What is This Big Thing Called Knowledge? Pt.1: The Knowledge Spiral

From a young age I was always tremendously fascinated and impressed by the word ‘Knowledge’. I felt it carried so much import, promise even with a pretentious undertone I would add. Like any fundamental concept in human language it is cobwebbed in a nexus of nuances, equivocation, linguistic derogations and what have you. In simpler words, it’s a big word we use often, in many situations but we hardly know it that intimately. At least so I feel. Yes let’s ask the question “What is knowledge? No, seriously. What is it?”

Evolution or Revolution?

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When I studied Philosophy as an undergrad, still under the spell of the ancient Greek thinkers and incited to be a free, provocative thinker, I would ask these questions to myself about what seems obvious and widely accepted. I would think “how much do we really know?” which is like saying “how much do we really know about ourselves and the Universe?”. We have Scientific knowledge, yes, so we consensually think, even if we don’t really understand the Science ourselves, that as a species we are advancing forward in our scientific knowledge. We can say so for all the other forms of knowledge – art, history, practical, spiritual, etc. We feel that knowledge grows, evolves and accumulates.

So we are taking some very basic assumptions for granted already here. That basically we have knowledge about ourselves and the Universe we inhabit – like attempting to reverse-engineer our brain and getting closer to understand the basic infrastructure of the Universe. We are also assuming that this knowledge is progressive – always moving closer towards the ‘truth’ and building upon previous knowledge and theories. At least this is what is implicitly consented upon in the modern scientific communities. But is this a fairly good understanding of the whole picture? Do we tend to lean more often than needed upon an evolutionary perspective of time, matter, history and consciousness? Could it be that the ancients were right when they saw time (hence evolution and history) as cyclical? Or maybe is it both – spiralling up in both a cyclical but progressive fashion?

Restless Connections

To ask a side question relative to the main one in the title: Where is knowledge taking us? Is it taking us to a particular landmark, a destination? Towards exploring new frontiers? towards a truth? wisdom perhaps? To answer that question, it is easier for us to look at our own biography. We feel that we have learned a thing or two since we were infants. We gained new information about how the world works and we mapped that into a structure of interconnected concepts and ideas we call knowledge. The vast neural pathways and circuit clusters in the brain are wired and rewired as we input new data from our environment and which in turn always changes the way we respond to newer data. The brain is constantly morphing and self-organising itself in a way to accommodate new sensory inputs and ideas.

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So maybe this is another thing that can be said about knowledge itself seeing that the brain – which is itself the network infrastructure through which we accommodate knowledge – behaves in this way: It is constantly on the move. It never stops and it never rests. Perhaps this is such a counter-intuitive way to look at knowledge since we are so accustomed to think of knowledge as something set – something which is objectively out there and we are bound to get more and more of as we explore, think, research and study.

The spirit quest for new knowledge has always been exploration

The more I think of the idea that knowledge is universal, unchanging and objective, the more I think we are moving away from the real thing. Absolute knowledge is elusive. It’s quicksand. The spirit quest for new knowledge has always been exploration – particularly self-exploration although we have been doing the opposite in the last 200 hundred years. But this is changing. We will return back from outer space exploration to inner space exploration although this is a discussion for another episode.

Knowledge is ever-changing; it’s experiential. It is neither ‘out there’ nor ‘in here’. It is an intersection between fields of consciousness.

Knowledge is ever-changing; it’s experiential. It is neither ‘out there’ nor ‘in here’. It is an intersection between fields of consciousness. Just like the brain, it is forming and reforming in a constant process of self-organisation. Yes, we can say that it grows or it develops although we can’t claim how and where it is going. It has no delivery address and no stamp of approval is ever needed, although cultures and peoples of different generations and epochs will keep on seeing that knowledge is going somewhere in particular relative to their very small point of view. On a larger time scale, I think the skies change and the charts are redrawn. In other words, knowledge is provisional at best and it is a freaking awesome heuristic tool at the same time.

Should we burn all the books and shut down the internet? I’d say hell no. Celebrate the knowledge we have, use it, never take it for granted. Keep on in the spirit of the ancient and modern explorers – always look at the horizon. Follow the spiral. rise and fall, ask the right questions, embrace moments of lucidity as they rise out of the darkness of doubt.

Category: ConsciousnessPhilosophy

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Article by: Gilbert Ross