The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Use this forum to discuss the philosophy of science. Philosophy of science deals with the assumptions, foundations, and implications of science.
User avatar
Atreyu
Posts: 1737
Joined: June 17th, 2014, 3:11 am
Favorite Philosopher: P.D. Ouspensky
Location: Orlando, FL

The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Atreyu » June 28th, 2014, 6:11 pm

One of the primary objectives of both philosophy and science is the quest for objective truth --- to know what the world is actually like independent of our perception and cognition of it. However, in order for to us to proceed using either methodology, we must first determine what we actually know about the world and ourselves, and what we do not know --- what we accept as given, as a sort of 'fundamental principle', and what is unknown, demanding definitions, proofs, reason, calculations, theories, etc.

Naturally, it would be ideal if we could begin in philosophy/science by saying that nothing is known, nothing is given, and that all principles demand definition and proofs. And of course there are people who insist on making this our point of departure. But unfortunately this is quite impossible. Knowledge has to start from some foundation. Something has to be recognized as known. Otherwise we will always define one unknown by means of another (x=y, y=z), and any 'truths' we arrive at will merely be relatively 'true', merely the relation of one of our assumptions to another.

For example, if we say that 'matter' and 'energy' are both 'fundamental principles', then we can say that 'matter' is really 'energy', that it is the peculiar way we happen to perceive a certain range of frequencies of vibrations of energy, which can be mapped as oscillating sine/cosine waves. And we can also say that 'energy' is really 'matter', that it is the peculiar way we experience and cognize matter which we cannot experience tangibly as 'stuff'. But this is really like saying that x=y, and y=x, without knowing the value of either and merely leaves us with a more detailed and 'technical' description of the unknown. We still don't know what anything really is independent of ourselves. This same idea can also be applied to the idea of 'spirit' and 'matter', or the relationship of one force to another. If we don't know what 'matter' or 'spirit' is, nor do we know what any of the forces involved really are, then we have again merely said x=y and y=x. Or even x=y=z and z=y=x. We still have no objective truth whatsoever. 'Matter' is that in which 'energy'' and 'motion' proceed, and 'energy' and 'motion' are those changes which we perceive occurring in 'matter'. This is the problem as elucidated long ago by Kant, but he never provided the solution for it. And it has yet to be satisfactorily solved.

So my question to you all is this: If everything we really 'know' is merely defining one unknown relatively to another, from whence can we depart in our quest for any objective truths or causes? Is there anything we really know? Is there any 'truth' we can assert about the world independent of ourselves, without defining it by other unknown variables?

Dionysus12
Posts: 333
Joined: March 7th, 2013, 10:29 am

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Dionysus12 » June 28th, 2014, 6:54 pm

I think it's an important step to say we know that we don't know, which is a knowing statement. A distinction may be drawn between understanding and knowledge. We understand things even if we don't know them in any grand philosophical sense of their truth. A pragmatist might say that if 2+2=4 sent spaceships to the moon then there is an inherent truth in the tools we have to pursue our thirst for knowledge in the scientific sense rather than the philosophical one. For me, the tools we have -- language, intellect, sense-perception, mathematics, cognition etc --are too limited for the pursuit of any grand truth such as the nature of reality, the existence of God or the origins of existence and life etc..

User avatar
Siphersh
Posts: 101
Joined: June 8th, 2013, 7:56 am
Favorite Philosopher: Terence McKenna
Location: Hungary

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Siphersh » June 28th, 2014, 7:05 pm

I think it's obvious that the concept of absolute knowledge is not meaningful within rational thinking. And I don't understand why that would be a problem in any way, and why some people want to transcend the fundamental relativeness of knowledge.

Maybe it's something that comes from the monotheistic need for absolute truth, so that the unquestioning belief in the validity of absolute political power can be maintained?

Alan Masterman
Posts: 61
Joined: March 27th, 2011, 8:03 am

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Alan Masterman » September 17th, 2014, 11:50 am

Atreyu, please go away and study some of the philosophy of science and mathematics. The question you are asking here has been answered and re-answered in every epoch, from Euclid to Bertrand Russell. Oy ve....

Artimas
Posts: 565
Joined: August 3rd, 2014, 11:23 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Plato
Location: Oregon, US

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Artimas » September 17th, 2014, 2:01 pm

We know nothing... absolutely nothing. We have barely even scratched the surface of knowledge and wisdom.
"My ancestors are smiling on me, Imperials. Can you say the same?"

"Science Fiction today ~ Science Fact tomorrow"

Change is inevitable, it can only be delayed or sped up. Choose wisely.

Truth is pain, and pain is gain.

Treatid
Posts: 40
Joined: September 11th, 2014, 7:21 am

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Treatid » September 25th, 2014, 11:10 am

Atreyu: The fallacy that we must have some known starting point is the greatest mistake of our age. Mathematics (or mathematicians, at any rate) have doubled down on this fallacy despite the evidence.

We know, as a matter of certainty, that axioms cannot be rigorously defined.

In fact, Axioms cannot be defined in any degree. It is completely impossible to define anything in the axiomatic sense. What we have in practice is a tautological circle in which C is defined in terms of B which is defined in terms of A.... which is defined in terms of C.

Even if we had a fixed point - that fixed point is only useful if everyone automatically has an identical perception of that fixed point... in which case it is redundant - since we all perceive it identically - there is nothing relevant to that point to be communicated.

We know that there cannot be an absolute reference frame. There cannot be a fixed starting point. There cannot be an absolute definition.

Pretending that we do have definitions is what leads philosophy (and mathematics) astray. As unpalatable as it may be... pretending otherwise is a pointless, futile exercise.

There are no fundamental principles that we can define. 'Matter', 'Energy', 'Distance', 'Dimensions', 'Electrons', 'Photons', 'Charge', 'Spin', 'Mass', ... These are properties that we cannot define to any degree. As much as we feel we have some intuitive understanding of what these concepts mean... we cannot actually define them in any way.

What we can do, what we do do... is to describe relationships. Distance and Time are related through velocity. We still don't understand what time, distance and velocity are... but we do understand that there are sets of relationships.

We can never actually know what 'Points', 'Lines', 'Integers', 'Reals', 'Angles', 'Spheres',... are. What we can understand is the relationships we draw between zero, one, two,... the relationships between groups of mathematical objects and groups of 'real world' objects.

Everything we can communicate, perceive, know or otherwise interact with is Relative. There are no absolutes of any kind (including this sentence). (We cannot define what an 'absolute' is... so excluding such things is merely excluding things that are unknowable).

But all is not lost. It has always been the case that we cannot define anything in absolute sense. The lack of a fixed starting point has always been a constraint. Yet we have managed to create relatively consistent computing systems and skyscrapers that don't often fall down.

Language has always been constrained to only describing relationships. We can understand groups of relationships with respect to other groups of relationships and thereby have a reasonable working knowledge of many aspects of the world around us.

Clinging to the idea that we must be able to know X before we can know anything else is a huge mistake. Mathematics does not have a fixed starting point. There are no axioms (or logic, or proof). Pretending that such things exist merely blinds us from understanding things as they are.

We only have relationships. And the issue of definition applies to them too. We cannot define a relationship any more than we can define an integer or a photon. But we can describe patterns of relationships...

While it may seem difficult to build anything without a fixed starting point... removing definitions leaves us with very little to work with.

Having almost nothing to work with actually makes life easier. There is no real choice about the tools we work with.

Working out physics without fundamentally unknowable a priori assumptions is the next step.

Leog
Posts: 30
Joined: June 24th, 2014, 7:00 am

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Leog » October 16th, 2014, 7:06 am

Atreyu wrote:Naturally, it would be ideal if we could begin in philosophy/science by saying that nothing is known, nothing is given, and that all principles demand definition and proofs. And of course there are people who insist on making this our point of departure.
Sorry, but this is absolutely incorrect. Even in such an exact science as geometry you cannot tell that 'nothing is known and nothing is given', you need to have axioms and using them to prove things. Axioms is something that is given a priori and is an entry point to any theory. You do not prove the axioms, thee are not to prove, but to base on.

Treatid
Posts: 40
Joined: September 11th, 2014, 7:21 am

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Treatid » November 3rd, 2014, 10:06 am

Leog: That is the idea of axioms. It all falls down when you realise that it is impossible to state a set of axioms.

Establishing a starting point from which to build is a noble idea. It gives us a firm basis for everything that follows.

But it is impossible to establish any starting point in an absolute sense.

In practice, we tend to use "I" (the self - Cogito Ergo Sum and all that) as our starting point. This actually works quite well so long as the humans you are talking to have a similar sense of self, and the problem space relates to common experiences.

This common (implicit or explicit) use of the self as the assumed starting point has supported the illusion that it is possible to establish a definite fixed starting point. But that is all it is - an illusion. Axioms have never existed. Mathematics is not supported or justified by axioms.

User avatar
Atreyu
Posts: 1737
Joined: June 17th, 2014, 3:11 am
Favorite Philosopher: P.D. Ouspensky
Location: Orlando, FL

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Atreyu » November 5th, 2014, 3:57 am

Good job, Treatid. That was virtually exactly what I was looking for.

I had thought this thread was going to die before anyone posited this position. And I feel it is the correct one.

Yes, we really can have no starting point in our quest for objective knowledge other than what Treatid said -- we have this cognition of self and non-self, of 'I' and 'not-I'. And outside of that we cannot say we really KNOW anything. Of course, this does not mean that we know what the "self" is, nor what "the world" is, and one could possibly merely be a reflection of the other. But what we do "know" is that for some reason we all differentiate between the self -- the internal world of thoughts and feelings -- and "the world" -- all of the phenomena and objects around us which we do not identify with, like we do with our own thoughts and feelings.

And all the rest does indeed demand proofs and reason. The only FACT is this perceived dualism between the self and the world around us.

User avatar
Radar
Posts: 1009
Joined: January 1st, 2014, 5:56 pm

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Radar » November 7th, 2014, 5:39 pm

Can any sane person say, "I don't know whether consciousness exists"? Or actually believe that existence is fundamentally incoherent? I think not. But beyond that, all knowledge is relative to the Actual.
“In finem nostrae cognitionis Deum tamquam ignotum cognoscimus.”

User avatar
Misty
Contributor
Posts: 5933
Joined: August 10th, 2011, 8:13 pm
Location: United States of America

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Misty » November 8th, 2014, 6:28 am

Atreyu wrote:Good job, Treatid. That was virtually exactly what I was looking for.

I had thought this thread was going to die before anyone posited this position. And I feel it is the correct one.

Yes, we really can have no starting point in our quest for objective knowledge other than what Treatid said -- we have this cognition of self and non-self, of 'I' and 'not-I'. And outside of that we cannot say we really KNOW anything. Of course, this does not mean that we know what the "self" is, nor what "the world" is, and one could possibly merely be a reflection of the other. But what we do "know" is that for some reason we all differentiate between the self -- the internal world of thoughts and feelings -- and "the world" -- all of the phenomena and objects around us which we do not identify with, like we do with our own thoughts and feelings.

And all the rest does indeed demand proofs and reason. The only FACT is this perceived dualism between the self and the world around us.
Then the foundation(starting point) of all knowledge is each individual taking in what is all ready established knowledge, (objective).
Things are not always as they appear; it's a matter of perception.

The eyes can only see what the mind has, is, or will be prepared to comprehend.

I am Lion, hear me ROAR! Meow.

Logicus
Posts: 865
Joined: September 20th, 2012, 10:22 pm

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Logicus » November 17th, 2014, 5:14 pm

I have another idea: What if what we know is not important? Knowledge of a great many things is just information. Minds from tens of thousands of years ago could learn all of the same information we have picked up in the courses of our lives. We haven't improved, as a species, we just found more information. What I am getting at is that information for its own sake is useless without understanding.

Understanding works like this: You are told the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, and that the universal speed limit is a little over 186,000 miles per second. If someone tells you something from the Sun is on its way to the Earth, your understanding would tell you it is going to take it a little over 8 minutes to get here.

In the case of Gravity, however, though we know how it behaves and we have formulae to describe this behavior, we do not know how gravity works. We can define it, but we do not understand it. It remains an observation without explanation.

Is it more important to understand something, or is mere knowledge of it sufficient for our needs? If understanding is lacking, do we know a thing or not? It would seem the question "What do we really know?" needs refining as to what constitutes knowledge.

User avatar
Atreyu
Posts: 1737
Joined: June 17th, 2014, 3:11 am
Favorite Philosopher: P.D. Ouspensky
Location: Orlando, FL

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Atreyu » November 19th, 2014, 3:38 am

I agree with you Logicus. Knowledge does not imply understanding, and that is what is important, not the accumulation of data.

As far as defining "knowing", the closest I can come to doing this is to relate it to direct perception. If we "see" it, then we "know" it. I may think a bear is in my backyard. But until I look out of my window and see it, I do not know. (And of course this assumes I do not doubt my own senses and consider myself mad.) And I used "seeing" in quotation marks to denote that it may not be a function of our visual sensory apparatus. In this case "seeing" means any case of direct sensory perception, be it the eyes, ears, tactile senses, or even some kind of "extra-sensory" perception not generally known. Until we directly perceive something for ourselves (and do not question our own sanity) we do not know.

And that is why I said that all we really "know" is this dualism between "I" and "not-I". That is all our direct perception of the world tells us. We cannot know the ultimate reality of anything we perceive, but what we do know is that, for some reason, we perceive this dualism. It is the one thing that cannot be denied, the one thing that can be taken as a FACT (not a matter of opinion), and therefore it is the only reasonable point of departure for a free and open mind in pursuit of objective truth.

Logicus
Posts: 865
Joined: September 20th, 2012, 10:22 pm

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Logicus » November 19th, 2014, 2:41 pm

The dichotomy between the "real world" and our perception of it is an old problem. We can never know the world "as it is"; we can only know it as it is presented through our perceptions. The only problem I have with this notion is with those who deny the real world exists without us, or other conscious minds, to perceive it. That without all these solipsistic headlights there is no world. This ignores the fact that the universe that created those conscious minds had to exist before they came into being. That real universe exists whether we do or not, but we cannot see it directly or completely. In the end, we can only know what we can know; what we are able to know. And the foundation of that knowledge is the consciousness the universe gave us. Food for thought, that.

User avatar
Aristocles
Contributor
Posts: 477
Joined: April 20th, 2015, 8:15 am

Re: The foundation of our knowledge. What do we REALLY KNOW?

Post by Aristocles » April 22nd, 2015, 7:33 am

I am no language expert, but I find I do have to use words to decode the ideas we attempt to convey. In doing so, I see so many, "all, never, impossible, always, absolute, cannot" statements used to describe knowledge (or the move to understanding or vice versa) that I am left questioning our metaphysical authority. Ironically, this strict language is being used to suggest we can know nothing, etc.

All I am left with in the seemingly physical world are tools helping me to approach some form of knowledge, some junk more helpful than others, some distinctions more so than others. I have found the next steps of where we use this understanding to be most fascinating.

Post Reply