Monday, January 14, 2013

On Knowing

Okay, today I want to write a bit about what I know about knowledge. There are different ways to "know" something, but I'm not sure what those are yet. I'm sure this will be even less clear once I start getting into it...

One way to "know" something is to memorize it—have it in your mind. I think this could be the shallowest form of knowing something, because it doesn't necessarily stay and it doesn't have to be very deep or understood to be considered memorized (interesting--understanding isn't the same as knowledge). This is the type of knowledge my professors have referred to as "regurgitated" knowledge—there isn't a change from going in to coming out.

Another level of knowing something is seeing how it connects to other things. Like knowing that hamburger was once a cow, or knowing that heroes are important to people because there's a form of hero in all the cultures you've looked into. There is a change in this one—you add contexts to the information, thus influencing how it will be interpreted (by you or by others) in the future.

Another level of knowing is understanding why, or at least realizing there is more going on behind the scenes. Understanding is knowing that a light switch works because the circuit has electricity running through it and a light bulb is part of the circuit. Understanding can also come in the form of not getting mad at your friend even though he's being a jerk, because you realize there is probably something going on below the surface, even if he won't tell you what it is.

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You have to do the most work to really understand something—it requires a lot of observation and research as well as the most rumination on that information once it's made its way into your mind. And in my experience understanding is the most fluid of the knowledge because it needs to be able to react to new information in order to maintain the level of understanding previously attained. And there is always more to understand, greater and greater context: If you understand how a bird can fly, can you understand how it manages to move its wings that way? If you understand why a computer crashed, can you understand why people still depend so much on them? If you understand what in that movie made you cry, can you understand why it had no effect on other people? If you can understand the spider on the web, can you understand how the house it lives in was built, and why it is now abandoned (and how all of that affects the spider)?


  1. I think knowledge has lots of flavors. For example, the difference between the verbs savoir and connaitre in French (or comparable verbs in other Romance languages). I hope you will continue to explore the topic of epistemology. You never know!

    1. Those sound similar to saber and conocer in Spanish. I think epistemology is fascinating, but it's hard to get your mind around—it's like trying to take a picture of what goes on inside a camera using that same camera to take the picture. Not exactly impossible, but mind-boggling!