||[Feb. 2nd, 2010|09:36 am]
Despite conventional wisdom, knowledge is not just a collected body of facts. This is because that's exactly what information is, so knowledge must be something else. In fact, it's so much more.|
First of all, I argue that knowledge must be validated to be knowledge. You might hear about wrong information, but rarely do you hear about wrong knowledge. In fact, you commonly hear knowledge associated with truth. This is because knowledge is acquired through experience, the validation of consistency against reality. As they say, you never know until you try.
I also argue that knowledge is not real until it is learned. In a sense, knowledge doesn't exist outside of a person. We talk about our collected body of knowledge, but we're really talking about people and the knowledge they have, or had when they were alive. Anything else is merely information, potential knowledge that has yet to be validated and internalized. Although we trust certain information to be validated "knowledge" since it was once acquired by someone else, it's only an assumption until you have learned it (experienced it) for yourself.
Whether you buy that or not, we all seem to agree that knowledge is power. This is revealing about knowledge when you consider that power is defined as the capacity to cause change. This implies that the nature of knowledge is biased towards the idea of how-to. Although we consider the declarative what-is-true knowledge of, say, mathematics, to be knowledge, it is only a shorthand for the proof behind it, and the process of deriving a proof is obviously a question of how-to.
The idea that knowledge is concerned with change and *how* things happen is important in contrast to why things happen. The fundamental difference between how and why is that how is concerned with structure and process, while why is concerned with function and meaning. The how of something can be determined without context through analysis. How does it work? Take it apart and find out! The why of something is highly dependent on context and synthesis. Why do we have xyz? You'll *never* know from taking xyz apart. Meaning comes from the outside. It accumulates not as knowledge, but as understanding.
A probably more significant implication of knowledge being about change and process, is its relation to computer science. Not computer science as in the specific field of study, but computer science as the essence of computation. Perhaps, philosophy of computation. What computation and programming are about is the notion of formalizing intuitions about . . . process.
Harold Abelson, co-developer of MIT's introductory computer science course, says computer science is not even so much about the computer. "When a field is just getting started, it's easy to confuse the essence of that field with the tools that you use." I think the big significance of computation is not computation at all . . . it's about a means to formally talk about knowledge itself.
We have general language as a formal expression of information and data, and we have basically programming and computers as a formal expression of knowledge and process. This leads me to wonder: what will we develop that allows us to formally express understanding and meaning? What kind of revolution will that be?