Author Topic: Truth =/= knowledge  (Read 935 times)


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Re: Truth =/= knowledge
« on: May 05, 2021, 10:19:33 pm »
To offer some additional thoughts, beyond mere knowledge, I think Western Civilization is obsessed with expanding the amount of information in existence. More and more people seem to be satisfied merely by someone believing a statement is accurate knowledge, rather than having actual evidence to demonstrate a statement is likely to be accurate and therefore contribute to knowledge.

Today, generation of additional information is primarily done through "novel" research in academic institutions and private companies. "Novel research" from experimentation and other empirical methods is not even the only way to obtain knowledge.

Other ways include curation of existing information and synthesis/integration of existing information. In contrast to the preferred Western method, both of these contribute to knowledge by REDUCING the amount of information in circulation. (However, as I will mention, although these methods are useful, they do not guarantee truthfulness).

Curation involves collecting, organizing, and often providing a summary/commentary on the information for reference purposes. Knowledge is not of much use if people seeking it are unable to know about its existence in the first place, and if is is not shared with those who need/benefit from it.

The curator reduces the amount of knowledge in circulation by refusing to include low-quality information in the collection. (Although they would increase access to knowledge, via the act of organizing everything into a collection). In addition, they reduce the amount of redundant information circulating by collecting similar information and grouping it by theme/topic, etc. This reduces information because, generally, the core collection would only retain whichever information is the most knowledgeable and the best examination of a topic (rather than including EVERYTHING ever written on a topic).

Curators generally do not produce additional "novel" knowledge. Instead, they prefer to gain a broader understanding of the massive amount of information already in existence, which is more than any person could possibly learn in a single lifetime. Examples of curators include librarians and collectors of art, coins, etc. (who delve deeper into the subject by studying existing art, etc., rather than sharing new material).

The librarian/curator may not directly contribute to the understanding of the truth, but they can serve as a resource to point a dedicated truth-seeker in a meaningful direction. (To go on a tangent, curators can also point truth-seekers in the WRONG direction. Mainstream/Alternative media (curators of information regarding current events) can lie by omission, report on a very biased selection/curation of events in order to shape people's views, etc. So, curation is not a way to obtain truth in and of itself, but merely a tool which can help if used sincerely).

By Western academic standards, I think curation is rarely considered a "novel" project, and therefore little is invested in it. Unless it can be used to serve as a database for further empirical investigations. (But even in these cases, there are so many redundant projects, because the database managers don't work together to curate things and reduce the complexity of existing databases!)

Then, there is the synthesis of existing information. Broadly, individuals who do this are subject matter experts who dig deeply into existing knowledge. There is more information in circulation than any human can possibly read/view in a single lifetime. Subject matter experts specialize in a topic and (1) integrate the most important knowledge into a cohesive treatise or summary (so other people don't need to spend a lifetime reading all the same things just to get a rigorous understanding of the topic!) and (2) convey the value of the knowledge and the purpose of why someone would want to bother to learn it in the first place.

Examples of this would be when a film critic watches hundreds of films and then is able to review them by recommending high-quality ones and telling us to not waste our time with the low-quality ones. Historians would be another good example of this--they go through countless old records in order to integrate them into a narrative. But in the Western academic system, even historians are generally expected to produce additional "novel" information, rather than simply making an expert synthesis of already-existing topics and knowledge. Ancient historians are even better, since instead of focusing on producing novel knowledge, they focused on _paring down_ the amount of extraneous details and also focusing on ethical lessons.

The biggest criticism of students learning history are usually "why do we have to learn this" and "what's the point in memorizing this list of names and dates". Pedagogues of the Western system can never give a satisfactory answer to these questions. The ancient historians answer by saying: here's why it is worthwhile to learn this story/legend/myth, and I will present only the details necessary for understanding the story.

(To go on another tangent, enemy agents posing as impartial subject-matter experts, such as historians, can attempt to REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF TRUTHFUL INFORMATION IN CIRCULATION. They are dangerous, because in order to effectively control the narrative they genuinely do have to be experts in the subject they are deployed in. So, like curators, subject-matter experts provide knowledge, and may not always present impartial and fully truthful information.)

I think another important function of integrating already existing knowledge is that there is a ton of "old" research, opinions, and information that are actually still insightful today. By Western academic standards, studying "old" knowledge (e.g. generally academic papers older than 20+ years or so) is frown upon as a waste of time. Yet these academics will praise people like Newton or Darwin for being foundational for a field, and few have actually read their works.

In my own study of 125-year-old bio-anthropology works, I discovered these old scientists had better arguments against ethno-tribalism than present-day biologists. Yet no mainstream biologists and sociologists seem to know about this because they never bother to dig deeply into the knowledge that already exists! How wasteful to have to reinvent the wheel every generation because people are addicted to generating piles of new information.

Especially with the tendency to view history as a "march of progress", they view it as below them to examine "outdated", "backwards", and "crude" information from the past. In their egotistical pursuit of producing their own "novel" knowledge, they ignore all the knowledge that has already been generated. Even for academics who aren't so egotistical, they simply don't have time to read it all when they have dedicated all their energy to producing new knowledge. Ironically, by continuing to produce "novel" knowledge regardless of its quality or purpose, they compound the problem by producing so much new information that it becomes difficult even for subject matter experts to study old information when they get buried by all the new information being produced.

Meanwhile, in pre-Renaissance academic circles, a small handful of treatises written by subject matter experts were sometimes used for over a thousand years with minimal changes. In terms of truth, it is easier to demonstrate and do damage control on the falsehoods from a small collection of information that is not growing rapidly, compared to the deluge of information pumped out by the Western academic system. During the effort it takes to demonstrate a single thing to be a untrue, a hundred more pieces of information take its place.

In fact, the Western academic system has become so obsessed with producing massive quantities of additional "novel" information, that they have even stopped following the scientific method (which requires _repeated_ experiments/observations on the same specific topic in order to provide enough evidence for something to be considered accurate knowledge)! In other words, if the Renaissance caused the mere quantity of knowledge (generated via empiricism/scientific method) to eclipse the importance of truth, at some point along the line Western civilization began to value the sheer QUANTITY OF INFORMATION CREATED over even accurate knowledge itself.

Any thoughts on this?

There is probably a decent amount of overlap between what a curator and "subject-matter expert" do, but I think we can summarize it by saying a curator collects/gathers the existing data together and gives it some order/organization. They understand things broadly, but not necessarily in exhaustive depth. (For example, if you ask a librarian if they have information on X topic, they would be able to point you in the correct direction for the information you're looking for, even if they've never read much on that topic. A museum curator would have a good grasp on history and different cultures and how they all relate together in terms of time period and geography, but they wouldn't necessarily be a world-renown expert in any specific culture).

The subject-matter expert would typically consult multiple curated collections (in addition to doing their own searches through raw and uncurated data) in order to find information to further pare down. If the subject-matter expert is a sincere truth-seeker, the amount of extraneous knowledge in existence can be safely phased out (which is what ancient historians did by passing history into mythology). Future generations of truth-seekers would then consult the work of previous subject-matter experts when learning information, although they would have to conduct their own examination of it to verify it is indeed accurate and truthful. Blindly trusting previous subject-matter experts merely because they were recognized/designated as subject-matter experts is just traditionalism! Moreover, simply because they were experts sincerely seeking the truth doesn't mean they got EVERYTHING correct. We acknowledge their mistakes and attempt to correct them where they went wrong.

Any thoughts on how to discover and what to do if the subject-matter expert is actually a propagandist trying to obscure the truth? I guess one of the first steps could be to examine the character/ideological views of the individual. If it appears they have some ulterior motives or ignoble worldview, we would have to scrutinize their claims through different techniques. Maybe this is too much of an epistemological question.