An English In Kentucky


















Sunday March 3rd 2019Tim Candler9


    There's no getting around it, it's tragic, depressing, so best to accept that no one really knows what Knowledge is. But attempts have been made to grapple with an understanding of what Knowledge might be by arriving at a definition of how the word knowledge should be used. The word knowledge was knowledge if it met certain criteria: knowledge had to be justified, it had to be true and it had to be believed. Anything that didn't at least roughly meet these three already worrisome criteria was better defined as something else. What a lovely simple approach. Then a person has to go on to decide what counts as justified, what counts as true and what is it to believe. This led to looser, perhaps more poetic ideas. Such as knowledge is more like tracking the illusive Butterfly of truth as it flutters around the mists of the unknown in its search for the nectars of truth. And there's the idea that knowledge is better understood in the way that games are understood, lets call the game solitaire and soon enough you're ready to point out there are lots of different types of solitaire. The answer is yes, but lets play Double Klondike and you'll notice that no two games of Double Klondike are the same. In another way, it's difficult to think of Knowledge as falling tightly within a rigid set of criteria, and yet within the family of games solitaire isn't field hockey which is a game that might be placed in the family of field games, includes cricket, soccer and it goes on. There's a difference between a field game and solitaire, and at the same time, some kind of practicing and learning is necessary to get anywhere with Double Klondike or with field hockey and both games while they do have rules, within the rules there are decisions to be made some of which will be gross errors, others will confront traditional play within the rules of the game.  And I was one of those who basically reckoned Dick Fosbury cheated at the high jump, but apparently when it came to jumping over something without touching it there was no rule about jumping over it backwards. Incidentally Fosbury became a civil engineer. Like me, his college coach had a problem with this whole effortless flopping around technique, advised him not to trouble with it, until Fosbury started breaking the school's high jumping records.





    A man called Thomas Khun wrote a book called the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He used the flexibility within the game idea of how to think about knowledge to come up with the idea of Paradigm Shifts to explain the progress of science. There wasn't a straight line, he argued, scientific truth was better thought of as a consensus within the community of science and for science to do what science does successfully it was a failure of definition and of understanding to think of it as a wholly rule based objective pursuit. A shift in a paradigm wasn't a result of following the rules of the game of science alone, an occasional Fosbury was needed. And indeed two paradigms, two communities of scientific consensus, could exist in opposition to each other, and there'd be fierce quarreling between them. There was criticism of Khun of course, he was accused of being a relativist hell bent on destroying civilization and all it stood for, an accusation which still goes something like "Are you telling me you don't believe in objective truth?"  It's a tricky area, gets some people all hot and bothered, but bear in mind there was a time when a small consensus existed which suggested that if Columbus sailed too far to the west he had a good chance of falling off the edge of the world, and, at the same time that this consensus existed other's who had a better understanding of astronomy shared a consensus that a round earth was the only way to explain the movement of the planets and unequal day lengths through the course of a year, and still others shared the consensus that the world was actually more like a log or a shield that floated on an ocean.  And indeed, as an exasperated advisor, who couldn't conceive of the possibility of people surviving upside down in the Antipodes, is supposed to have said to the Emperor Constantine, "I am at a loss as to what to say concerning those who, once they have erred, continue in their folly, defending one vain thing by another vain thing." Nor is there any record of Constantine's position on the existence of the Antipodes, of from where his Antipodes Denying Advisor received his funding.


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