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vol III Development:

Chapter 1: Epistemology

Table of Contents

Introduction Our survival, health and happiness depend very much on the way we act. In general we call the control of action art, or 'knowhow', something we learnt by study and practice. Art is informed by knowledge, and the quality of our art relates to the quality of our knowledge. Epistemology is the science responsible for quality control in the knowledge industry.

page 1: Trust: Is there life after death? Is this dog going to bite me? Is this structure strong enough to hold me? Will this person repay me if I lend them money? Should I go to war to save my country from what our government claims is a clear and present danger? All these are questions of faith and trust, and bear more or less on the fitness and survival of individuals and communities. How can we decide if we should believe what we are told?

page 2: Abstraction: We can think about a dog without having an actual dog in our mind. Our mental image of the dog is abstract. How accurately do our abstract images represent the real things? Will that dog do what I think it will do? Abstraction is very powerful, because it enables is to compress wide experience into relatively simple rules. The weakness, however, is that the next situation we encounter may be an exception to our rule.

page 3: Scientific method: Scientific method is the modern standard approach to quality knowledge. Science gives primacy to evidence, and encourages the free use of imagination to develop hypotheses (stories) to fit the evidence. We learn to act without explicit understanding of what we are doing. One can speak without knowing linguistics, and walk while ignorant of dynamics and physiology. Science makes the information content of our arts explicit, so that our skills can be honed.

page 4: Truth: What is true? Something that says it as it is. So if there are 100 litres of fuel in the tank, a true fuel gauge reads '100 litres'. We trust what we know to be true. If the gauge is false, it may read one hundred litres when in fact the tank holds only fifty, and the pilot may be doomed to run out of power before she can land safely. The only way we can decide if something is true is to devise a method of testing it.

page 5: Honesty and deception: Am I telling the truth? Are you telling the truth? These can often be important questions, especially in matters of love and war. We assume that physical things always tell the truth, and that people who are deceived about them are not looking at them in the right way. On the other hand, evolutionary theory and common experience suggests that deception is a common feature of survival strategies.

page 6: Evidence: Although things may look good and seem reasonable, we need to test them to be sure of them. The foundation of trust is evidence that the person or thing trusted has passed a complete set of relevant tests. The future remains to some degree uncertain, however. A dog which has never bitten may yet bite, so our search for truth is open ended.

page 7: Limits to knowledge: What are the limits to human knowledge? Can we know everything? The theory of relativity tells us that certain parts of the Universe are hidden from us by event horizons. Many other things are similarly hidden from us by our inability to communicate with them. In addition, we may identify a need for secrecy, where communication would decrease the fitness of an individual. We may contrast the need for secrecy and the need to know, both based on the value of knowledge to life.

page 8: Security: Our security depends upon understanding our environment. The ancient theory that the world is the creation of an mysterious God who has left vague instructions for our wellbeing is no longer tenable. The environment we must know to survive is always before our eyes, and we need a scientific theology to understand it comprehensively.

page 9: Accountability: The world is a such a complex place that nobody can fully understand the detail of any part of it. What we can do is produce abstract reports which encapsulate a person's experience of what has happened. To be valuable, such reports must be able to checked with the people who prepared them to test their truth. We hold out politicians accountable at election, our business directors at corporate meetings and so on.

(Revised 7 August 2014)


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