Learn To Distinguish Knowledge From the Truth

Welcome to 2022, a time where everyone is an expert, but nobody knows what they are talking about. Nobody likes a know-it-all, those who think of themselves as fine wine in a tall glass, but instead, they are warm urine in a plastic cup.

Image by LubosHouska on Pixabay Edited by Author

What is Knowledge?

At some point, all of us set out pursuing knowledge on subjects that spark our interest. We can define knowledge as facts acquired through education, with education not limited to “being schooled”, it extends to practical experiences we gather living our lives.​

In a more philosophical sense, Plato defined knowledge as justified true belief. However, philosophers are still debating exactly how to define knowledge. We categorized two views of obtaining knowledge in the modern age: rationalism and empiricism.​

The rational view interprets knowledge as a product of reasoning and logic. Mathematical problems fit into this category. A car travels at 30mph; how long will it take to travel 30 miles, assuming it doesn’t stop for a break?

If you understand math and make a couple of assumptions (like the car not stopping and it moving at a constant speed), you could be confident you know the answer, the truth.​

The empirical view uses the senses and experiences; for instance, to know the melting point of sodium, you would have to get some sodium, then see what temperature it melts at and record it. You have to experience or perceive the event to obtain knowledge.​

So far, the idea of knowing stuff seems pretty straightforward; however, when you think deeper many problems become apparent. You could begin to question whether or not you know anything at all.

Don’t be too Confident in Your Knowledge

Often we are very prideful about the things we know. After all, these things pave the way for achievements that mean a lot to us.

Achievements like: growing a giant vegetable, getting 90% or above on an exam, or owning a successful business can seem impossible without the person in mind having an abundance of knowledge on the subject they practice.

The problem with the concept of knowing is when we become certain that the knowledge we hold represents the truth.​​

Why can’t we be sure? Because we can doubt most things. Justification always requires more explanation. Even science can’t prove anything beyond all doubt. The knowledge you hold could be incorrect, regardless of how much reason you have.​

Rational knowledge depends on particular assumptions to be true for your understanding to be valid. Remember the car example? All those assumptions I made about constant speed or not stopping those work in a perfect scenario but will probably carry some inaccuracy in reality.

Empirical views have limitations due to the precision of our instruments or the interpretation of our senses. Discoveries that could change civilization could be right under our noses but invisible because we lack the technology to detect and measure them.

You can doubt rational and empirical knowledge. We can even contest the validity of uncertainty itself because the truth does exist,​

Assuming you know the truth can close off the mind to the possibility of being incorrect, in turn making us ignorant to the limitations of our knowledge. Throw a bit of pride into the mix, the reluctance to acknowledge our ignorance increases.

In my opinion, these are two things in life we can be sure of:

1, all information will come with uncertainty

2, our interpretation of the truth will vary depending on our perspective

Everything I See is my Perspective, not the truth.

This Introspection started with me looking up quotes from some of the most prominent scholars; I came across words from Marcus Aurelius (i haven’t verified that the quote is his) “Everything we hear is opinion, not fact. Everything we see is perspective, not the truth.”​

Knowledge is an opinion based on what reality appears to be and does not necessarily represent the truth. It’s more a matter of confidence than certainty. Science has a brilliant example of this; it used to be common knowledge that there were four fundamental elements of nature: fire, earth, water, and air.

An element is a substance made up of one constituent; it cant be broken down into anything else. We know air segments into oxygen, nitrogen, and other gasses, and water splits into hydrogen and oxygen.

When science advances, we could view reality from a new perspective and show that our prior knowledge was invalid. Again showing how empirical knowledge changes as our perspective shifts; does the same apply to rational understanding?​

No, it doesn’t depend on any perspective. I think it’s a type of perspective, an idealized area of thought where things are defined to occur a certain way. For example, 1 + 1 = 2; there is no alternative; this is how things are determined to be. There are definitive rules that make up the world of mathematics and logic; these rules eventually determine truth.

Who’s to say our current knowledge or beliefs aren’t waiting to be proved wrong? Accepting the uncertainty in knowledge could lead us to become wiser. In my experiences, acknowledging uncertainty makes me more sceptical about what people tell me, more inclined to do my research and draw my conclusions.

At the same time, it has left me more open to considering other perspectives and changing my beliefs when challenged by conflicting arguments or presented with new evidence.

I Need to Become Wiser to get Closer to the truth.

In a world where everyone seems to be an expert, you can find yourself in situations where you are unsure where to listen or learn. I have just discussed the uncertainty which accompanies all knowledge, so how do we get closer to the truth?​

We have to use our wisdom to decipher and filter through all the information and data presented. Although it can seem simple to take the word of reputable/successful people, this leads us back to our original problem, the assumption that their “knowledge” is correct…

We can go back to the scientific example I gave earlier; if you lived in ancient Greece and listened to academics of that period, you would have learned the wrong elements of nature. No matter how reputable a person, they cannot pass on the truth, only their opinion or evidence.​

To complicate things further, the concept of bias rears its head; we consider some facts over others to make things align with what we want to believe.

Our biases link to our ego, and others sharing our viewpoint will reinforce bias, affecting what we are willing to believe.

We shouldn’t disregard the thoughts of others altogether; it could be a quick source of beneficial information. Most of what we know about the world comes from what other people find out through their experiences.

Everyone will have their preferred sources of knowledge for different reasons, but it isn’t very sensible to think about whose is best. If you genuinely want to gain proper insight into a subject of interest, it’s more important to try and obtain opinions from as many different specialists as possible.

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Jason Maverick

Jason Maverick

Autistic and Opinionated | Instagram: Jason_d_maverick