YspeopleExplore tab

When 'knowing' is dangerous


Thumb aaaa

About Philosophically

I think, therefore I am.


Nothing starts more conflict than people ''knowing'' stuff.

Each week I have a number of conversations with people -- some smart, others not so much -- who ''know'' things. These people very often argue with certainty, but often without the evidence that would warrant it. In their minds, they're convinced they ''know''.

And we all know one or three of them.

They are the ones who ''know'' that Lindy Chamberlain killed her baby, when they only have access to a fraction of the evidence. They ''know'' that the football coach made the wrong decision, despite never having played the game. Some ''know'' that the Prime Minister is lying, despite him having more information than they have. And there are the ones who ''know’'' that Ford is superior to Holden, yet have no relevant expertise or understanding of the specifications of each vehicle.

To know is to have knowledge. The Oxford Dictionary defines knowledge as: ''Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education.''

The key word here is facts, which the same dictionary defines as: ''A thing that is known or proved to be true.'' The key word here is proved, which involves the application of compelling evidence and, on most occasions, we humans simply don't have access to that evidence.

We invariably rely on our senses and intuitive interpretation of what those senses tell us. But, as you can watch in the TEDx talk below, that is far from reliable. Neither our senses nor our brains are reliable at interpreting data.

Seeing the world as it isn't | Daniel Simons | TEDxUIUC


This is nothing new. In the 1600s, mathematician and philosopher Descartes concluded that the only thing any of us could know was that we existed.

He coined the phrase ''cogito ergo sum'', which means ''I think, therefore I am’'' The idea is that everything we see, hear, feel, smell, touch and read may well be an illusion and we have no way of knowing if it is or not.

The only thing we can ever know is that we exist, and we only know that because we are thinking -- and how can we think if we don't exist?

Importantly, a number of philosophers since Descartes also question if we can know we exist, but that is a debate for another day. Suffice to say that knowledge is a very scarce commodity.

So why is this important enough to write about here? 

I believe this is a very important debate to have, because nothing has launched and fed more conflict than people ''knowing'' stuff.

Many a war has started because followers of one religion ''know'' they are right and others are wrong. Many a dispute has started because one group ''knows'' their view of the world is right and others are wrong. Many a fight in parliament has started because the opposition ''know'' they are right and the government is wrong. Many a divorce has started with one half ''knowing'' that something is true when it isn't.

The fact is, knowledge is very elusive.

My view is that the world would be better off if we could embrace the fact that we all have, at best,  a hypothesis and at worst, an idea, belief or view.

We would all be better off if we remained open to the possibility that we might be wrong and the other side right. Like scientists, we should be just as willing to prove ourselves wrong as we do right.

Banner 2
| Your rating
No ratings yet


Related stories

Do you trust politicians? Picture: Shutterstock.

Why don’t we trust politicians?

Here are my top five reasons that politicians are not trusted -- and they all relate to behaviour.

Australia Social Issues Politics
Expand
About 1 month ago
(Ys Comment)
Who is going to make their country better for their children, if they don’t? Picture: Shutterstock.

The real refugee question

All three of the common arguments against refugees have ignorance at their root. But there is one question yet to be addressed.

Australia Middle East Politics Social Issues
Expand
About 1 month ago
(Ys Comment)
Lines of people wait to collect natural spring water for drinking during the Cape Town drought.

Water: a crisis in the making

Cape Town is about to run out of water -- and 11 other major cities are facing the same plight. Horrifying, isn't it?

Australia Travel Environment
Expand
About 2 months ago
(Ys Comment)
PM Malcolm Turnbull attends another military show of strength.

Why the obsession with war?

Why we must rethink our view of the military -- and care more for our returned soldiers.

Community Australia Politics
Expand
About 2 months ago
(Ys Comment)
Finding your mythical purpose.

Perhaps it's your 'fate' to read this post

Why it pays to create your own purpose ... and other philosophical musings.

Community Phhilosophy
Expand
About 2 months ago
(Ys Comment)
We have a beautiful country but is our national anthem accurate? (Image: Shutterstock).

Australia's national anthem a disappointment

 

As far as national anthems go, Advance Australia Fair fails to mean much to me. Here's why.

History Culture Australia
Expand
2 months ago
(Ys Comment)
Boofhead and Moralising.

F**k boofhead Barnaby and moralising Malcolm

The grubbiness of the Barnaby Joyce affair shows there is pain ahead for many, including the good voters of Australia.

Social Issues Relationships Australia Politics
Expand
2 months ago
(Ys Comment)
Shop safely from the comfort of home by following these simple rules.

Shop safely online with these simple rules

 

Wondering what all the fuss is about with online shopping, but scared of being ripped off? Don't worry, we'll steer you right.

Technology Money
Expand
3 months ago
(Ys Comment)
When it comes to condoms, what happened to the old adage, ''if it's not on, it's not on''?.

Let's talk about sex, Baby Boomers

We want to talk about safe sex ... and why so many of you aren't using condoms. Come join the conversation.

Community Health Relationships
Expand
3 months ago
(Ys Comment)
The world's wealth is controlled by just one percent of the population.

We are all victims of greed-driven inequality

And nowhere is this inequality more obvious than in the US President's playground of Miami, Florida.

Community Social Issues Money
Expand
3 months ago
(Ys Comment)

Have your say!

Your Great Australians

Trending stories
Corporal punishment was all the rage when I was at school.

Do you remember the cane and strap?

It doesn't seem that long...

(Nostalgia) 3 months ago
When it comes to great bloggers you can connect with, this list has you covered.

20 mature bloggers worth following

Looking for Australian...

(Entertainment & Culture) About 1 year ago
Pre-prepared meals can be a great and healthy time saver.

Taking the stress out of dinner time

Frazzled, time-poor...

(Epicure) About 1 month ago
The ultimate crowd pleaser.

A nod to the legend of NISMO

SOMETHING happened to us...

(Pastimes) 3 days ago
Suzuki's cute little Ignis SUV has a lot going for it.

Review: 2017 Suzuki Ignis GL and GLX

Japanese car maker Suzuki,...

(Pastimes) 9 months ago
Weekly Poll
Photographic memories
Hizgg0vzzqvwc9xicknk
It's 35 years since the Ash Wednesday bushfires in South Australia and Victoria claimed 75 lives and more than 2500 buildings.