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How Knowledge is Structured

04/11/12

Permalink 11:05:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 921 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

How Knowledge is Structured

It is important for us all to understand how knowledge is formed, how it is structured, and what knowledge is foundational. The foundation of knowledge is so named because it is kind of analogous to how a physical structure is built on a foundation. In any structure, such as tower, there are points where it touches the ground and all of the weight of the tower rests on these points. As the tower grows taller and heavier, the foundation must be strong enough to support this weight and also the infrastructure of the tower must be put together correctly or else the tower will likely collapse. There will have to be structural beams that support weight and there will have to be points above the foundation where these beams are joined. These join points function similar to foundations to the weight above them. So not only is the foundation important, but the join points that are near the foundation are also nearly as important. This metaphor for how beliefs are formed as being like a structure is likely analogous to how brain cells and connections among them work to form new beliefs and how they are connected to the senses, which are the natural foundations.

When the mind is young, it has little knowledge so the structure is relatively simple. As one ages and learns more, the foundation remains the same since knowledge can only come in through experience and reason, but it becomes necessary for a more complex structure above the foundation to be formed in order to support the ever increasing weight of beliefs that ultimately need to be anchored into foundational knowledge. Beliefs that are built high above foundational knowledge may or may not meet the standard of knowledge.

Inevitably one will have to believe in ideas that come from certain claims rather than only believing what is personally experienced. What ends up happening when one believes in a claim is that a join point is created for this so that this can become like a foundation for new beliefs. This can be very useful if one accepts a claim that relates to a proper way to live or a basic philosophical belief. If the information contained in the claim makes sense, then accepting this claim should help the structure of ideas grow stronger and build an ever greater tower of understanding.

Examples of good join points that one can build knowledge on include the principles of common sense, language, social customs, critical thinking, investigation techniques, reasoning techniques, and claim evaluation techniques (which I discussed in a posting a few days ago). These can then form the basis of an understanding of more complex ideas that depend on these such as the scientific method, mathematics, and phenomenology. If one has an understanding of the foundational theories of these subjects then they can use this as the basis for more detailed understanding in these areas, including specific scientific facts, complex mathematical subjects, etc.

On the other hand, if one accepts a claim that is not epistemically justified, then this can complicate the structure of ideas, especially if this claim is accepted early in life and ideas are build up on top of this claim. This can happen if one hears an unjustified claim early in life, such as a claim that everything written in a certain religious book (such as the Bible, the Koran, etc.) is true, and strongly believes in this. When they do this, they create a join point in their mind for this book so that more ideas can be built from this. Assuming that this join point is not epistemically justified, this can be analogous to building on a foundation that is not structurally sound. As this person grows older and memorizes and believes in many passages in this book, they end up building up knowledge on the foundational idea that the book is infallible. This can be thought of as like building a skyscraper on a join point that is not directly above the true foundation of experience and reason. An adult who has a structure of ideas in their mind like this is probably not grounded in reality but instead thinks of everything in terms of whether or not it conforms to their preconceived notion that this book holds the key to reality rather than reason and observation.

The structure that is built needs to be able to hold up the ideas otherwise it might come crashing down, so to speak. For anyone who is not delusional, the structure of ideas in their mind should shift with new experiences. If one has certain beliefs that are not accurate representations of reality, then sooner or later they might experience things that are far contrary to their preconceived notions. This then might cause a fundamental structural shift, which causes one to loose beliefs and then possibly to have a difficulty building a new foundation and forming new beliefs. For the one who experiences this fundamental shakeup of beliefs, this may result in confusion, depression, cynicism, insanity, and/or extreme skepticism.

In some cases a positive psychological revolution might occur where one previously had a very complex structure that was not properly grounded in reality and not open to shifting regardless of what information came in. A structure like this is created from someone's fantasy and not from actually observing the world and coming to reasoned conclusions. A fundamental shift from this structure might result in the creation of a new structure that is far more enlightened.

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