Nature of Knowledge – Midterm 2012

1.   Quotes about Knowledge

  • “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” – Richard Feynman

During our discussion about experts, we watched a TED talk by Noreena Hertz in which she lectures about when and when not to trust experts. According to Feynman, doubting experts leads to scientific advancement. I partially agree with this statement, but not fully. Although it is good to question experts occasionally and think logically about what they are telling you (and know that even experts make mistakes sometimes), many scientists are, in fact, experts. On the other hand, we cannot live our lives doubting everything the experts say or advise us, the common folk, to do. If that was how we lived our lives, what would be the point of becoming an expert? Why spend four+ years in college delving into a certain subject if everyone would ignore what you say and your thoughts? It may be true that doubting the experts could start some new form of science, but after that, experts are extremely beneficial to have and trust.

2.   Questions about Knowledge

  • Is collective knowledge and crowdsourcing the new paradigm?

As my group and I discovered whilst researching the Harvard Cheating Scandal, many students had similar answers on a final exam in their course at Harvard University. My guess to what the students were thinking is that it would be a lot less work for everyone if they simply worked together. Opinions about crowdsourcing are split; to some, it is more efficient and gets tasks done faster while others believe it is easier to do everything themselves.

Personally, I believe that dividing up a task is the better way to do things. If someone feels that this is unfair, which is completely understandable, then even working in groups to do one task is much more efficient than working by yourselves. With two minds working together, you may produce answers that you had not thought about or try new things you normally would not have tried. I think that schools are realizing that, in life, we, as students, will have access to others and their thoughts. Because of this, we still do group projects and work with our classmates. I think, in the end, our paradigm is slowly changing to accept crowdsourcing and group work more.

3.   Readings

  • Article One

“How deep must change penetrate our organizations before we see systemc change?” p. 5

This line made me think about something I had not previously thought about. Once someone goes against the norm, they are considered ‘strange’ or ‘weird’ for doing something differently. But, at what point does this new way of doing something become the norm? At what point in time does something go from being weird to being new, modern, and ‘better’? My opinion, which may seem like the easy way out, is that it depends on the situation.

“To arrive at a true definition of knowledge is to render it useless for diverse implementation.” p. 17

I partially agree with this statement. To label knowledge would definitely limit its versatility. But, like a simple word, knowledge can have multiple definitions. “True knowledge” could be applicable in many different situations.

“Our mind is a network…an ecology. It adapts to the environment.” p. 27

The only thing I have against this statement is that it is not true all of the time. Granted, the mind may try to adapt to the current situation on is in, but without the proper knowledge of how to complete your task, the adaptation of your mind is useless.

“The power to speak exists for everyone ..The power to be heard stll pools.” p. 64

This is directly related to what I just said regarding the quote before this. It is true that everyone may talk, but that is worthless without knowing how to be heard. In terms of the statement prior to this, the adaptation of our minds is the power to speak whereas its success is the power to be heard.

  • Article Two

“The Internet is making this old and difficult problem even worse. If we had an abundance of information in, say, the 1970s, the Internet has created a superabundance of information today.” 

Larry Sanger, the author of this article, is talking about the internet with such distaste. He tells us that in the old days, there was already an abundance of information in books and t.v. shows – the only problem was, you had to search through those book and watch all of those shows for the one snippet of information you were looking for. I am disagreeing with what Sanger said in this quote. Although, yes, there may be more information than we know what to do with, but the purpose of the internet is not to inundate us with information; with this invention, we can easily find the one piece of knowledge we needed without having to read a whole book or watch a whole movie.

“The more that information piles up on Internet servers around the world, and the easier it is for that information to be found, the less distinctive and attractive that knowledge will appear by comparison.” 

Just because there is more information to be seen, it does not lower the appearance of knowledge. Just because something valuable is surrounded by non-important things, it does not lower the value of the original object (or, in this case, knowledge). Therefore, I am disagreeing with this assertion as well.

“The Internet is less a publishing operation than a giant conversation.” 

Couldn’t this be beneficial? Isn’t this similar to group work or crowdsourcing? People are working together to put out new ideas that others may not have thought of. At the same time, if someone says something that is incorrect, others can correct them and provide truth information which can turn into knowledge if its reader so desires.

“But if I then read the news in a few other, more credible sources, then my belief becomes much better justified, and then I can be said to know.” 

But since there is so much more information on the internet nowadays, isn’t it easier to find credible sources that can tell you the information you are looking for?

4.   Must-See Video Playlists and Articles

  • Theme One: Thinking

The internet helps the world with ideas. Ideas and thoughts are shared and birthed through the internet much quicker than it would have taken otherwise. “It’s like building a birds nest… where everyone leaves their piece” so we can build a cushion of information and thoughts that are always there for us to look through when needed. Full ideas are often produced from separate people putting together their partial thoughts. After all, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

The authors are describing what they think is the source of this new hyperactivity. We can no longer sit and concentrate on one long article anymore. Their reason: the internet has too many footnotes or little things to Google. “For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online…”  (from the first article) which could theoretically reduce an attention span. But, I disagree on why our attention spans have been getting progressively shorter. I think that books or articles we are reading have to be even more interesting or entertaining than they previously had to be because if they lose our interest, the reader can simply find a new article with a few clicks. For example, a novel must have a fantastic plot line with interesting events happening constantly to keep me tuned in. Otherwise, I am likely to close the book and go on the internet where millions of things I might find interesting are waiting for me to read.

Also discussed is how we remember information: “People are recalling information less, and instead can remember where to find the information they have forgotten.” (second article) In my opinion, this is a more effective way of remembering information. Instead of having to know every single piece of information, we are remembering where and how to find any possible thing we need to find. We can now put this information to use to discover similar pieces of information whereas before, we only knew the small piece of knowledge.

In my opinion, the geniuses have not gone anywhere (article four). Because all of this information is so readily available, society has simply increased our standard for what makes someone “a genius”. It no longer means that you can recall the population of Laos or can list the first 100 digits of pi. The meaning of the word “genius” has altered because of Google and other search engines that make all of this information so available to anyone with internet access. Therefore, the geniuses have not gone anywhere; we now are simply sprouting super-geniuses.

  • Theme Two: Encyclopedia

Personally, I think having an online encyclopedia of knowledge is a superb idea. Not only does this include book knowledge (as talked about in the first video) but also knowledge about animals and the world that surrounds us (The Encyclopedia of Life). Jimmy Wales, in his interview video, discusses his thoughts about encyclopedias. I agree with what he said about the decline of encyclopedias throughout the years. In elementary school, we were required to look for facts in volume after volume of huge books inundating us with useless information. Wales’s creation simply made it easier for the population to find what they are looking for. Even if this means the downfall of traditional encyclopedias  why is that so bad? It would save practically a whole forest and is a much simpler tool for research.

One argument against Wikipedia or other online encyclopedias, explored in “Under the Surface,” is the fact that anyone can edit the pages. Something I hadn’t previously thought about, though, is the fact that this could lead to biased information. Yes, I know that when everyone is allowed to edit, the knowledge is supposed to be less trustworthy or true. But, I know see that if anyone could edit any page, the opposing side could be deleted by someone who is against that knowledge being shared. For example, a republican may go on a page about Barack Obama and delete all of the positive things he has done with their negative opinions.

According to the first article, Wikipedia deserves to be given an award for being monumental in the advances of world culture. Personally, I agree that it should be awarded for being a spectacular advancement in the way we think and research. I believe it affected us a lot more than a non-used Japanese mine shaft. The way the encyclopedia of life affected our knowledge of biology and other sciences is amazing as well. These encyclopedias deserve to be acknowledged for their spectacular accomplishments.

  • Theme Three: Libraries

Libraries are a fantastic source of knowledge. It’s good to have record of the books that people have written throughout time. For example, the Library of Congress has a record of every magazine, newspaper, book, etc. stored within its walls. But, at the same time, it’s a marvelous idea to put all of these texts online where they can be stored without paper. Like in these videos, with one simple fire, a library can be destroyed. There is no one single event (excluding the end of the internet) that could delete the texts forever. They can be recovered if they are placed on multiple computers or online which I’m sure they would be. A physical library is still necessary though because we don’t want to forget how to use books (Medieval video) and be unable to gloriously flip through the pages of your favorite novel.

But, most people are lucky enough to have access to the internet. It is so much simpler to be able to go to any computer and do a quick search for what you want. With actual libraries, you must go to the library and hope that they have the book you are searching for. If not, you have to go to the library in the next town to find that one snippet of knowledge you are searching for. Google has the same information on every computer and one website can’t be “checked out.” Any number of people can be looking at the same sentence at the exact same time.

Transforming libraries into a digital gathering of knowledge is very advantageous not only to the common bystander that needs information, but for scientists searching for new knowledge. They can work together from different sides of the globe to accomplish the same goal. Researchers would no longer need to send letters back and forth to share what they have discovered. These people wouldn’t even have to send emails! With Google Doc technology, they could see each other’s work virtually instantaneously. But, it would still be good to have a library to put their printed research into to join the history of the world through text.

5.   My Ten Ideas for Rethinking Education and School Vlog

My ten ideas for improving school include both the nit-pick details as well as broader ideas. They are:

  1. Go by first names
  2. Public speaking class (every speaker in the videos)
  3. Comfortable space – couches (videos 1,7)
  4. More class choices to avoid labeling people as dumb (videos 3, 4)
  5. The ability to retry (video 5, skateboarding)
  6. Replace bells with a new tune (video 3)
  7. Disregard age when categorizing students, do academic ability instead (video 3)
  8. Start school at 10 am and end at 5 pm with a shorter lunch
  9. Have a short, quiet, nap time in the middle of the day
  10. Occasionally have a class outdoors to feel the warmth of sunlight and the breeze

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