Archive for December, 2013

What is Knowledge?

December 6, 2013

Knowledge is a domain that encompasses contradictory traits; “knowing” describes knowledge of true or false statements to be absolutely true. Knowledge can be classified* in one of three classes: knowledge that I know I know. This is the knowledge that I am aware of, and do know very well. Knowledge that I know I don’t know. This is knowledge that I am aware exists, but I’m unfamiliar with it or I do not know it to be unequivocally true. Finally, the knowledge that I don’t know, I don’t know. This is the largest class of knowledge, and it is large simply because I cannot be an expert on every topic, and what I know spans a small percentage of it. So, I am going to claim that no one can have absolute knowledge, instead, we can only have relative knowledge that can be viewed as subjective or objective.

I hypothesize that there should always be knowledge that I don’t know I don’t know, and that is because if I believe that I know of the existence of all knowledge (knowledge I know I know, and knowledge I know I don’t know), then that means that there is nothing that exists beyond my knowledge or awareness. Since this claim doesn’t contradict the fact that there exists at least one thing that I don’t know that I don’t know, both claims can coexist at the same time. This means that the latter claim can possibly be true and cannot be proven untrue unless there is a source of absolute knowledge that can be used as a reference to my knowledge level. Thus, there is always the possibility that something exists that I don’t know I don’t know, and that cannot be proven wrong unless all knowledge is finite. However, if knowledge is finite, that means there exists a point in knowledge learning that I can reach where there is absolutely no chance that I do not know what statements I do not know. And since I’ve already shown above that I cannot verify the existence of things that I do not know I do not know, there is no way to prove the claim that knowledge is finite. Thus, knowledge is infinite because no matter how much I learn, the claim that there exists at least one thing that I do not know I do not know is still valid, albeit and due to it being intrinsically unverifiable.

Another argument to prove that no one can have absolute knowledge is that knowledge can be many versions of the truth. Different believers in different gods would have different knowledge versions of what a god is. If I possess absolute knowledge, then I must “know” all the different versions, which means that I have to possess all possible opinions of any topic, and “know” them to be true individually. This contradicts being opinionated or knowledgeable on a topic when you possess all possible opinions. This last statement can be simply proven by stating that such an opinion (of all opinions) can be a form of one opinion, with which there exists at least an opinion that disagrees with it (all opinions that “know” one version would implicitly disagree with all other versions), which forms one more opinion that is not included in this universal opinion, unless the universal opinion also includes opinions that do not agree with itself! Which shows self-admission of a weakly formed opinion, which doesn’t rise up to the strength of knowing something absolutely.

What is knowledge? Knowledge is “knowing” something absolutely. It could be viewed as subjective as it can be polluted with one’s opinion, although to that person, her opinion is truth. “Knowing” one’s god doesn’t mean that that specific god exists. I can “know” anything I want because it doesn’t have to be absolutely true, although to me specifically (in my opinion), it may be. It is easy to prove that knowledge is not always true, by looking at all religions and how they cannot all be true, especially given the contradiction among different aspects of those religions. Furthermore, if knowledge was always true, then knowledge does not exist today because I won’t know for sure if what scientists discovered today would remain standing (remain true) in future discoveries and I won’t know for sure that my understandings of the nature of things around me would hold. Unless I can prove that, knowledge does not exist until the definition of knowledge is relaxed and it can encompass true and false statements as well. Knowledge has to include both true and false understandings of a phenomena. For example, “knowing” Jesus Christ was resurrected, to be true for one person such as a Christian and to be false by a Muslim. Thus, “knowing” that Jesus Christ was resurrected can be simultaneously true and false in the domain of knowledge.

Also, another argument that knowledge doesn’t exist if it has to mean absolute correctness or trueness (invariant across people), is that my knowing of my god, and yours of your god mean that neither of us possess any knowledge, given that there are two versions of it and both cannot be true at the same time. So, knowledge can be false and subjective, and can have many versions of varying truthfulness.

How is knowledge different than opinion? Belief? Understanding? An opinion is a formulation or a result of a collection of knowledge elements or facts. A person formulates an opinion after acquiring knowledge of a certain subject. An opinion leads to an established or fixed belief that is no longer subjective to deviation. Understanding of something defines a weaker knowledge in the topic. “Knowing” is a most powerful understanding of something.

Knowledge is relative and subjective. In Plato’s cave, one learns a lot about other objects around him by observing. Sometimes what you observe is a minimal representation of the actual object or its original behavior. Maybe I just see shadows of the real object, and the object although fairly represented by its shadow, is significantly different in reality. My knowing of the object may converge or even diverge as more characteristics of the object are revealed. Furthermore, since the learning experience cannot be provenly bounded, there is no way to determine its ceiling, knowledge can only mutate and never be fixed. The moment knowledge is fixed for all topics, the moment we solve all problems in the world, observable and unobservable, and reach absolute knowledge.

Is there such a thing as absolute knowledge? Can it be attained by anyone? Can it be described? What is absolute knowledge? I know what knowledge is (defined above). And I know that knowledge does not always have to be true, correct, or complete. And I know absolute knowledge to be “knowing” all versions of everything. If all knowledge can be quantified and identified, then it must also be assumed attainable, which means that all knowledge has to be finite. I have already proven that knowledge is not finite and can never be proven to be finite due to the need of a proof to address the following contradictory statements:

1. All knowledge can be reduced to knowledge that I know I know, and knowledge that I know I don’t know after some learning.
2. There exists at least one thing that I do not know I do not know.

Thus knowledge is infinite since the first statement above cannot be proven given the second statement being unprovable since we cannot prove that all the things that we are not aware exist, do not actually exist. This implies that knowledge is infinite, and cannot be fully attained, and our knowledge is relative, and can and will encompass absolutely true or false things.

* The three classifications mentioned above are borrowed from a presenter at the No Fluff Just Stuff IT conference in 2009.