“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
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
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
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)...