Saturday, August 20, 2011

Knowledge is all in your head.

RE: When Knowledge Isn’t Written, Does It Still Count? by: Noam Cohen

Knowledge exists only in one's head. Everything else is merely a means or attempt to communicate that knowledge. No, knowledge is not "stored" on websites or in books or databases or videos. These merely attempt to communicate knowledge to other people in the future. I know, this is quite a paradox. How can something be transferred if that something is not contained within the transfer medium. Think of it like a blueprint. The drawing is not the thing. It is a means of communicating how to make the thing. And remember, knowledge is not information or data. These can be recorded but the knowledge gained from looking at that information or data will only exist within one's head. In the case of actual artifacts, one could say the artifact is a means by which one can gain knowledge even though it is not being "communicated" from someone else.

This claim that Wikipedia is now "redefining knowledge" is farcical at best. Knowledge has always been what it has always and will forever be. The means of communicating knowledge have been changing and expanding ever since the first hollow log was thumped with a stick. Multimedia had become widely available and popular long before Jimmy Wales decided to take advantage of someone else's software to direct links to his private web sites. Unfortunately, the software Wales decided to use was incredibly limited. The popularity of Wikipedia and the arrogance of Jimmy Wales has somehow allowed him to "define" "knowledge" as only what would fit within the limited confines of the wiki software. Now, when he is finally ready to remove some of those limitations and allow additional mediums of communication to be stored on his site, people mistakenly credit Wales with "redefining knowledge" when all he is really doing is finally accepting what the rest of the world has known for thousands of years.

Once we break free of this myth that actual knowledge can be stored (and I don't think I am merely being pedantic here) we can then look at our various means of communicating that knowledge in the proper perspective.

A) We are forced to take a different approach to our writing. Does it merely record data or does it communicate knowledge. I submit that many textbooks barely perform the former task despite their marketing claims to achieve the latter.
B) We realize that all mediums for communicating knowledge have their strengths and their weaknesses. The written word with footnotes and citations has dominated through thousands of years merely because it was the only inexpensive and reliable means to communicate to as many people as possible.  The only other option was verbal communication which is inefficient, unreliable, and only available for a relatively short term (the life of the speaker).
C) We understand that the best way to communicate knowledge is most likely through a combination of many different mediums. People are different and different people may attain knowledge best via different mediums. Therefore as many different mediums as possible should be available, even the thumping of hollow logs, if that is what it takes.

The contents of this post is Copyright © 2011 by Grant Sheridan Robertson.

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