Quora answer: What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is a very interesting characteristic because it is the one thing that is actually persistent in experience. However, it is also ephemeral because when you are not thinking of what you know, where does the knowledge reside, seemingly nowhere, at least phenomenologically. Knowledge is often compared with light, and light has many strange properties as well, for instance the fact that it is the upper limit of speed. The fact that light itself does not move, and from its point of view it is traveling instantaneously from point to point in the universe from its own perspective. While from our perspective it takes time . . . so everything in the universe is warped away from the speed of light. So there are things in the universe that are just as strange as Knowledge, and that is perhaps why light and knowledge are often connected, for instance in the “Enlightenment” period in our history.

Further, it is interesting that the persistence of Knowledge is what is claimed for Being, but that claim does not stand and essentially Being is illusion of continuity that in fact does not exist. Being is unique to the Indo-european worldview, and Buddhism is a heresy in that worldview that tries to escape from Being back to existence. And also back to a kind of knowledge of the emptiness of existence called prajna.

So this is the kind of thing we want to focus on which is not normally considered in epistemology, which takes Knowledge for granted, and also takes the fact that Being has perdurance. So in effect metaphysics itself is distorted with both ontology and epistemology in it. Epistemology has the characteristics that are imputed to Ontology. Ontology is about “What is?” and Epistemology is about “How we know what is?” So epistemology serves ontology within philosophy. But it should actually be the other way around. Knowledge is where the persistence is, and Ontology is merely about the mechanism of producing illusory continuities, i.e. Ideas based on the supposed substance of Being.

So if we want to know what Knowledge is then we need to focus on its strange property of persistence in our experience. Try to forget something you know. It is almost impossible. The other interesting thing is the link between knowledge and sexuality in our tradition. To have sex is to come to “know” the other person. So in some sense knowledge originally had to do with our embodiment. Note that we go into trance states with respect to everything related to our finitude, and so there is a trance state related to sexuality, and thus there must be a trance state related to knowledge. And we see that when we ask someone about something they have to remember and they look out into space off to the right or left. So if we have trances related to knowledge then we know that we are embodying our knowledge and it relates to our finitude.

All this is to say that what is knowledge is really a open question. In other words I do not have an answer to it, and I don’t think our tradition does because epistemology has always served ontology in our tradition, and it has allowed Being to claim the kind of persistence that only knowledge has. And we have not really considered knowledge of existence which is prajna as a possibility previously.

But something that is interesting I think is that Knowledge is acquired through learning. And recently I noticed that although as Bateson says learning is striated, i.e. has meta-levels, teaching seems to be unstriated. Just like existence is unstrated even though Being is striated. However, negation is striated. And so we can talk about meta-levels of non-existence. So to it seems to me that knowledge is unstriated. What does it mean to have knowledge of knowledge, that is really just more knowledge instead of being an emergent level of knowledge. So if both existence and knowledge are unstriated then there is some kind of homeomorphism in prajna between knowledge and existence.

To ask what something is, is to ask about its essence. The essence is the constrains on its attributes. In phenomenology Husserl taught us to vary the characteristics to find the limits of the essence. So we should ask what are the characteristics of knowledge and how are they bound together with an internal coherence.

So one characteristic I have been focusing on is its uncanny persistence in relation to everything else in experience. But there are other characteristics. For instance knowledge is normally communicated through teaching, or through books that contain distilled and verified experience of others. To grasp knowledge we have to stretch our capacity for understanding. In that process we need to be actively engaged in exploring and thinking as well as doing things that exemplify the knowledge. Knowledge is mean to be stable and a basis for action. But if it does not have a solid foundation that everyone agrees on then there are multiple theories and disputes over their experimental grounding. The study of knowledge acquisition is philosophy of science. I prefer the views of Feyerabend here, but Lakatos is also interesting. However, Popper has become the standard here. There is still quite a bit of dispute over exactly how science works. But there is no doubt that knowledge is the goal of the pursuit of science. And we have been very successful at gleeing knowledge of nature so far. But we have not been so successful in gaining self knowledge or knowledge about the structure of our Indo-European Western worldview which is ravaging the planet.

For me the most interesting part of the question about what is knowledge is its relation to speculation. All of my philosophical work is speculative. It is very interesting that you can sometimes get places through speculation that you cannot get to by normal reasoning based on experience. Speculation uses Pure Reason in a positive way, as Peirce’s abduction. In speculation you produce hypotheses, and then you reason from that to other hypotheses, going further and further out on a limb. Lots of times the limb just breaks off, but occasionally you end up somewhere that is really interesting and that can be tied back to experience in unexpected ways. I guess this is saying that somehow in some instances knowledge can be derived from itself though a combination of reasoning and imagination. This is precisely the point that Heidegger makes when he tries to make Kant into his precursor. In the first edition of Critique of Pure reason Imagination was is own separate faculty, but in the second edition he subsumes Imagination under another faculty. So Heidegger uses this change as a way to insert his own perspective into Kant’s archetechtonic.

The other point of interest for me is how emergence effects knowledge. Emergence has different scopes: given, fact, theory, paradigm, episteme, ontos, existence, absolute. But as G.H. Mead says that once an emergent event happens at a particular scope it changes history, future possibilities, present affordances, and I add that it changes the mythos. How knowledge that is incredibly stable can be changed so fundamentally as in the move from Newton to Einstein is the big mystery that has to be taken into account in our explanation of the nature of knowledge. It is not just dynamic, it can experience discontinuous changes of different scopes. This is one of the main areas where I have focused my own research. But there are many horizons that need to be explored if we are eventually going to understand what knowledge is.




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Posted February 24, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

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