(with an offhand salute to epistemology)
Many months ago I got in a tiny snit about the polysyllabic word epistemology. As both Michael Tobis and my father (PW) are especially interested in the study of knowledge, I had to calm down, open my mind, and do some reading and thinking. I got to playing around with the words and reflecting about what is not knowledge. Accepting the state of not knowing is a possible safe stance for someone who is honest and doesn’t know but is unwilling to settle for falsehood; the armor of purity, as it were.
While tiptoeing into this rarefied realm, I was introduced to a fascinating polymath, Raymond Smullyan, who provides some puzzles and tests along the lines of the unanswerable Zen koan, a question that requires a shift into reality to be understood. I recommend Lao Tzu‘s Tao as a guide to improve the way we treat each other and our earthly home. Smullyan sees the Taoist as “one who is not so much in search of something he hasn’t, but who is enjoying what he has.”
As deeply valuable as this bit of Zen is, it could be perceived as wandering from my point. It may also bother those who find religion an arena sheltering pushers of appearance over substance.
The bedrock starting point in teaching drawing is to get the student to stop pretending, to stop being afraid, and to venture out of hiding while assuming their naked honesty and best efforts were vastly better that a fancy suit of fakery. (For a beginner at drawing, it is not saying too much to claim this is the point of breakthrough.) It sounds easy but it’s not. We are conditioned to hide behind appearances. A more advanced artist may find themselves retreating into the familiar, a phenomenon I call “quoting myself.” This kind of hiding is even more difficult to identify and shed, being layered with maturity. True wisdom is something that sometimes appears without defences.
In arguments about our planet, it is problematic for the layperson to distinguish true expertise from false. Often, I’ve been asked by arguers to do my own science. I prefer to leave expertise to those who have done the work and demonstrated their understanding; this specious argument is designed to make fake claims prevail over true ones.
I suspect we are more distracted than ever in our current media universe, and ready to seize handy and convenient answers rather than working a problem through. I don’t know how this kind of openness could become widely understood, but I can’t help thinking that admitting one does not know is the first step to knowledge (to be honest some of my snark about epistemology exposes me as well).
coda: I am not going to tackle epistemology, which I was intrigued to see got the juices of some of the best thinkers I know going, and would also no doubt expose my ignorance, but provide a reference here. I know you guys love this stuff, but when I read, “The problem of induction and the theory of confirmation,” I can’t help thinking these nicely constructed academic expositions are too complicated; it could be that it just invokes a sense of inferiority in me because I have to work to understand it. However, couldn’t we have it straight up? If much of what we think we know is a cloud of beliefs and hunches, some of which are verifiable and some not, it is my opinion that trying to quantify these things can be overworked, and doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
It [Epistemology] raises the questions what is knowledge, and how and to what extent do we have it. … not only knowledge and its analysis, but also related notions which are sometimes appealed to in giving an account of it: belief, justification, evidence and warrant. … also concerned with challenges to what, or whether, we can know: the problems of scepticism. … Typically we take ourselves to come to know things through reasoning (deductive and inductive), the use of the senses, introspection, and we come to retain knowledge through memory and pass it on through testimony, telling things to others.
Methodology is the study of scientific method, and it can act as an introduction to philosophy of science. Epistemology and methodology are interdependent disciplines: one can see methodology as applied epistemology, looking at how our most general epistemological notions come to be applied to the special case of scientific investigation and knowledge; but contributions go in the other direction as well: various elements of traditional epistemology, conceptions of evidence and knowledge, have been informed by study of scientific methods. One key concern is with the problem of induction and the theory of confirmation. The paper is also concerned with the nature of scientific explanation, and the status of theories: are we committed to the existence of those entities posited by our theories; how are we to choose between competing theories equally supported by the data; can theories be incommensurable?
more: If you are still reading, I have one serious and one trivial addendum. First, I just read “What’s On Topic for Planet3.0 (worth a look) and observe that I am (with permission) straying here. But I’d like to invite and encourage argument, as my intent is partly to provoke.
Second, yesterday I came across one of my all-too-impassioned comments at the New York Times, which touches on my subject of not knowing. If anyone is interested, here. This blatant self-promotion provoked a frenzy of angry replies that got no traction, but provided the perfect foil for a further reply. While the midpart could have used more critical thinking, I think the point is still valid.