ways of knowing: academic versus experiential

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  • Sunday, October 07, 2018 5:37 PM
    Reply # 6711071 on 6585449
    Anonymous

    So true.

  • Friday, October 12, 2018 5:53 AM
    Reply # 6719198 on 6585449
    Anonymous
    I would also protest against 

    "the assertion that if science cannot measure something, then it isn't knowable or worth knowing"

    However, I wonder why we would turn to science to explain everything

    Science generalises our experience of life or consciousness or the colour blue, to use Ken’s examples. So, we can recognise these things, well, rather more concepts in those cases. What science cannot do is explain our individual experience of it. But why turn to science for that? Why demand such a thing from science in the first place?

    Wouldn't literature and art be more suitable for these questions? At the end of the day an artist might be inspired by academic research (not only by science= natural science) and an academic might get ideas for their research from art and literature. Paula Metallo gave a presentation of this mutual inspiration at the conference called: Give and Take: science and the humanities.

    She also made me aware of the original meaning of religion: "The word religion comes from reverence, and before institutionalized religions, based on power and money and manipulation of the masses came to be, there were many cultures that funnelled their (nature) informed reverence into a set of rules for non-exploitation of man and planet. This has room for reflection in Big History."

    This is a far cry from religion as a set of beliefs that are not to be questioned, and that are the base of monotheistic religions. I wonder whether we could go back to that original meaning, because that would certainly inspire academic research. It would not, however, compete with academic research.

    Now, about the limitations of science and the scientific method. I came across a very interesting article by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein proposing "The scientists and the philosophers should be friends."  She explains science as a tool to find out what is, that the term scientific method is somewhat misleading because it does not capture very well, the "creatively freewheeling character of science, the ways in which it utilises intuitions and even aesthetic judgements; nor the widely differing types of cognitive activities, and thus talents, that are required by the scientific enterprise, with variations depending on the kind of problem being pursued."

    She furthermore makes clear why science is based on naturalism: "Science is, per definition, the methodology that enlists reality itself as collaborator..."

    Then she makes it clear that philosophy is not to compete with science in that department. Philosophy brings other qualities to the toolset. 

    For her, "the point of philosophy is to maximise coherence among the multiplicity of propositions and propositional attitudes that we generate in the course of trying to get our bearings." Essential techniques are "thought experiment, counterexamples, conceptual analysis, and formal arguments trying to force all suppressed premises out into the open... These are all techniques not designed to prod reality into answering us back but rather to probe our internal consistencies."

    So, science as a tool to find out what is, and philosophy as a tool to find out what matters. And finally she also shows, how those two questions are "thoroughly enmeshed with each other."

    The longer I think about it, the more it looks like the collaboration between science and philosophy as sketched out by Goldstein could serve as kind of checks and balances only with respect to the project of mapping reality and making sense of it. That is to integrate a shared „meaning“ into our world view. There would still be ample room to add some personal meaning. After all, we are individuals - that basically means we cannot ever share the whole of our experience with others. I guess that is the point of being an individual.

    What I really loved about this article beside its informational value for our project of big history, is that I learnt this phrase "one's bearings." The dictionary gave me the explanation: awareness of one's position relative to one's surroundings.

    Last modified: Friday, October 12, 2018 6:08 AM | Anonymous
  • Friday, October 12, 2018 6:17 AM
    Reply # 6719218 on 6585449
    Anonymous

    About the tension between intuition and reason, I found an interesting article by Miranda Fricker which already appeared in 1995 in the Philosophical Quarterly. Unfortunately the whole article is behind a paywall, so I just took a screenshot of the abstract and attach it here.

    It should make us think about all the other tensions we experienced at the conference. Perhaps philosophy really is badly needed to sort out some misconceptions.

    Another philosopher I am going to explore is Susan Haack. She also has written about scientism and science and religion. But that is going to take a while.


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  • Saturday, October 13, 2018 10:54 AM
    Reply # 6720585 on 6585449
    Ken Solis, MD, MA

    All good points Yvonne. We've almost circled back to there being both denotative knowledge of big history (e.g. science, rationalism) and connotative knowledge (e.g. aesthetics, wonder, that beautiful oratorio at the Philadelphia conference).  Also, realize that philosophy is the granddaddy of the sciences, and it is only when a subdiscipline of philosophy begins to become quantitative , and/or subject to experiment that it becomes a separate field of science, e.g. the term "scientist" began around 1834ce. All knowledge was considered philosophical until the 1800's. For example, Newton's 1687ce "Principia," the landmark book on physics, actual full title was Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, i.e.Natural philosophy of mathicmatical principles.. Similarly, philosophy of "life" became biololgy, philosophy of mind became psychology, etc.  Still philosophy remains behind each of the sciences, including philosophy of science itself. Each use different tool sets, have different verbiage, and interact as you point out.  Many great scientists or mathematician were also great philosophers including Leibniz, Kant, Descartes, and to a certain extent, Einstein. 

  • Thursday, October 25, 2018 5:45 AM
    Reply # 6872737 on 6585449
    Anonymous

    Thanks for the reminder, Ken. Even though I was vaguely aware of that philosophy is behind the sciences, obviously I wasn't aware of that enough or at that moment.

    So, Susan Haack's book "Putting Philosophy to Work" proves to be a very enlightening read for me. She is, by the way, an expert in epistemology! Didn't we talk about bringing in an expert in epistemology at the conference to sort out the tensions between different ways of knowing?

    What I have read so far in this book, makes me wonder, whether the actual trouble is perhaps not (so much) different ways of knowing (Haack uses the term inquiry which seems to be much better suited than "ways of knowing") but the fact that there is such a huge gap between what is known in general (the result of various attempts to inquire about our world) and what any individual can know in particular. So, whenever we discuss anything (like we are doing here), each participant is only to a very limited extent aware of that collectively accumulated knowledge of humanity. We may not like that fact, but if we want to pursue genuine inquiry (wich Haack defines as: good-faith effort to arrive at the truth of the matter in question, whatever the colour of that truth may be) then we have not much choice but to accept it. Indeed, being human, we may prefer the idea that it should be possible to know everything and be aware of everything at any given moment, but with respect to inquiry that could easily mislead us. It would be very interesting to see what epistemology combined with psychology would have to say about that. Perhaps such research even exists and I haven't found it yet?

    Yet I am still very much in the middle of taking in her thoughts about these epistemological matters. In my opinion it is a worthwhile read and it includes an essay about Scientism and one about Fallibilism and Faith, Naturalism and the Supernatural, Science and Religion.

    About distinguishing between the natural and the supernatural, by the way, I have just learned from another book (Cultural Anthropology by Marvin Harris) that this is a distinction that not all cultures of the world even make.

    So, coming to an end: your suggestion to distinguish between denotative and connotative knowledge sounds like a good idea to pursue for future conferences. For me these are new words and concepts. Would it be correct to say that this is part of the meta-thinking about big history? Not necessarily advancing big history as a field but advancing how big history is presented as a field? Probably a bit of both.

    Thank you Karen and Ken for participating in this discussion.

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