Epistemology

This is an introduction to the subtopics within this heading. By way of introduction, let’s explore the concept of knowledge, just enough to get a feeling for what may be important to understand. The remainder may be relegated to academics, freeing our minds for more pressing matters.

Why be concerned about knowledge? The purpose of this site is for developing and accumulating knowledge about a few things that interest the author. That’s a simple statement disguising several concepts calling out for further exploration. What is knowledge? What is substance of knowledge and how do we know? What are forms of knowledge? What are qualities of knowledge? How is knowledge developed? What is the relation between concepts of knowledge, cognition, understanding?

The conceit of this discussion will be simply that knowledge is a thought construction providing utility. A uniquely human facility, thought is the conscious function of mind and mind is the function of an active human brain. While we require knowledge to be based in conscious thought, such knowledge is also continuously being informed by unconscious workings of mind, specifically the framing of all conscious thought through application of relevant context, meanings, memories, feelings, and our genetically determined psychological/biological reflexes.

Knowledge is universally conceived as a thought process. Via the typical and more exclusive academic concept of knowledge, philosophers further require certain characteristics of thought, such as justification, belief, or truth. For the purpose here, our more inclusive understanding will suffice and save us piles of verbiage indulging in tedious semantics. Our single characteristic of knowledge is utility. Those others are optional.

Knowledge can be ascribed value. Knowledge may be of value specifically to the originator (personal knowledge), or may be communicated to others (general knowledge). Knowledge value increases with its utility. Increase in utility may be due to higher importance (indispensability of benefit) and wider dissemination (large number of beneficiaries).

Our uniquely human awareness of existence and potential future action is fed by knowledge. Enhancing our awareness must be a primary utility of knowledge,  helping us to navigate, modify, and utilize our reality. Enhanced awareness, conscious or unconscious, is always an attribute of our knowledge.

The practicum of knowledge, how it is taught, stored, retrieved, validated, would seem to be subjects related to utility of knowledge. The distinction is in the point of reference. These activities are external to mind and their utility is other-directed. Thus they do not fall within our discussion. We will be abstract, leaving the technological practicum of knowledge engineering, abstract learning strategies, and the like to the academics.

Utility here is not an absolute metric, but relative to the mind that creates knowledge. Some knowledge may be more useful. Knowledge is more useful to the degree it advances the mind’s purpose. For instance, if clarity is the mind’s purpose, useful knowledge will be a more correct and understandable representation of its subject, what one might call factual knowledge. (Of course, knowledge may also permit the mind to deceive and manipulate.)

Our concept of knowledge utility does not exclusively seek clarity, but more generally, purposeful understandings and their effects on behalf of the originating mind. Selection will determine which knowledge will become exported widely to other minds and which will be, to a greater extent, of individual utility. Clarity is likely one such selection criteria, and one that predominates in the mind of the author. (Conversely, obfuscation can be a selection criteria in political spheres, where awareness is being trumped by truthiness.)

In a subheading here regarding philosophy, an attempt is made to distinguish two forms of our general knowledge, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic knowledge, by nature factual, is our imperfect sensory knowledge of what is, of substance in all its states. Intrinsic knowledge is of our imagination, as informed by extrinsic knowledge. Knowledge from our imagination includes mathematics, religion, belief, art, aesthetics, ethics, philosophy, assertion of self.

The majority of subjects discussed elsewhere on this site represent a cross section of available recorded factual knowledge. Such extrinsic knowledge is based on humanity’s collective, informed, sensory illusion of the natural world, integrated and smoothed to provide best utility to the author. Chosen aspects of the author’s intrinsic knowledge are further discussed in subtopics within this heading. Also see headings for mathematics and music.

Aside regarding boundaries to understanding our existence: Currently, our reality seems bounded by our forward and backward light cones, those potential infinities that so challenge our minds. Our understanding seems further limited by the degree to which human intuition is inadequate to grasp the physics of the very small, the very large, and the very fast. How this will shake out remains potential knowledge for a future generation to appreciate. Meanwhile, let’s intuitively accept the here and present existence of substance as a given, call it divine providence if you wish. There is no current typical necessity to know more, and hence no utility. If you kick a rock, you may hurt your foot. Only a rock scientist would need to know more.

Aside regarding independence of existence from our awareness of it: We can accept our naive attitude toward existence because existence does not require our awareness. Perhaps we can agree that almost all of substance exists independently of our awareness of it. Yes, the tree did fall, even if it escaped our awareness. Because we are self-aware, our own existence is linked with our awareness, a special case.

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