment.

Memories may be retrieved at will, as when we know the capital of Norway, or without conscious choice, as when we quickly distinguish a man from a dog or when we steer while bicycling in order not to fall.

A great deal of the memories have been supplied to us, e.g. from parents, teachers or media.

But the question within epistemology concerns how knowledge is created originally:

 

- Is new knowledge created through what ultimately has been perceived?

- Or is it also created from some sort of "given" knowledge, where "the given" ultimately comes from some non-sensory source or a god, i.e. from something that neither we, nor our predecessors, have ever perceived?

It may be argued that a conclusion in the question about what defines a trustworthy argument would not create to much of a headache.

But it is often confused with religious, ideological and mystery searching conceptions (we love mysteries!) and has therefore been discussed excessively through the history of philosophy.

 

Denial of knowledge

 

The war chant "Knowledge does not exist" has provoked philosophers that have been trying to claim "Knowledge exists" but not been able to explain how or why.

During later parts of the 20:th century the chant echoed vigorously within cultural attitudes like relativism and postmodernism, and from there spread to social and humanistic faculties within the universities.

 

This in turn has infected parts of the educational institutions, public discussions and decision making, which, in turn, threatens functions of a healthy society.

 

Various types of knowledge

 

Individual knowledge

With individual knowledge I denote opinions that were ultimately created through individual perception. They may come from parents, teaching in school, religious teaching, and personal experiences. Many of these are deeply rooted.

Because life and growth environment varies these opinions to some extent becomes individual.

But we have usually grown up in apparent safety and belonging to a community, and have also been influenced by similar international media, leading to similar opinions about ethics and rules about how to behave.

So, in spite of that such opinions are individual we display some similarities in our attitudes.

 

Collective rigid knowledge

One type of collective knowledge is formed by opinions that are shared by a group that rejects any modification of the details in the opinions.

Not only religious, but also politic, ideological, and sometimes even academic groups, share such opinions.

The firmness of rigid knowledge is heavily influenced by that internet nowadays only provides us with information that the suppliers estimate us to want.

When I Google my name together with my home town I am displayed at top of the search results.

But when a distant relative was Googling me I was not even displayed at the first result page of his device.

 
 

Collective dynamic knowledge

- Another type of collective knowledge is also formed by opinions that are shared by a group, but in this case the opinions are public and open to criticism and change.

A characteristic property for this type of opinions is that they fairly easy may be verified or falsified by comparison with reality, i.e. with phenomena that we agree about to have been observed in a reliable manner.

This type of opinions are quite obvious, e.g. within scientific and athletic areas.

 

Genetically stored knowledge

All living organisms are born with native abilities, where one of the most obvious is the ability to grow and to develop.

We may also note that organisms during its first contacts with the world are adjusted to it. They hence have what may be called knowledge or appropriate abilities that have been inherited from previous generations. In case they did not have such abilities, they could not have been able to reproduce themselves, as discussed under "Evolution" below.

For example Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) have the ability to, without previous experience, fly to a collective location in order to hibernate [e.g. CBIF].

They hence appear to know some of the properties of the world, without having received advice from previous generations.

 
Monarch butterfly [Harrelson]
 
 

Emotions

One question about brain activities concerns our emotions. How are they created? The question is ultimately concerned with what creates the will to survive. Alternatively it concerns what will motivate a future AI system to perform their duties in the service of humanity.

We express emotions when nerve substances are excreted, and the actual question hence is why they are excreted. Our knowledge about the usability of emotions is not an explanation.

Emotions may arise due to perception. One example is that soldiers from war may develop posttraumatic experiences caused by earlier perceptions.

But many emotions are not learnt, which we may notice when we become heavily in love. Such emotions are at this website called "abilities".

 

Abilities

It seems obvious that inherited systems in our brains exist, but this does not imply that we are born with knowledge about the empiric content of concepts that describe phenomena in the world.

 

A clear example of inherited ability is seen by that humans and dogs love sugar, which historically has been nurturing us, while e.g. cats, that eat only meat, has lost the ability to be enticed by sweets [Beauchamp].

Theobromine in chocolate is actually as dangerous for cats as it is for dogs. Sugar craving dogs willingly eat chocolate and may become poisoned, while cats lack this craving and therefore rarely become so [Cortinovis].

Many now living organisms, including humans, have through evolution refined both physical development and various mental survival tactics, e.g.:

- a desire to survive.
- to raise their offspring.
- to feel solidarity with a family, group, pack or shoal.
- to react on injustice or indignity.
- to reduce or ritualise aggression.

It is not easy to understand that such abilities can be stored in our genes, but it is even harder to understand that the genes store information about how we should develop from gametes to reproducible beings.

And it is, in turn, even harder to understand how some god should be capable of creating all this.

 
 

Evolution

Inherited abilities, physical and mental, is credibly explained by the three factors that build the concept evolution.

- Random mutations (which we may observe occur).

- Inherence of abilities from an individual to its offspring (which we may observe occur).

- Elimination of individuals having abilities that not are enough adapted to the surrounding world (which we may observe occur).

These three factors present a reasonable account for the development of abilities that are adjusted to properties of the world.

The individuals that were not adjusted could simply not survive in such vigour that they could reproduce themselves.

Nativism

Discussions within epistemology, among other things, deals with:

- Is the brain at birth an "unwritten canvas" or "blank slate", Tabula Rasa, when it is confronted with the world's properties?

or

- Does some knowledge about the world's properties exist in the brain already at birth?

 

The question hence considers if our concepts are ultimately learnt from perception, or if innate concepts regarding our world (Forms) exist.

The latter opinion is called nativism and seems to have been reduced, from the improbable opinion that we are born with knowledge of earthly concepts, to that special systems in the brain enable us to learn various types of concepts.

... nativism isn’t confined to postulating innate concepts. Rather, a big part of concept nativism is its appeal to innate special-purpose systems of acquisition, and these systems are often best understood as learning systems. For instance, an innate special-purpose system for food might support the learning of which items in the environment are to be eaten and which are to be avoided,

Laurence & Margolis - Concept Nativism and Neural Plasticity,
in Margolis & Laurence 2015 - The Conceptual Mind, p.121
 

The difference between these two opinions appears similar to the difference between the two statements "by moving my hand I can produce gold" and "we have hands that can be moved".

 

Knowledge?

 

Knowledge is a composite and abstract concept. When we analyse an abstraction into more proximate concepts, obscurities may be formed.

One example of obscurity is the question if certain inherited abilities imply "knowledge".

If the butterflies (above) follow an attracting scent trail, or similar, during their winter migration, we may claim that this is not knowledge about world maps, but that they use inherited "volition", combined with an inherited ability to be attracted by the scent.

And then the question may be raised if not all "knowledge" is created by a combination of "volition" and "ability".

 

Another example was given by McCarthy:

Is the decision process in a thermostat indicating "knowledge" [McCarthy]?

A good regulator (PID) collects information from the environment, processes the information and adjusts the temperature based on the result. It anticipates deviations from the temperature desired, and acts to minimize the deviations.

 
 
References
Beauchamp 2016 - Why do we like sweet taste: A bitter tale?, Physiol Behav. 164 (2016) p.432-437.
CBIF 2014.
Cortinovis 2016 - Household Food Items Toxic to Dogs and Cats, Frontiers Veterinary Sci. 3, article 26.
Harrelson, Kenneth Dwain (2007) - wikipedia.
McCarthy 1979 - Ascribing mental qualities to machines. In Ringle, ed. - Philosophical Perspectives in Artificial Intelligence.
 
 
2024-06-15