19 August 2010

Epistemology

This got me thinking about the nature of knowledge.

I too run across these supposed criticisms commonly made by creationists, or otherwise fundamentalists attempting (I guess) to defend their faith. So far as I can tell these claims ultimately rest on one of two assumptions.

1) Monism (Idealism) - all of existence is not a shared and observable existence between multiple organisms and their interpretations of sense data accompanied by empirical and repeated observations, but rather a subjective perception that we have interpreted. Virtually all perception relies on subjective processes, but the general claim of most people is that these processes are operating independently on objectively available sources. Be they a tree blowing in the wind, an orange, a soundwave resembling musical chords, ancient texts or ancient fossilized remains. If we interpret all of existence as being our own private domain, then sure, it's pretty easy to reject the interpretations and experiences of others as being valid. I interpret existence more like a monism of materialism than a pure sense of mental projections, that is that reality (and ethics, and thought) is material within the universe rather than the universe being a thought or a conjecture. For whatever that's worth. I don't see dualism as necessarily useful in thinking about the nature of existence and knowledge itself, though it can be a useful way to short-hand various conflicts within that existence.
2) Some sort of alternate method of interpreting time such that cause and effect, and any inferences drawn upon that logic, are rendered meaningless. Which I should think would have rather drastic impact on our theories of ethical behavior, among others, if for example, we might consider each moment to be a separate particle of existence.

I'm not sure how else one can attack inferred reasoning which has observable results without supporting data, but I suppose people are welcome to try. The principle attempt that got me thinking on it was the inference that compared the authenticity of history (or geological time history in the case of evolution) to that of religious canonical texts. History is generally considered valid with multiple supporting documented accounts of the same events. Which doesn't tend to be the case with religious texts. There's very much a "trust us, this is what/how/why this happened" aspect to a lot of that, and not a means of testing the veracity of those claims (as there is with evolutionary biology). So that argument holds less water than is supposed. Partly this is because most religions operate on the "we are right and they wrong" logic favored by kindergarteners everywhere. But mostly because lots of the events are being strained through more subjective interpretations and explanations.

So of course there's the more absurd co-arguments of "how do you know what wind is or how magnets work?, etc" In which case, I'm afraid I'll have to say that yes, you are an idiot. I could agree to concede that we don't empirically know that knowledge of anything exists. But given that most of us have decided that we exist, and we have a basic understanding of the nature of that existence as a series of causal events that we can undertake to study and discern their own natures, it becomes a bit silly at a certain point to say that's all been a waste of time and nothing real is produced by it. We don't have any other method of personal and subjective experience on which to decide that, well, no, it isn't real, but this is instead, much less that nothing is. Therefore if you're going to look in wonder at a piece of iron as it attracts or repels other charged pieces of metal, you should probably start picking up texts on magnetism instead of pretending that some anthropomorphic force compelled it to behave in a certain fashion.

Much less when the wind blows in your face and you smell the rain coming.
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