Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles May 2019

Thursday, September 19, 2013

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (May 2014): Question 3

 “Knowledge is nothing more than the systematic organisation of facts.” Discuss this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

Think of someone new to mechanics.  How is she going to know how an engine works?  Reading about it in theory is one half of the job.  If, however, she takes an existing engine apart and learns about the different roles played by each physical component, in time, she’ll know enough about them and their interrelationships to put them back together in working order.  The engine is itself is nothing more than the sum of its parts.  Is this true of knowledge?  If you want to be an economist, is it enough for you to pick apart all the various facts about how an economy works (‘the engine’ of an economy’) to be able to claim that now you have economic knowledge?  What ‘more’ do you need?

Let’s continue the thought experiment.  Presumably, if our mechanic ever came across an alien engine, given sufficient time, she’d be able to learn about the individual alien components and reverse engineer the engine using components with which we’re more familiar.  This alien engine too would also be nothing more than the sum of its parts.  (Can we reverse engineer an entire economy?)

Now extend this analogy to living things.  Say human minds.  Can we reduce a mind to the component parts or physical functions and chemical reactions of the brain?  Surely a mind is MORE THAN the sum of its parts (we have discussed this idea in a series of posts under the tab ‘Consciousness’ - read posts from bottom up!).  If knowledge is also somehow MORE THAN the ‘systematic organisation of facts’, what exactly does this mean?

Implicit in this Q is the idea of ‘reductionism’ or ‘materialism’, which is a view of knowledge held by most scientists: all material things can be reduced to their smallest physical particles.  Combined with this view is the idea of ‘mechanism’: to think of living things as organic machines.  Scientists who believe in reductionism tend to be ‘monists’ (only matter is real – no place for immaterial entities); whereas those who take the ‘essentialist’ position are dualists (mind is something separate from its physical and chemical brain functions).  It gets a little more complicated than this especially when you take account of recent developments in technology and AI.

Coming back to the question of mind or consciousness: if mind IS only a system of organised facts (just like a human or alien engine, the mind is a ‘brain engine’), then presumably we can reverse engineer it like any other engine (click the picture above to view the TED Talk on this issue)...

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