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Knowledge will make you free

Knowledge will make you free (Photo credit: tellatic)

Before I begin, let me say that this post is in no way directed at anyone in particular, it’s a long-time pet peeve of mine, and a problem that has existed in my country since its founding…

Onward then…

There’s a species of relativism that sometimes tries my patience, and that’s because as one who values knowledge over belief, fact over fantasy, I consider it arrogant, condescending, and dismissive to equate objective knowledge painstakingly gained through much effort and thought with mere subjective opinion or personal preference, as though all claims to knowledge and assertions of belief were on the same footing.

And if all are on equal footing, none are on any footing whatsoever.

Especially when that knowledge conflicts with personal convictions or strongly held, if misinformed, opinions.

This view stems from a naive understanding of what knowledge, facts, beliefs & opinion actually are.

Beliefs are our expectations of experiencing something or its implication if and when we would conceivably be able to. When we believe, we hold as true or false some statement about reality, but belief is not knowledge. It is only a halfway point.

So believing there to be a massive alien space fleet in orbit around the Earth amounts to expecting to see it, or otherwise detect it if and when the means and opportunity were ever available to the believer, whether its actually there or not.

If a belief happens to be true, to reflect actual states of affairs, it is still not knowledge unless we have some way of informing ourselves that it’s true. Even if true, such a belief is still only a fortunate guess.

So unless you have some way of getting information that confirms or disconfirms the presence of the alien fleet, you have no way of actually knowing it in any real sense, and so no actual knowledge either way.

Despite the claims of mystics on “other ways of knowing” through notoriously unreliable methods as revelation, faith or sudden insight, etc, we actually get most of our information about the world through firsthand and secondhand sensory experience, and as potentially misleading and limited as that is, it’s the most reliable, frequently employed and useful means we have of getting information about the world…

…especially when the range, accuracy and power of our sensory experience are boosted ginormously by the instruments we create, and our inherent flaws can be mitigated using the methods and conceptual tools of science.

So we reach knowledge when:

  • we have information on something that may be turn out to be true or false, something that could be believed if known of…
  • we anticipate in some way, through some sensory modality, observing that something, or an implication of it were the means and occasion to arise…
  • this anticipation is correct and and it may possibly be fulfilled by acquiring confirmatory information about it…

There’s one final step to make before we get there…when…

  • we obtain this information through some form of input, usually sensory, possibly others, when this input passes the tests necessary to establish its accuracy, relevance, public accessibility, etc.

So knowledge includes belief as one of its components, but does not equate to belief, and opinions are essentially a form of belief, or at least just as valid or invalid and whether informed, misinformed or uninformed, they CAN be true or false if expressed as well-formed descriptive statements about reality, even the reality of politics, art, sports, or any other human endeavor.

Because knowledge subsumes belief, belief that must further be both true and justified, to truly know something on an emotional as well as intellectual level, to understand and grasp its nuances and subtle points, that thing must be accepted as true. Also, because of this aspect of knowledge, you cannot know something that is false, and you cannot truly know something that you think false when it is true, no matter what your personal intuitions are telling you to the contrary…

…and a classic example of this is Albert Einstein’s failure to grasp the full implications of quantum mechanics through failure to accept them, despite his own genius, to paraphrase Michio Kaku, a field of science “…so strange and bizarre, even Einstein couldn’t get his head around it.”

Finally, there is no such thing as a “true fact,” and a “real fact” is simply redundant showing a day-glow red flag that the one using the words in that way is clueless or full of sh*t.

A fact cannot be true, nor false, nor anything in between — it either exists or it doesn’t — and the existence of a fact is independent of anyone actually accepting or being aware of it. Facts are those events, properties and collections of things that through their existence or lack of it make beliefs and descriptive statements made about them true or false.

So yes, facts can and often do trump our opinions, at least when we know about them, except perhaps in our own minds of course. No belief or opinion whose truth is not borne out by facts we can be made aware of will never amount to knowledge in itself.

As for internal, subjective things, there exist objective facts about those as well…

Were I to experience anger in any situation, or a belief or lack of belief about something, my anger, belief or its lacking are objective facts about the state of my brain at that time. The facts can, of course, change over time with changes in mood or understanding, but these facts reflect actual physical conditions in my brain consistent with these states, conditions that can at least in principle be objectively measured while they exist.

So, as long as my introspective abilities are reliable in informing me of my mental state in any instance, I’m actually in a particular state, and I’m being up-front in any report I may make about what goes on inside my own mind — which, by the way, I have exclusive and privileged access to, just as you do yours — there is no legitimate way for anyone to claim, “It’s only true for you that you think X (or whatever), not a fact (subtext: I know more than you do about what you really think — bow to my superior magical insight, puny mortal!).”

We’re all ignorant, just about different things.

I’d like to close this with a quote by the late great Isaac Asimov:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”


  1. Knowledge liberates the mind!:)


    • Aristomedes
    • Posted Thursday, 10:09, June 7, 2012 at 10:09
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Hello, new reader here. We seem to think a lot alike. From this post I suspect you’d enjoy a book, Reason and Belief, by the late Brand Blanshard. It is the most generous, and to me thereby, convincing takedown of religious belief I’ve ever read. In fact, I rather suspect you have read it, as your steps toward knowledge track his quite closely; or perhaps great minds just think alike, in this case.
    I look forward to reading more of your cogitations.


  2. Fantastic post! Love the Asimov quote at the end.


    • Thank you. Asimov was always one of my favorite writers…so prolific, and all of it literary and educational gold!


  3. Our ideologies are different. And they should be. That is the inherent nature of individuality. Personally, I prefer those like yourself, those who never accept anything without absolute knowledge of its reality. Then I know that they are being true to themselves, which gives them value.


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