Schlagwort-Archive: Seeing is believing

What we can know

What we can know was already a concern of Socrates according to Plato “I know that I do not know (actually: I know as a non-knower – οἶδα οὐκ εἰδώς, oîda ouk eidōs)? Heinrich von Pierer also had his view on his company’s knowledge: If Siemens knew what Siemens knows. Despite all attention, it is overlooked that knowledge only becomes tangible indirectly through appropriate media (paper, electronic media, and channels). It is not an exchange of knowledge that takes place but copying of data. The sender does not let go of its knowledge but instead offers distorted formulations through filters (see Meta model of language). It is the receiver who interprets the data. The continuous evolution of our knowledge reinforces the distortions. What is true today may be false tomorrow. In 2017, Kellyanne Conway drew attention in the right direction by talking about alternative facts. Niklas Luhmann described that information, communication, and understanding are contingent occurrences in the last century, i.e., a statement is neither necessary nor impossible and can be one way or another. What can we still know today with this insight?

Suppose we disregard for a moment the sender’s intentions and look at the content, the knowledge. In that case, there remain a few questions that must be clarified in advance to be able to criticize each other: What is knowing? How is it different from not knowing? The following points provide food for thought.

  • Sign – Data – Information – Knowledge – Wisdom
    Since the accelerated processing of data with IT, we face the question: What is information? After the millennium turn, knowledge management has answered the query with the knowledge pyramid (see also meme units). On the lowest level, there are the signs (icons, pictures, light or sound signals), which can be represented on the next level as data (e.g., 101010). As soon as the data is on the level above in a context of meaning, information (e.g., 42) results. Information accumulated over time then networks into knowledge on the next layer (e.g., the ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything) that then becomes wisdom at the top (e.g., science fiction provides exciting ideas). There are no interfaces to assess the top three levels by factual means. Nobody can look into the head of another.
  • Seeing is believing – is knowing?
    In the pre-Internet era, the fourth estate, the media, besides the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, controlled interpretations of circumstances. Things written in black and white, which existed as a photo or film, and were accepted as a given. In the absence of opinions expressed by other eyewitnesses, no doubts arose. Today, everyone has a cell phone, access to social media, and even their website. This makes them a publisher with global reach – without universally accepted values and in a legal vacuum only with national regulations that are difficult to enforce. Take Wikipedia as an example, that only publishes articles relevant to an encyclopedia, provably published elsewhere, and compiled by the author. This excludes undocumented knowledge. Thus, we understand only half.
  • Is oral tradition knowledge?
    The writing was invented just over 7000 years ago. Before that, knowledge was transferred for millennia by oral tradition. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury imagined even a bookless future in which the classics of world literature were again passed on orally. This spoken word, for example, would not find its way into Wikipedia. To limit our knowledge to data that is on any physical carrier would let us become stultified. The truth would be left to the authors, photographers, filmmakers, and other archivers without publication. Only when thoughts are externalized into a medium, they will become knowledge. Thus, the world does not know what the world knows.
  • Personal explanations
    Knowledge is formed exclusively in the mind of the observer. The personal field, the learned models of thinking, experiences made over time, and unconscious feelings are decisive for the respective interpretation. This leads to different facts like the above interpretation of Douglas Adams, or the other reading of Lewis Carroll, namely any signification, show. It was new for me that 42 is also the second pseudo-perfect number. And who knows that it is Frank’s current age. Since the receiver determines the meaning, the sender’s intent gets lost because it cannot be transmitted. The world will have to endure willy-nilly with alternative facts.
  • Confirmed facts – if so, how many proofs
    The description of a situation depends on the standpoint. Different views automatically result in alternative realities that are coherent in themselves. Besides, observers standing close together will additionally agree to descriptions due to unconscious group pressure, although they may have made a different observation. Do many observers make a fact better? If so, how many must be there to be known? For the classical media, at least two concurring sources are enough to adopt a fact. Isolated observations do not enrich the knowledge of the world?
  • Knowledge gets crafted by science
    Knowledge is located in science. The various disciplines have expanded their echo chambers to such an extent that overarching approaches seek to integrate different pieces of knowledge. For example, when engineering incorporates knowledge from biology into the new field of bionics. The advantage of science comes from the extensive evidence gathered in laboratories or reality and published in studies. It becomes difficult with phenomena that cannot be measured, such as the effects of homeopathic compounds. The natural reaction of scientists to such black box effects is rejection because of the lack of detectability. Such (non-) knowledge’s proponents are disparaged as esotericism, mystics, sectarians, or conspiracy theorists. Do we exclude the wisdom of a shaman or Socrates from the world knowledge?
  • Only verity is knowledge
    Karl Popper dissolved the aberration that only confirmed facts are true with his falsification. The real truth is only obtained when a point is disproved. And how do we classify the broad field of literature? Is it knowledge if we know the personnel of the Human Comedy or the Steppenwolf? Are fictional stories true? Does an unusual perspective lead to special knowledge? Can this knowledge be questioned because the majority perceived it differently? In the end, all facts are remarkable and valid. All turn their attention to different aspects. Even statements, which falsify willfully, create knowledge (In this case, the why would be needed). Doesn’t world knowledge include everything?

Bottom line: The intangible nature of knowledge makes it difficult to classify. The different data formats do not give any information about where the knowledge comes from – except: out of the mind of a person. Do you understand the sentence? In Japanese: この文を理解していますか?; or in Arabic: هل تفهم هذه الجملة؟. However, we are open to all kinds of knowledge as soon as we see or hear it. However, what information we understand depends on us, on our wealth of experience. As group beings, we tend to follow the many – which explains the influx of conspiracy theorists. However, you should ask yourself whether a so-called conspiracy theory is not also knowledge. After all, we believe the results of scientists as well without being able to check them. Libraries are full of scientific papers describing our state of knowledge – but what is declared valid today may be outdated tomorrow. Even truth does not help us because everyone has its reality, which fits coherently into its concepts. What we can know is that many views cannot be reduced to one fact. It is much more critical to avoid holy wars because it lies in the nature of propositions that they could be different. We have to learn to deal with alternative facts instead of negating them categorically.

Saint-Exupery´s hat – the ideal metaphor for facts

Once data is regulated in a new way, the question is back: what is correct data? Some of it is already known, so that it does not have status of information anymore, since they do not provide anything new. Some are discredited as not true. The post-factual public questions everything and everyone nowadays. The original sense of facts (i.e. occurrences, actions, deeds) was derived in the 16th century from the Latin facere (i.e., make, do). Indignation spreads when facts are used by dissidents. They are quickly outlined as wrong and untrue. At the same time we have learned that there are different perspectives onto the world. Saint-Exupéry has described this with a drawing of an apparent hat. But what makes facts true?

In order to circumstantiates a thing, expressions are required that consist of texts, pictures, sounds and the like. But what are the elements that produce the impact of a fact?

  • Paper doesn’t blush
    A look into a printed matter or into a virtual publication generates awe of the published word. Many are missing the point that it could be a truly false statement. You can actually publish the biggest crap and still finding people, who believe it – be it a moon landing that should not have taken place; UFOs that kidnap people; or Pope Francis, who should have declared his support for Trump.
    Printable things seem always to be true.
  • Seeing is believing
    The media has made such progress that you can create every conceivable circumstance by means of digital image processing. Since a picture says more than a thousand words and for many, seeing is believing, facts are being more and more created through manipulated pictures and films – be it the many political pictures from which unwanted comrades have been retouched; manipulated rocket launches; or mobile videos with posed scenes.
    A picture is a representation of reality and therefore it’s true.
  • Everyone has its right perspective
    The point of view determines how pictures are put together and what ends up in the foreground and background. Eyewitnesses are also stuck in their perspective. As a result, a situation, besides the distortions in the memory, is perceived subjectively – be it the viewpoints of the cameramen and photographers; the eyewitnesses of the assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy; or the border conflicts on the Gaza Strip.
    The truth lies in the eye of the beholder.
  • Authorities can not be wrong
    The reference to a historical personality unburdens the individual of the responsibility for assessing and valorizing the situation, although the listener does not necessarily understand what was meant originally. Even if on closer examination it turns out that the statement was made in a specific context in terms of time and content – be it the stock exchange speculator, who sometimes wins and sometimes loses a billion; the tech magnate, who determined that 640 KB of memory would be sufficient for the computer memory; or the car inventor, who limited the worldwide demand for cars to one million due to the lack of chauffeurs.
    Why should you burden yourself with an assessment, if an expert knows better.
  • That’s what everybody does
    What’s really scary is the fact that we tend to believe what many believe to be true. This so-called group thinking distorts the personal rating till unrecognizability. After a certain time, the same individuals ask themselves how they could believe it – whether it was the mass panic that triggered a radio play in 1938 in the USA; herd-like investment in insurance; or sticking to the routine in the face of an exploding reactor in Japan.
    Following in the footsteps of others creates security and the crowd cannot be wrong.
  • The wording produces new old
    The meaning depends on the words with which the circumstances are expressed. At the same time, new words can make old facts appear in a new light. Be it the action-charged concept of movement, behind which political parties’ hide by suggesting that they do not have yet encrusted structures; the fake news, which suggest that alternative facts are wrong; or the avoidance of stigma words while maintaining racist behavior.
    A word means what the public means by it.
  • Interpretation – the step to new things of action
    The fact of matter becomes true when it is loaded with old aspects and finally uttered. The act of publication in the form of speeches, presentations or any other types of publication creates new facts. Fact check or not. In the end, do not trust statistics that you did not fake yourself.
    Facts of matter also result from accepted truths plus the own conclusions.

Bottom line: For thousands of years, philosophy has been struggling to find out what is true. Be it the shadows in Plato’s cave or the luminaries of today’s media. What is real and what we can perceive remains unclear for the time being. As a result, all sorts of seducers try to take sovereignty over truth. This applies to conspiracy theorists, fake news but also for the so-called official media. Who sees the hat, is right and who sees the elephant, is right and who sees the snake, is also right … The crucial question is what we make out of these facts and whether we can stick to it ethically.