Nature of Knowledge - Point 4
A theory about the nature of knowledge is the centerpiece of this whole endeavor. It can be argued that currently we do not even have a theory of knowledge. A few centuries ago there was a theory, but it is now oddly outdated. Essentially it held that knowledge was the (brief) grace God granted to participate in God's omniscience. After three hundred years of massive success in science not many people really worries about whether we are getting truth or what it is. Of more interest lately have been the investigations of mind and consciousness. Both of these programs have focused on the problem largely as an internal question of the brain. What's going on in there? Although the preliminary answers have been excitingly spooky, much less attention has been directed on what's going on around and outside the brain. It is to this field of interplay between the brain and its environment that is the focus of knowledge and the focus of the framework presented here to view knowledge.
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Of those who do study knowledge there has been a trend toward naturalism as seeing it as something that cognitive scientists in their success might be able to explain. That is, it is probably something biological done in conjunction with its environment. At least some theorists treat knowledge as a kind of behavior. If a sea gull behaves in a certain way toward a twig and a nest, then it should be said to know twigs and nests. Other theorists have shown knowledge and reason to be embodied extensions.
Oddly though, none of these insights have made any difference or waves. Slowly it seems as if cognitive scientists are exploring relations outside the brain or between robots and their environment, but there has been neither a new general theory nor a connection of these insights to other cultural institutions and social problems.
It is for these reasons that the attempt is made here to state a theory of knowledge as something actual, in a dramatic fashion, in a manner that frames usage in every knowledge act including the I-know-you radical perspective and in connection with the social issues which it touches.
The claim about knowledge then is that it is, down to the smallest association, an alliance or an attempt at an alliance made between an organism and features of its environment. It is the connections between societies.
“How, then, can we make that connection between adaptation and knowledge? We do so through a two-track argument. The first is that the human capacity to gain and impart knowledge is itself an adaptation, or a set of adaptations. To the scientifically literate this may not seem to be a startling claim. But it does have specific and interesting implications. We simply will not understand human rationality and intelligence, or human communication and culture, until we understand how these seemingly unnatural attributes are deeply rooted in human biology. They are, I will argue, the special adaptations that make us special. What is unarguable is that they are the products of human evolution, whether adaptations or not. There really are no substantive alternative ways of understanding our extraordinary capacity for knowledge....”
“The second track of the argument is the one that many find strange and difficult, and one which has already been partially given in the Preface. It is that adaptations are themselves knowledge, themselves forms of ‘incorporation’ of the world into the structure and organization of living things. Because this seems to misappropriate a word, ‘knowledge’, with a widely accepted meaning - knowledge usually just being something that only humans have somewhere in their heads - it makes the argument easier if the statement reads ‘adaptations are biological knowledge, and knowledge as we commonly understand the word is a special case of biological knowledge’.”
Plotkin, Henry. Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge. Harvard University Press. 1994. pps. xiv-xv.
"Why then is it so easily assumed that sociological reflexivity undermines the truth of whatever socially produced knowledge it focuses upon?"
"The widespread assumption is that truth is determined by reality; a statement is true because it meets the criteria of truth, not because of any other reason. If truth is socially determined, then it cannot be determined by truth itself. This is like saying that one sees things accurately only if one sees without eyeballs, as if knowing must take place without any human apparatus for knowing."
"If a brain flickers and brightens with statements which are true, this happens only because that brain is pulsing in connection with the past and anticipated future of a social network. Truth arises in social networks; it could not possibly arise anywhere else." The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change," Randall Collins, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 877.
"... sociology of knowledge is closely linked to the philosophical tradition of pragmatism identified with such figures as the philosophers James, Peirce, Dewey, and Mead. What these thinkers share with sociology of knowledge is a view of mental life as a facet of human action. The human mind is conceived as an activity; mental attitudes and knowledge are always linked with action. Forms of knowledge are not inherent in the human mind but represent one of the many ways of being and thinking, one of the ways human beings carve out a reality. Knowing is interested activity. No knowledge of reality is possible or even conceivable that is determined by things in themselves. Pragmatists borrowed from the idealists the metaphor of knowing as 'carving': out of a world brimming with indeterminacy, human actors carve determinate objects, thus enabling action to proceed." McCarthy, E. Doyle. Knowledge as Culture: The New Sociology of Knowledge. Routledge. 1996. p. 2.
“In another series of experiments focused on the motor side of consciousness, Libet showed that the conscious intention to act appears only after a delay of about 350 msec from the onset of specific cerebral activity that precedes a voluntary act.” Edelman, Gerald and Tononi, Giulio. A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter becomes Imagination. Basic Books. 2000. p. 69.
"This shows the whole epistemological construal of knowledge to be mistaken. It doesn’t just consist of inner pictures of outer reality, but grounds in something quite other. And in this ‘foundation,’ the crucial move of the epistemological construal–distinguishing states of the subject (our ‘ideas’) from features of the external world–can’t be effected. We can draw a neat line between my picture of an object and that object, but not between my dealing with the object and that object. It may make sense to ask us to focus on what we believe about something, say a football, even in the absence of that thing; but when it comes to playing football, the corresponding suggestion would be absurd. The actions involved in the game can’t be done without the object; they include the object. Take it away and we have something quite different–people miming a game on the stage, perhaps.” Taylor, Charles. Philosophical Arguments. Harvard University Press. 1995. p. 12.
"'We [scientists] believe that the world is knowable, that there are simple rules governing the behavior of matter and the evolution of the universe. We affirm that there are eternal, objective, extrahistorical, socially neutral, external and universal truths, and that the assemblage of these truths is what we call physical science. Natural laws can be discovered that are universal, invariable, inviolate, genderless and verifiable .... This statement I cannot prove. This statement I cannot justify. This is my faith' [Glashow] ...
"The paradox in Glashow's position is this: he clearly does not think anything goes in the realm of intellectual commitments. Yet he is locked into a view that does not give him the intellectual space within which he can defend that view....
"The view of evidence I am alluding to is very different from Glashow's (and from any theory that places similar demands on 'knowledge') in at least three ways. First, it construes evidence as communal; second, it accepts coherence (and with it explanatory power) as a measure of reasonableness; and third, it holds that communities, not individuals, are the primary loci of knowledge." Nelson, Lynn. Feminist Epistemologies, Linda Alcoff & Elizabeth Potter, Routledge, 1993, p. 130-1.
"...knowledge is best conceived and studied as culture, and the various types of social knowledges communicate and signal social meanings--such as meanings about power and pleasure, beauty and death, goodness and danger." McCarthy, E. Doyle. Knowledge as Culture: The New Sociology of Knowledge. Routledge. 1996. p. 1.
"A further problem presented by the affections of soul is this: are they all affections of the complex of body and soul, or is there any one among them peculiar to the soul by itself? To determine this is indispensable but difficult. If we consider the majority of them, there seems to be no case in which the soul can act or be acted upon without involving the body, e.g., anger, courage, appetite, and sensation generally. Thinking seems the most probable exception; but if this too proves to be a form of imagination or to be impossible without imagination, it too requires a body as a condition of its existence." Aristotle. Psychology, c. 350 B.C., translated by J.A. Smith, from Book I, The Pocket Aristotle, Washington Square Press. 1958. p. 52.
"But what, at the end of this story, is knowledge? Any search for a univocal answer must yield, now, to a Wittgensteinian appeal to a 'family of meanings,' of which propositional information is one--perhaps junior--member. Knowing becomes a way of engaging with the world, where 'world' is conceived as much circumstantially and socially as physically, materially. It is about how people find their way about, understand, and intervene in events; how they make commitments and engage in cooperative projects; how they confer epistemic authority and expertise. Its effectiveness is pragmatic (where pragmatic does not reduce to instrumentality) in the living situations and personal relations it fosters and prevents. Yet that effectiveness has also to be assessed in collaborative, critical stories that expose the impact of apparent 'successes' on the lives that are directly and indirectly affected. Being knowledgeable requires an ecological sensitivity to the interconnections of which the world is made, and hence to the accountability issues that are implicated in practices and the knowledge that informs them. Code, Lorraine. Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on Gendered Locations. Routledge. 1995. p. 184.
Knowledge is understood here naturalistically as a behavior or a probable behavior with another (an adaptation to another or a regular alliance with another) as an action with another that is only partially initiated and left as potential. Meaning is the complete set of such relationships even where the relationship is subconscious, only microscopic such as respiration or delusional by any standard. Knowledge thus constellates a portion of meaning awarely available for us to rearrange. Knowing anchors the important growing tips of societies in their alliances. Knowing is a constant creation and rearranging of relationships with other societies that is characterized by relevance to knower, cooperative potentials of known and strength of connection.
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Page updated 3/5/03