The Knowledge Thing


Knowledge is a very strange thing. You wouldn't think so, we talk about it in the same way we talk about everyday, taken-for-granted things. But like a lot of common ideas when you start to pick around the edges, suddenly it gtets much more baffling and interesting.

It's probably safe to say that the most common idea about ideas is that they are 'about' things. You have knowledge about X, where X could be geology, how to drive a car, current affairs - whatever. But what does about mean in this context? Peel it apart a bit more and you start to get to what's really going on here.

The basic model of knowledge, or the most common in much of the world, is that it reveals 'how things are'. Seeing behind appearances, understanding why they are as they are and how they work. The reason for something is separate to the thing itself, although linked to it in a determining or controlling way. Once you have knowledge or facts about things, you hold the key to their very existence.

Now it doesn't take a lot of effort to realise that this is mystical mumbo jumbo. Because things are in the world, but the reasons behind things are where exactly? Where does knowledge live? It's not in the things themselves, it's what lies behind them. But where is this? This is where those with a priestly bent start to talk about 'objective truth', some undefined realm where Truth (capital T) lives which we access with our understanding. A clear description of every exclusive theology and priesthood in history - sacred, pure knowledge that we're more or less worthy of having, usually protected by a priesthood of experts and their various rites. It doesn't make the tiniest difference whether it's incense or virgins on an altar or a microscope or theories. It's all the same schema.

Every mysticism and spirtulaism in history has had an 'other world' and rituals controlling access to it. It's just that ours is dressed up in lab coats and is called Truth. You see respectable scientists spouting the most laughable garbage about God being a mathematician, so in awe are they with the supposed matching of reality to their mathematical formulae. (How maths and reality relate is actually a fascinating question, but the question is for another day, and the answer is absolutely practical and simple.)

Anyone, no matter how they dress it up, who claims that the world's reasons aren't in the world itself, is a charlatan. It's incredible that we pride ourselves on living in a scientific age, and yet don't notice that the model we use to understand science and all knowledge is rank mysticism. Never does a journalist or otherwise sensible person stop and ask a scientist slobbering on about 'objectivity' why they're talking like a religious fundamentalist. And please explain where this 'truth' thing is - what's this transcendent realm where the essence of reality is stored? Describe it scientifically please.

[Incidentally in case anybody mistakes me for a lunatic relativist who thinks there's no such thing as objective things and truth, be assured I rank relativists of that ilk right up there with other lunatic fundamentalists. I just drop all of the sacred religiosity around these things.]

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