The Growth of Knowledge

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Epistemology is the specific branch of philosophy that studies the concept and science of knowledge as a whole. In a way, it attempts to understand the conditions and analyze the various setups under which systems of knowledge are built and hence enables validating the art of knowing itself. This post is not any epistemological theorizing, rather just a curious look at the path of the growth of knowledge.

I started looking at knowledge in a different way, when I heard the opening narrative in the movie The Gods must be Crazy. The narrator compares the lives in the bustling city of Johannesburg with a tribe in a dry desert a few hundred miles north of it. The tribals have limited knowledge and live their life in simplicity and happiness found in natural dispositions, while the city is fraught with challenges. The city life is "civilized" while the tribals are "backward", yet the civilized life has no peace that the backwards possess. The child of the tribe learns his necessary art of survival at a very young age, while city children are still learning even well past their teenage.

Knowledge, however it has grown, mainly through observation and experimentation, and also through imagination, conception, abstracting, or through gross or subtle hypothesizing, has certainly elevated us to a position much higher than we historically were. We have a better outlook (as well as insight) of things than we had decades or centuries ago, and it keeps improving every minute, even as you read this post... The progress of our civilization has piggy-backed on the growth of our knowledge. Even though, many a times, individuals have struggled in gathering complete knowledge, humanity as a whole has successfully scaled the heights of knowing.

Every generation inherits a baggage of information from its fathers and develops it further for its children. We don't just scratch the surface anymore - we have transcended boundaries and pushed the limits of our knowledge much beyond our horizons. We have shot into the far reaches of space, while also plunged into the infinite depths of molecular world. We have crossed-over into the invisible world of radio-waves and electricity.

Take this case for instance - A few centuries ago, it was just enough to know when to plant the seeds and how to harvest the crop, but today one needs to look at weather forecasts, understand seed culture, know the right pesticide and soil combination, and finally have an idea of the machinery needed for sowing, watering, protecting and harvesting the crops. In today's world, A farmer cannot just be born, he should earn his place with the right knowledge.

Human life is finite and hence every new generation should first come "up to speed" with all the knowledge that already exists before they can venture on their own. Yes! we have invented libraries to store this knowledge, but the human brain is not getting any bigger or faster. I believe we have the same intelligence today which Aristotle or Buddha possessed 2000 years ago. So, how does the brain cope up with this ever increasing volume of information? Maybe with evolution our brains will get more 'wired' but the 'growth in our knowledge' is outrunning the pace of natural evolution. We already see that our children spend more time cramming in schools than our previous generations did. In layman terms, about a century ago, a bachelor degree was considered a job well done but today nothing less than a doctrate gets respected. As knowledge keeps increasing, do we just keep interpolating our methods of learning in a linear fashion? Do we just keep loading the school-bags of our children and inventing 'intelligence and memory enhancing hormones' and keep mixing it in their milk? Will it not hit a limit someday - given our finite intelligence and finite lifetimes? Or can we relook at the whole learning process and develop a pragmatic way where the cycle of learning is effectively insulated from the growth of knowledge?


TheBluntBlogger said...

Boy that was some serious food for thought. Our CS HOD in college used to say, as the circle of your knowledge increases, the are of things you do not know increases as well!

And that's the only thing I remember from his lectures :)

My pea size brain could only extract that much, no wonder I am not suitable to survive in today's world and the proportion with which knowledge is growing...

Lekhan Gupta

Vicky Dada (Vikas) said...

Thanks for reading and your comment, Lekhan!

You brought out an interesting point here - with the growth of our knowledge, our realization of the unknown also increases. Rajni saar used to say in his movie, 'the known is a drop, the unknown is an ocean'. Oh! the topic just became so profound.

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