History has provided a wide and abstract range of perspective regarding the nature of knowledge. Philosophers in ancient Greece described knowledge as an innate abstract by referencing what they called universal forms that represent pure or true beliefs. The idea of pure forms representing knowledge could give credence to the idea that all knowledge is equal. The same could be said about Augustine’s reflections in that a deity housed the supernatural essence of knowledge. These abstract explanations have shaped the nature of knowledge with others offering more refined explanations. Beliefs are often mistaken as knowledge before any scientific research, however, accuracy has improved with postpositivist, constructivist, and transformativist succession.
The evolution of the nature of knowledge has also brought pragmatic explanations from unlikely sources. Former Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld popularized some insightful words in 2002 regarding the nature of knowledge when the Bush administration was trying to sell the idea of another Middle East war. He stated that there are three categories of knowledge. The first category consists of the known knowns, which is all that we currently know. The second consists of the known unknowns, which can be described as concepts within our awareness but that we still do not adequately understand. The third category, and the most eye opening, consists of the unknown unknowns, or all of the still undiscovered concepts that are not within our current level of awareness or ability to understand. We are not knowledgeable of the existence of the knowledge within this category.
Having different categories of knowledge such as these could give credence to all knowledge not being equal. Examining these different perspectives can help to provide deeper understanding into the nature of knowledge. All that we know has been found through research, observation, experimentation, experience, and other means of input. We do these activities regularly as a part of daily life as well as to intently find a balance between data and theory in order to resolve cognitive biases and other misinformation with higher quality data and deeper scholarly theories. From this concerted effort we as a society have established a record of knowledge that we can rely upon as a foundation.
Acquiring knowledge helped our species evolve into creative humans. Our developing brains and intellect gave us the ability, unlike other animals, to use our environment in more beneficial ways. We also created the concept of a future, according to Dr. David Suzuki, that could be modified by our actions in the present. Our brains became our evolutionary advantage with the power of foresight as well as memory, curiosity, inventiveness, and observation. We learn by the consequences of what we do to others, ourselves, and our environment.
Recorded knowledge may change and expand over time while transcending and overlapping categories. What we think we know can overlap with the category of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. This scenario is interestingly depicted in the ending scene from the film Men in Black. In that scene we see one agent learning some new knowledge that wasn't known about a known entity while still having enough knowledge to be a part of the elite team. The scene then zooms out into a series of unknown unknowns where our whole galaxy is simplified into a game of interstellar marbles being played by advanced extraterrestrials outside of everyone's awareness.
The park bench clip from the same film also parallels this overlapping process when the K character gives a brief history of acquired knowledge. He concludes by saying “imagine what you will know tomorrow” in a mind blowing acknowledgment that knowledge is a challenging process of learning through revelation of the unknown unknowns. These unknown unknowns are then placed into the known knowns but also by way of the known unknowns, which can also be classified as beliefs in many instances, as we learn deeper knowledge through our research efforts.
The nature of knowledge is also vast and perhaps infinite. While the topic yields interesting perspectives, it is difficult to inclusively summarize in a few brief paragraphs. Classifying all knowledge as equal is also difficult to accept when considering levels of importance, such as life saving knowledge and the knowledge needed to hang a picture frame. On a grander scale of perception, similar to that of a deity, knowledge might then be seen as leveling out in importance as all becomes a part of the grand scheme of existence and everything is within the known knowns. We will have to continue to research in a likely endless attempt to acquire knowledge in order to get closer to that frame of reference.
Keeping the romantic fire burning as accuracy dominates is important as well. Laughing at ourselves along the journey of knowledge is just as important. This part of the process can also be challenging, as skeptic Michael Shermer and singer Katie Melua artfully express. Thankfully, the future of intelligence shows that people are getting smarter, by about three IQ points per decade. Emotional intelligence is next on the priority list as the continuous desire for a more fulfilling foundation of knowledge adds to the motivation that drives our still primitive species to progress.
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LAWRENCE BOSEK is the Executive Director of Progress.org. He enjoys educating on technology and healthy green living. After 15+ years of consulting in the technology industry and educating in college classrooms, he has expanded his focus to assist in the healing evolution of the noosphere through education and meditative well being. Lawrence also enjoys the natural beauty of the Earth and sky, progressing socio-economic justice, and writing essays as well as poetry. His poetic picture book, entitled Garden Of Love, touches on social-environmental awareness and the evolution of consciousness. Currently, Lawrence is busy advocating for an Open Source Civilization, completing a Ph.D. program, and continuing to be a part of the evolutionary upliftment of humanity.