This paper wishes first and foremost to examine the relation between the knower and the known, which will be investigated through Nagel’s notion that: “Knowledge demands some kind of access to a fact on the part of some living subject. Without a mind to access it, whatever is stored in libraries and databases won’t be knowledge, but just ink marks and electronic traces.” In continuation of this it wishes to explore how a lack of knowledge can lead to an illusion of said knowledge. Secondly, it wishes to compare the above-mentioned quotations with one another. Lastly, it wants to place the earlier mentioned quotes within the context of epistemology.
We take our point of departure in Nagel’s notion that: “Knowledge demands some kind of access to a fact on the part of some living subject. Without a mind to access it, whatever is stored in libraries and databases won’t be knowledge, but just ink marks and electronic traces.” (truism) This specific quote plays with the notion that knowledge can be acquired and lost. Yet, knowledge has greater importance to us than water and gold. Because the exitance of gold will still be there after the downfall of humanity, the same cannot be said for the exitance of knowledge because this existence depends on an individual’s awareness of this so-called existence. Now, moving on to the access to this knowledge. The access to this knowledge may or may not be unique to an individual or collective, a fact might be known by one person but not by another. Knowledge will always belong to an individual or a collective, yet the knowledge of the collective may go beyond the knowledge of the individual. At times, the actuality of a fact is based on the fact that every member of a certain group knows this, i.e. the orchestra knows how to play a Beethoven piece, despite each individual member only knowing how to play their part. Also, a collective can combine their knowledge in remarkable ways to use their member’s individual knowledge to solve a problem. Scholars within this field start with the basis of one individual’s knowledge to create their hypothesis or book. Later, this before mentioned book will try to define the knowledge taking place in the link between a person and a fact. So, one can say that knowledge can only be realised when the subject and object enter into a relation. This relation is based on three principles:
I. Knowledge is the result of the union of subject and object.
II. The object known is in the knowing subject according to the nature of the knower
III. The perfection of knowledge is in proportion to the immateriality if the knowing subject. In short, knowledge can only exist in the presence of a subject. Therefore, the union of knower and known is essential.
So, in order for there to be an object, there needs to be a subject. Further, if one wants to confirm that knowledge exists, one needs a somewhat physical manifestation, i.e. libraries or database to make this known. Because if one does not have this physical manifestation of knowledge. Identified through one’s sense, it will only be ink in paper or electronic traces. In continuation of this we have this interesting statement:
‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.’ (theory) Two great men are cited as saying this to warn humanity to be aware of how flawed the illusion of knowledge can be. The first is a celebrated American historian by the name of Daniel J. Boorstin and the other is the late great Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned British cosmologist. The last part of this statement draws parallels to the Marxist notion of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Further, Mr Hawking is right in his prediction that ‘the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.’ Mr Hawking is widely acclaimed for his aphorism and his work within the field of cosmology. The main purpose of his remark is to warn us about the shortcomings of ‘the illusion of knowledge’ as it is. In short, an illusion of knowledge is one’s faulty, unscientific, unproven, vague, false, misleading approach or assumption of situation, facts or information. For instance, recently a black Yale student, by the name of Lolade Siyonbola, had the campus police called on her for simply napping in the common area of her dorm. The white student, Sarah Braasch, who did this assumed that Lolade was some sort of threat and presided to contact the police. After the police are called and arrive the situation quickly escalates, and she ends up having a 15-minute discussion about her right to be at this great institution. And, this is not the first time this white student has called the campus police on a black fellow student. About three months earlier she called the campus on a black male student, quiescently this was one of Miss Siyonbola, for simply standing in a stairwell. In both cases, Miss Braasch makes the assumption that these fellow black scholars pose some form of threat. Further, this assumption is probably based on how African Americans are portrayed in the media, here they are often seen as being violent, unpredictable and generally a threat. So, based on this the white female student jumped to the conclusion that both these African Americans are seen as a treat to her security. Apparently, African Americans are not allowed to be accomplished either, Siyonbola has a major in computer science and a minor in Spanish but the white mentally unstable female student do not seem to know this or even ask how Siyonbola has come to nap at the common area. In present day, on is engrossed in superficial knowledge that one seldom makes the attempt the understand oneself. The current trend of being ‘connected’ all the time has created a space where one is bombarded with information so often that one so not take the time to assess this ‘knowledge’ down to the minute detail. The result is that one takes in this ‘knowledge’ but do not attempt to give it further thought. This superficial knowledge gives one the impression that one is all knowing. Yet, in reality one rarely does one’s research and rarely check if the facts are true by using former experience based on existing knowledge. This creates a space where the illusion of knowledge can thrive, and this illusion makes humanity oh-so arrogant. Another important factor is that only a privileged few take the time to reference sources. This can be boiled down to the fact that one listens less and talk more, thus less listening leads to the growth of this illusion.
Nowadays, second hand-knowledge is thrown at us constantly. In this era of ‘recycled knowledge’ one is being fed with all kind of messages, be it ‘spam’ or politician’s election manifesto, one feels it is more of a hindrance than a help. Therefore, this second-hand knowledge seems to block our own thoughts and thus one feels unjustified in believing this information. Because as Nagel suggests “knowledge demands some kind of access to a fact,” but in this post factual one does not know what to believe. Knowledge is distinct from information, although both consists of true statements, however, knowledge is information with a purpose. From the assortment of information hurled at us, one needs one’s individual mental ‘filters’ to separate the wheat from the chaff. Further knowledge can be granted or withheld, shared or kept secret, and amounts to a source of power in either of these cases. But then there is the ‘illusion of knowledge’ where one does not have a complete knowledge of the task at hand. In continuation of this, the ‘illusion of knowledge’ may come about because knowledge has been withheld as a form of social control. For instance, take the God men and Shamens, who claimed that they used their ‘superior’ knowledge to enslave people. They did this by carefully controlling the information they gave their subjects or in other words appealing their subject’s conscience. According to Plato, this persuasion is the key to gaining power. Thus, knowledge can be used as a tool to take advantage of certain situations, where one group or individual has more knowledge than their opponent. Nevertheless, this knowledge is a way for individuals to define society and examine its progression and what has caused this progression. Moreover, sciences are being fundamentally revised, one can even state that Newton waited for Einstein or Darwin, so he himself could be challenged and eventually grow. The above-mentioned examples are the result of knowledge, its application and its widespread circulation. In short, worldviews are challenged on the daily by the vast amount of knowledge that exists. And yet, the most oft-discussed question is still whether God exists or not or if what is written in the bible is just a well-crafted narrative or something that actually happened. Therefore, knowledge is a source that must be harnessed. And learning is just a perfect illustration of knowledge put to good use or in some cases horrible application. Knowledge is power as many says, this power can be found everywhere and is just waiting to be used productively to empower the powerless. Or as it is famously said “seek and you shall find.”
Within epistemology, the knower and the known or “knowledge demands some kind of access to a fact on the part of some living subject” will be classified as subjectivity. As early as the 17th c., scientists have repeatedly argued that in order for knowledge to be true it has to be ‘objective’ rather than ‘subjective.’ When the ‘objective’ real knowledge is obtained it is the role of the knower to realise his limitations and try to achieve the position of the scientific observer. Further, the consequence of this split between the ‘outer’ and the ‘inner’ world has led to an evidence-based conception of nature. This way of understanding one’s surroundings has reduced these same surroundings to nothing but fragments of one’s mind. Yet, philosophers, such as Kant and Hume, questions this view of the natural world. Firstly, Hume’s scepticism was concentrated on the problem of the self which leads him to develop such a theory. This theory describes of the self as being “a unique identity of a person over time.” On the contrary, Kant’s view of the self as something which is never able to achieve the rank of the flesh-and-blood knower, this was despite his emphasis on the mind’s activity. Thus, for Kant, the subject has a life beyond the space-time phenomena. In spite of knowing what self-consciousness, one is not able to explain what it is or does. The cognition of the subject is not, for Kant, the central component of the self as a subject. For Kant, the real self is that of the object, which is a mere appearance in time of the timeless ‘true’ self. In other words. “the Kantian agent is an agent with no identity, no individuality, no destiny.” In contrast, Mr Hawking’s quote: ‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge’ would be classified as either a hypothesis or simply a truth or truism. The hypothesis states as follows: ignorance the greatest enemy of knowledge or is it simply that of the illusion of knowledge. And, the conclusion to this would be that the ‘illusion of knowledge’ is indeed the greatest enemy of knowledge. On the other hand, if it is categorised as a truism because it states somethings that is true and can therefore not be tested. Since only a few tend to reference their works and thus the un-trained reader will have a harder time uncovering if a certain statement is true or not because in this era of constant information it is difficult to determine if something is true or false. One could also look at it from the perspective of the JTB theory even though it is not widely used anymore. This theory states the following:
I. S believe P to be true
II. P is true
III. S is justified in believing that P is true by evidence
To explain it in detail, the JTB theory divides knowledge into three different categories. First, the belief that knowledge requires a degree of certainty. Second, the justification meaning that one needs evidence to prove this belief. Third, the truth is that the belief must, in the end, correspond with the complete truth. The JTB theory seems to be correct and can be applied to many situations. Now, let’s look at an example of this. Now, suppose that Miss Siyonbola is a threat because of the pretrial of African Americans in the media. Further, suppose that the white female student has strong evidence for the following:
I. According to the news, Miss Siyonbola is a threat because of her skin colour and thus the white female student calls the campus police
Miss Braasch’s evidence of (I) might be that because of Miss Siyonbola skin colour, she is not only a threat, but she does not belong at this prestige’s institution. And, that she has a right to call the campus police if she feels ‘threatened’. According to proposition (a), which entails:
II. The young lady sleeping on the common is a threat because of her skin colour
Let’s then suppose that the white student accepts (b) because of the evidence of (a). Thus, the white student is right in believing that (b) is true. But unbeknownst to her Miss Siyonbola is sleeping in the common room because she is writing a paper. Proposition (b) is deem true, though proposition (a) in which he based (b) is false. Thus, in the example above all the following is true:
I. I.S believe P to be true
II. II.P is true
III. III.S is justified in believing that P is true by evidence
But it is equally clear that Miss Braasch does not know that (b) is true; for (b) is true in virtue to the fact that Miss Siyonbola is a fellow student and a very accomplished one. Since Miss Braasch seems to unaware of this fact, and therefore basis his belief on what the news tells her to believe. This makes Miss Braasch come to the conclusion that Miss Siyonbola is a threat rather than just a fellow student being exhausted after working continuedly on her paper.
In conclusion, Mr Hawking’s statement can draw parallels to the Marxist notion of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” This rings true because if one does not have the full scope of the task at hand, one is thus more likely to get the illusion that one is all knowing. Also, the concept of knowledge will always be claimed by an individual or a collective. And, this knowledge is distinct from knowledge since knowledge is information with a purpose. And, this knowledge is distinct from knowledge since knowledge is information with a purpose. Information does not necessarily need a mind to exist while knowledge does need a subject to approve that said knowledge is true.