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Up From Pluck the Crow Point
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"If you instead defect to another view of reality, both these so-called ‘hard problems’ vanish as artefacts of a peculiar metaphysics..." That's a bold claim, and one that places some onus on you to back it up by supplying a credible candidate alternative "view of reality". Meanwhile, I suspect that if Chalmers or Dennett were to look in here, they'd have some pretty robust answers to your comments on them. That said, I like the look of Whitehead's approach. However, I wonder if he'd have been so quick to say that "scientific materialism" had had its day if he'd lived to see the breakthroughs of molecular genetics and what he might then have made of contemporary cognitive science.
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I agree with you that what I called "public knowledge" isn't really knowledge at all. Still, we do have the problem that, in the vernacular, that is what many people mean when they speak of "knowledge". I like your distinction between theory and mythos as it seems to separate cases where individual are shown ways of developing their own personal knowledge through applying what they have in new contexts (theory) and cases where they are channelled into standardised habits of speaking and, ultimately, thinking that need not necessarily bear any relation to their own personal knowledge at all. I'm very aware that the way I'm talking about this here is not too clear. I'll work a post about it on my own blog. It's about time I put something new up there anyway.
Toggle Commented Feb 27, 2015 on Knowledge as a Practice at Only a Game
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Hi Chris. Thanks for this thought-provoking series. Do you have any thoughts on the distinction between private knowledge - by which I mean the exercising of practical skills (e.g. Cockroft and Walton's skill in getting their apparatus to produce certain types of scintillation - which is what could actually be seen) - and the public knowledge (if that's what it is) of scientific theory, which attributes the seeing or not seeing of scintillations under different conditions to evidence of "lithium nuclei splitting" or "conversion of mass to energy"? The first is very personal, for even if they receive instruction, each individual has to develop their own practice which is not quite like anyone else's. The second case, however, is a matter of people thinking the same (standardised) way which once taken up will be the impetus for each individual to try certain things in their particular personal circumstances that they might not have tried otherwise. p
Toggle Commented Feb 26, 2015 on Knowledge as a Practice at Only a Game
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I believe I understand well enough why you want to exclude trivial knowledge, but I would not want to be so quick to dismiss it. There’s no boundary between “significant” and “trivial”, they’re different regions on a gradient and the gradient lies differently for each individual. Even the most “trivial” knowledge will be significant learning for someone – a child at least. It seems to me that an epistemology (or dissolution of epistemology, perhaps) ought to take children’s learning into account. Likewise, while I believe I understand you regarding satisfaction, I would not want to dismiss the satisfaction of a good meal. Learning how to feed ourselves and what’s good to eat (skill in choosing and preparing food) is actually bloody important! One can go on learning ever-advancing culinary skills throughout life, of course, but most of us learn basic nutrition so early in life and in such unremarkable (to us now) ways that we hardly regard it as learning at all. However, I think the dismissal of these very basic forms of learning is more a reflection of the preoccupations of those who dominated and defined the history of epistemology than an objective discrimination between significant and trivial knowledge or learning. There seems little reason to believe we acquire any newly sophisticated or advanced facility for learning when we mature. In fact, if anything, the opposite appears to be more likely. A focus on ‘mature’ learning is really a focus on rationalized or language-mediated learning. That, I suspect, has more to do with social compliance than learning to better negotiate the world. More later, I hope. I look forward to your next article.
Toggle Commented Feb 17, 2015 on Factual Knowledge at Only a Game
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Hi Chris - Some rather hastily-typed comments follow. I reserve the right to amend or even refute my own views later! I believe you are basically correct in saying that factual knowledge rests on practical skills. Those would be the skills needed to find things out, presumably. But we need to be careful how we talk about skills. If a skill is understood as the application of a set of facts relevant to the object of that skill (taking "skilled mechanic" to mean "knowing a lot about car engines", for instance) then we are going around in circles. One thing that strikes me about skilled people, and about those few areas where I myself have some notable skill, is that apparent lack of concious mental effort that goes into exercising the skill. Skilled people know what to do without thinking much about it. Even in fields that you might think depend heavily on factual knowledge - medicine, say - the skills really show when things are achieved without thinking. A physician who diagnoses your condition immediately upon examining you appears skillful. You might not feel so sure about one who has to deliberate on how to apply his or her factual knowledge. Likewise, anyone who has learned to play the guitar knows that while a knowledge of scales and harmony might help you figure out how to play chords and memorising chord diagrams will help you remember where to put your fingers whether you understand the harmonic principles or not, it is knowing the feel of the chord under your fingers and the sound you get that counts as skill. In each case - a prompt diagnosis or a smartly-made chord change - the skilled practitioner feels a certain satisfied contentment. If the patient's symptoms don't fit with any known diagnostic profile or the chord doesn't feel or sound right, the practitioner's skillfulness comes into question and s/he feels anxious and unsure. It is in the development of habits that can be relied upon to usually give the feelings of satisfied contentment that the individual's real knowledge lies. If I read in Wikipedia that Everest is the highest mountain in the world, one empirical experience I've gained is that of seeing what Wikipedia says on the subject. As you say, whatever I think I believe beyond that depends on a network of trust that may be misplaced. Another thing I've gained, however, is the satisfying feeling that I know something I can say in certain contexts that can make me sound knowledgeable. As long as other believe the same as me, or don't know what to believe, I can pass myself off as knowing something about Everest without ever having been near the thing. This works fine if my interest in Everest is casual. If I was actually going to climb it, however, the value of documentary information ("facts about Everest") I collect beforehand lies in the extent to which it helps me focus my attention. Being knowledgeably prepared in that way gives me the feeling of confidence that my experience of climbing Everest will be a good one. After the expedition, I'll have developed new habits and those will be my new knowledge. Whether that knowledge is "about" Everest lies in the way I decide to talk about it.
Toggle Commented Feb 13, 2015 on Factual Knowledge at Only a Game
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Hello Peter. I too would be interested to see how/if/in what way exactly Tim Worstall might have found it within himself to "support" the green party, but the URL you supplied seems to be truncated and I couldn't find the article on vulture search....
Toggle Commented Feb 9, 2015 on The Wikipedia Knows Nothing at Only a Game
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Hi Chris, I thought I could sense that we were heading along similar paths. I take your point about badly-constructed articles. Even worse could be sources that contain cunningly-constructed lies. Rather than try to be more discerning about which sources we allow into the assessment space, however, I'd prefer to remain focused on reader response and say that a valuable response is one that challenges the source or extends investigations into areas that it does not anticipate. Of course, even then you may think of examples where this might appear desirable: where people are lured into apparently wasting much time or effort on trivial or intractable problems, for instance. But then, what objective standards of "trivial" or "intractable" are there? Whose time is it that was wasted? What would anyone else's opinion on that matter? Anyway, I look forward to seeing your other articles in this series! Peter
Toggle Commented Feb 5, 2015 on The Wikipedia Knows Nothing at Only a Game
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Isn't the same true of any source of information? When I read a peer-reviewed paper in an academic journal, I still have to trust that the authors, reviewers and editors were all honest and competent. Yet we know academic peer review is not all it's cracked up to be. Reviewers can be biased, or review papers they don't fully understand or sometimes don't even read them fully. Sure, it's better than Wikipedia, but still imperfect. The only real assurance you've got is to go check it all for yourself. But if you have to do that, what use was the information source to begin with? Well ... actually, it could be that the only reason you bothered was because you read the source and doubted it. Even if the information was wrong, the source had value in prompting you to make your own investigations. The commonly held view seems to that the ethical standard to which information sources should be held is one of whether they are accurate (true) or not. I wonder if we should instead value sources by the extent to which they prompt the imaginations of readers to conduct their own first-hand investigations.
Toggle Commented Feb 4, 2015 on The Wikipedia Knows Nothing at Only a Game
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