Thinking about how I'm depending on the kindness of strange critics to do all the work for me in Optimaes, and how I resent academic journals for hiding knowledge from me (behind payment barriers (AcademicJournals) and inpenetrable prose) I realize I'm in danger of becoming an extremist about dead knowledge.

When I go to a web-page and find something I think is wrong, I feel a strong urge to point out and explain to the person what I think is wrong. When it allows comments, I often add them. Or I post something here or on my weblog. Of course there are times when I can't because I don't have the time, or access; but I try to do my bit as a member of the web-community.

And I love it when people criticise me in the same spirit. On the other hand, I'm not particularly impressed when people tell me I'm wrong because I lack the right training and background. There's an implication that the person doesn't even know where to start criticising the enormity of my errors but I should shut up until I've qualified myself.

Quite frankly I don't believe in "don't know where to start". Nor in "can't get there from here". It doesn't matter how wrong and ignorant I am there is an incremental road between where I am now, and me knowing as much as you. And if you know your stuff, you can point me on the first step of that road.

I think the above isn't controversial or extreme. Where I'm feeling worried about myself is in the following.

I believe "knowledge" is provisional, and the best guess we have, given our circumstances. That is, the best we can expect given our limitations. An example : imagine I have a hypothesis X, but Y is a more accurate hypothesis; and Y has been written in the only existing copy of a book, which is a) misplaced (miscategorized) in the university library, and b) lost from living memory.

Now, clearly, in Popperian terms, the book contains WorldThree knowledge which is better than my own. But I'm not sure I need feel there's much that's wrong with my subjective WorldTwo knowledge. Because basically, the knowledge in the book is inert or dead. There is no way I could be expected to comb through the university library looking for a book no one knows about, or has any reason to believe exists.

Of course, by my understanding of Popper, my WorldTwo knowledge, wouldn't be knowledge if I didn't have an obligation to hold it open to be criticised, and didn't, to some extent try to do that. But I don't particularly have to imagine that the best way to do this is to comb the university library.

Dead knowledge is real knowledge but it might as well not exist from my personal perspective.

Where I worry I'm becoming extreme, is that I'm starting to think the same thing about knowledge which is inert within the heads of people who don't want to explain it to me, or don't want to guide me by constructing helpful steps along the way. After all, is knowledge locked away by an academic priest-class that is too snobbish to come and join ThoughtStorms, really worth having? Is it really knowledge at all unless it's in circulation?

But seriously folks ...

At this point, I know that I've gone mad. Because even I don't believe this kind of absurdity.

After all I am a CriticalRationalist. (And from that perspective, my mistake was that while my refusal to be guilt-tripped by the lost book in the library was psychologically understandable, it played no part in the objective fact of the matter about knowledge : that the book is WorldThree knowledge, and has now defined the state of the art. Everyone else's theories are now just so last year.)

But EvenAbsurdThoughtsGetPagesHereOnThoughtStormsIfTheyAreInterestingEnough. And this earns it's place as an excuse for a few good links :

  • It connects with the idea of SocialEpistemology. Is it an implication of a socially constructed knowledge view, that knowledge must be circulated to exist? If you take EconomicMetaphorsInEpistemology too seriously do you start thinking this?
  • Remember when I was talking about MusicalEcology? I speculated that "good" music might need to be embedded in an a FoodWeb of "bad". Maybe that's true for knowledge in general. Perhaps the academic distain for pop-knowledge is misguided because "good" academic knowledge can't even exist without a substrait of "bad" (ie. over-simplified, simplistic) in a wider population. (Of course, this notion of "necessity" isn't the kind of logical necessity which epistemologists should be concerned with, it's just an empirical conjecture about how our social knowledge gathering system of practices work.)
  • Q : Hey Phil!, do you have a chip on your shoulder about academia?

: ''A : No, but disclosure : LinkingVsCiting

Just thought of something slightly ironic / disturbing here. Clearly, casual web surfing is no match for diligent scholarly research. But isn't the reverse also the case? The specialist academic has no time for the kind of serendipitous connection making. It's GeneralistsVsSpecialists as usual.

But isn't it pretty much the case that the academic world, which doesn't have time (or structure) to engage with this world of half-baked speculation, rumour and analogies, is equally wilfully pretending that because it isn't accessible through the right method, it isn't knowledge?

Q : Actually, I hate to point out, but ThoughtStorms is an inpenatrable BigBallOfMud. HowToFindStuffInThoughtStorms is nigh-on impossible to the casual browser. Does this mean ThoughtStorms is also DeadKnowledge?

'' A : Errm ... "

I wonder if what partly inspired this chain of reasoning was an unconscious stirring of the netocratic conception of knowledge outlined on ConspiracyTheories

CategoryEpistemology