« Does Atheism Lead to Better Morals?Changing to a Weekly Blog »

The Formation of Knowledge over the Course of Human Development

04/19/12

Permalink 10:15:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 703 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

The Formation of Knowledge over the Course of Human Development

When a person is born, their mind is not a blank slate because humans do have certain innate knowledge that is determined by DNA, but nearly all knowledge that a full grown adult has was gained from experience over the course of their life. Early in life, the most basic empirical knowledge is formed by one's experiences and the ideas and concepts formed early in life are significantly more influential to life than those learned later. Imagine a few hypothetical test cases of people whose lives are, in large part, determined by what beliefs they form early in life.

Jack, for example, is born into an environment where his parents and family and friends are mostly careful about what they believe and try to find evidence for things. He is told things in school that are based on science and he is not at any point indoctrinated with ideas that lack evidence. Certainly Jack does not easily know the difference between science and dogma at his young age, but this is significant when he reaches adolescence and he is able to find that his core beliefs make sense and can be confirmed by observation. His beliefs were structured on the basis of the common sense concepts of observation and reason and a light version of skepticism regarding claims that people make that don't seem to be backed by evidence.

Another child, Jess, is instead born into an environment where her parents, family, and her community strongly believe that the truth about the world and about one's self can be found by having blind faith in a book written several centuries ago, at time before the advent of modern science. Jess is told to believe ideas in this book involving the origin of the world and numerous supernatural claims. Jess, knowing no other reality, believes these things. As Jess reaches adolescence, she begins hearing about scientific theories regarding the origin of the world and does not believe them despite the evidence that is presented to her because these claims are contrary to the dogma in her holy book. Both Jack and Jess are presented with the same evidence regarding the natural world, but only Jack understands this evidence because he was raised with a commonsense understanding of the world, whereas Jess was raised to believe in an arbitrarily created book from centuries ago that is full of inaccuracy and unfounded claims.

Yet another child, Janie, is raised in the same community as Jess and she enters adolescence with the same views as Jess. Like Jess, she is presented with scientific theories and the evidence that supports these theories and is also presented with evidence that her holy book is unreliable. Unlike Jess, Janie is put into a special teaching program where she is presented with a lot of clear scientific evidence, much from experiments that she personally observes and people also explain to her in detail how each of these experiments works. Up to this point, Janie's beliefs are structured on the premise that her holy book is true and that all other questions of life need to be answered from this book. It eventually gets to the point where Janie is presented with so much clear evidence that her structure of knowledge begins to shift so that it is now structured based on common sense and modern science, rather than on her holy book. This initially causes her to suffer from this detachment from these beliefs that were once central to her life, but this experience does allow her to become more enlightened.

It is not just common sense and modern science that allows her to become more enlightened, however. Her holy book was able to provide answers to questions she had regarding morality and the meaning of life that modern science was not able to adequately provide answers for. For these questions, Janie was eventually able to find answers partially through modern phenomenology, which is in some ways similar to science, though it is the systematic first-person study of consciousness. Janie no longer needs her holy book to find some kind of answers to the great questions of life because she can make progress towards finding reasonable answers through science and phenomenology.

PermalinkPermalink  

No feedback yet