29 June 2012

The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge

Okay, it's a pretentious title, but you're just to going to have to deal with it.

This post is at least partly to defend my (annoying?1) tendency to never state anything in definitive terms. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that I find absolute, unilateral, or dictatorial statements inherently distasteful. I was going to say inhuman, but that's perhaps a bit strong. The reason that the overdeveloped thesaural region in my brain returned that word is that a defining characteristic of humans is our ability to work together, to establish a consensus, to collectively achieve more than the sum of our parts.

A unilateral statement - the product of a single human - is inherently exclusive and therefore destructive to the power of the collective2.

The second is that the very nature of knowledge is fleeting, dynamic, you might even say ephemeral. In fact, someone already did. I remember very clearing taking Physics at school and being told in later years to forget what I had previously been taught. Not because what I had been taught was incorrect, but because it was too high-level, too abstract.

The same is true of all areas of expertise, physics perhaps more than most. There are levels of understanding that are perfectly sufficient for most, but which gloss over the finer, more detailed points that are vital for the development of that subject.

Another factor is that the depths of human knowledge are constantly being explored, only to find that it's actually a lot deeper than previously thought. Unless you're keeping abreast of all recent discoveries throughout the entire sphere of human knowledge, you're going to be at least slightly inaccurate every time you open your mouth.

It is therefore extremely difficult to make any definitive statement about anything, other than that which you know inside and out, without it being based on a incomplete understanding of that subject, and therefore not entirely accurate. Now, most people don't worry about this, and most of the time it really doesn't affect much at all.

To the extreme pedants among us, and to those who value community consensus over dictatorial pronouncements, it's an important distinction, and one that should be accepted.

1 I assume it must be at least slightly annoying, but that's just a guess.
2 I cannot use that word without the Borg or Communism coming to mind.

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