Monday, November 19, 2012

What is knowledge? Certainty?

Many people have been led to believe that by some magical method we humans can attain certainty or knowledge about physical reality.  Some think that knowledge is a fruit you can eat, others claim that it is the Scientific Method.  Who are we to believe? Should we consult a crystal ball? Flip a coin? Ask a university professor?

How can we attain "certain knowledge"?

Well, the very first thing to realize is that we can debate about which particular method will give us knowledge until we're blue in the face... IF we leave the key term, knowledge, ambiguous. Without a clear definition of the word "knowledge", it is impossible to evaluate any statement invoking the term.  A person who leaves their words undefined cannot possibly understand even their own statements.  Therefore, all concepts must be defined.

[For a more rigorous analysis of concepts and definitions, please visit:]

Common conceptions of knowledge: 

Merriam Webster defines knowledge as:

the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association 

Webster's definition is circular at first and then it equates knowledge to experience or association.  Many use knowledge as a synonym for "personal experience or memory." This cannot, however, be used consistently.  Intuitively, knowledge, or knowing seems to have to do more with what we communicate to ourselves and others in physical reality. defines "knowing" as:
to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty
This is about as subjective and confusing as it gets. defines knowledge as whatever one perceives, apprehends, or understands as fact.  Firstly, we only understand or apprehend THEORIES (explanations), not facts.  We can only ASSUME facts for the purposes of crafting theories in science.

Furthermore, perceptions and certainty have to do with the term "belief", not knowledge.  Belief concerns your present experience and past memories of objects and events. One is "certain" about their beliefs if they have made up their mind about it.  The popular dictionaries have confused the crucial terms belief and knowledge.  They don't understand that there is distinction.

In common speech, we all understand that there is a difference between believing and knowing.  A belief is when somebody is convinced that a description of the past or present is true.  What the popular dictionaries didn't realize is that knowledge isn't about the past, but rather, the future.

Knowledge: a precise description of a future event or phenomena (syn: prediction) 

Following this rational definition of knowledge, it is clear that knowledge has NOTHING to do with Science.  When a stone-aged Priest was able to predict an eclipse with great accuracy, he was exalted for his knowledge.  The tribe was CERTAIN (they made up their minds) that he KNEW (he accurately predicted) that the event would occur.

The enduring problem is that the tribesmen confused knowledge with explanations.  Science is about making rational explanations for events and is totally different from knowledge (predictions).  The priest wants to trick you into thinking that knowing an event will happen equates with having a rational explanation for how the event could have physically occurred.  History is filled to the brim with examples of people having knowledge with NO rational explanations for phenomena.

Science is about the latter.  Science is the method of formulating rational explanations for physical events.  Science may help with predictions, "expand one's knowledge" so to speak, but predictions are extra scientific and have no place within the Scientific Method.  See


This recent conversation took place on a forum I visit, and is a good introduction to the topic.  After that, we will check with common definitions of the term and finally conclude with a rational definition of knowledge.

C: “I define "knowledge" as information gathered (in the past) from direct experience or indirectly through 3rd parties.”

FF: Ok, so you are saying that knowledge is about what we have committed to memory via some sources. Let’s start from there.
Now....can we qualify ‘knowledge’ as being “certain”, “believed” or “assumed”?

The answer to this question will elucidate what knowledge is really about.

C: “the knowledge would be "believed" if I took it on authority from a third party”

FF: Of course. This is what we have been conditioned to do since we developed language some X-thousand years ago. And that’s why we haven’t made any progress in understanding natural phenomena. Like we discussed in other threads.....belief is the subjective activity that an individual does. We don’t force our beliefs on others. Belief has nothing to do with science....only objectivity does. Just because an authority decrees space & matter were created in the BB....and it must be taught and believed in schools......doesn’t mean there is a rational Hypothesis + Theory to justify such an alleged event. 

The Scientific Method stops after the presentation of the Theory. What the audience believes after the presentation is their own personal business and doesn’t concern Science. This is why we NEVER get into discussions of belief here. We keep the discussions at the objective level. The Hypothesis & Theory is predicated on critical reasoning and rational explanation of natural events using the bounty of the Universe: OBJECTS.

So....we cannot have any scientific discourse if somebody claims they BELIEVE on what an authority or third party told them. Belief, authority, rank, superiority complex, etc. should never enter any discussion of science. If one cannot justify their Theory with a rational explanation, then nobody cares what the hell they are saying....they might as well go talk to the will care more than a scientist does. We are not here to believe ASSERTIONS. We are here to understand the explanation of how nature performs the magic tricks we call: light, gravity, magnetism, electricity.

C: “The knowledge may or may not be certain if I experienced it directly (depending on how good my memory is).”

FF: You need to understand that certainty is impossible to achieve in science. You may have experienced or observed something or other....fine....that’s your personal business. But the rest of the world didn’t experience it....or didn’t experience the same as you did. Why should we take YOUR claim as certainty....and not the OTHER person’s competing claim as certainty? What we have here are two competing opinions. How can we possibly make the correct decision as to which one is certain? Do we vote on the issue? Do we ask an authority to decide for us? Do we flip a coin? 

As you can is impossible to OBJECTIVELY decide. Certainty is not possible in science. That’s why the Scientific Method is divorced from observer-biased opinions. Science is only based on rational Hypotheses & Theories.... no contradictions.

C: “The knowledge would be "assumed" if I guessed about something based on other information I had.”

FF: If it’s assumed, then it’s just an assumption, and nothing to do with alleged “knowledge”. Assumptions are not guesses by any stretch of the imagination. Assumptions are used as ingredients to explain a Theory. To hypothesize means to assume for the purposes of understanding what the Theory is trying to explain. Knowledge, guess and belief play no role here. An assumption is just a WHAT IF scenario only for understanding what the Theory is explaining. What the audience believes after the presentation doesn’t concern science.

So really.....after we have exhausted all avenues....knowledge has nothing to do with Science!

Science has to do with explaining natural phenomena (consummated events); i.e. with the past.
The past cannot be proven. The past cannot be known (for the purposes of science). Nobody can prove that Elvis existed or wrote a single song. Impossible to prove the past, no matter how many magical powers God gave you.


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