Knowledge in this world is relative not always what we see but also dependent on other extra-sensory perceptions. Unlike animals who mostly judge the world and its knowledge in a limited way with their senses, our methods of perception include the use of the five senses, reason, logic, emotion and intuition. Many times, the degree or extent of knowledge varies with education or with the kind skepticism and surroundings a person imbibes. What are we? What are they? Is it just another either/or question? This essay will seek to show the interdependence between whom we are and what they are. Do we see then understand, or do we understand and then see? Or are they interdependent? (Lehrer 1990) Suppose, if all the humans on earth died, would everything still be seen as the same. If an alien came down from outer space, would they see a chair as a chair, or a bunch of molecules? It does depend on the deduction of knowledge from the point of view of the alien and the collective axiom of the alien’s origin and as origin is different so their perception of a chair is bound to be different as per correspondence theory of knowledge, rational knowledge or simply coherence theory of truth.
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We usually form an idea of Empirical, metaphysical or analytical statements with the help of signs, gestures, expressions and language and construct our value judgement. However, Perception has been defined as an active, conscious and selective process of recording the events and data of the world and then critically interpreting it and evaluating it so that only the useful parts are stored in our memory. This suggests Rationality and Logic, i.e., we see the world as we are trained to so. However, Perceptions can also be highly subjective and psychological. Thus, the theory of Knowledge is highly relative (Cortada and Woods 1999).
Let us try to solve the question of Knowledge and the means of knowing it by looking at the subjects of Mathematics, Economics and Art and explore them through the following ways of knowing – perception, emotion and reason. Mathematics is often associated with absolute objectivity. Is this time? Mathematics is always done through a social or historical context, which can be often translated into a filter. There are also many other types of filters, these can include culture, age, gender and religion (Pojman 1993).
Mathematics and cultural filters
An example of Mathematics and cultural filters is the case of Srinivasa Ramanujan (December 22nd 1887 – 26th April 1920) from India. He was a genius who learnt most of his Mathematics through an elementary textbook and then extrapolated this into further calculus and other mathematical forms. Even though he sent his work to many eminent scholars in the West, he was highly rejected. This suggested that mathematicians were conditioned by their social and cultural statuses. However, a counter claim was suggested when G.H. Hardy, a mathematician from Cambridge University accepted Srinivasa’s work, which showed his passion for mathematics was a stronger filter for him in comparison to his colleagues (Hogan 2006).
In the subject of Economics, the law of diminishing returns states that the marginal production of a factor of production starts to progressively decrease as the factor is increased, in contrast to the increase that would otherwise be normally expected. The idea of diminishing returns is famously demonstrated by Soviet Russia in the 1930’s when the leaders seek to disband the weekend holiday and creating a seven day work week rather than five working days. The communists believed that working seven days a week would increase productivity, however productivity decreased due to a lack of motivation and efficiency because of mad working conditions. The law of diminishing returns seemed completely true until Brian Arthur forwarded the idea of increasing returns, in which he showed the world could be conceived in radically different terms, suggesting that again we can break free of our Problems of Knowing and Linking Questions (Pojman 1993).
Analysis of Mathematics
Mathematics is considered to be a highly rational, symbolic subject, a kind of logical game, like chess. Then why is it called a language? Do the symbols and variants of mathematics function like our spoken or written language? Then, it will be justified to say that to know the subject, you must learn its language, i.e., its symbols. Let us consider what Carl Sandberg said. He said that arithmetic has either right or wrong. Thus, mathematics might not be simply the application of logic or reason to space and quantity problems. Once, Einstein was asked what are 2 multiplied by 10. He answered that the number is neither 19 nor 20 but it is in between. (Hogan 2006) This highly suggests Einstein’s ‘Theory of Relativity’ applied to mathematics. The ‘formal’ school of maths believes that it is a subject ruled by logic while the ‘realist’ school of thought believes in practically applying mathematics to the workings of the world. Thus, it can also be argued that there is no coherence in mathematics. If something is proved right by mathematical thought, does that have to be ‘real’ and ‘true’ knowledge? Aren’t there any unproved statements in the subject? Do we perceive nature in mathematics? If we see the technological progress of computers and electronic calculators, we must understand how much mathematics has progressed, in terms of knowledge but where is the ‘truth’ claim? Is mathematics subjective like art, dependent on culture and gender? Why did G.H. Hardy say, “The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or poet’s…There is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics?” (Fuller 2006)
Analysis of Economics
Next, let us look at the world of economics and its sub-branch, Finance. Rationalism and Empiricism are the keystones of Finance. However, its uses models of mathematics which are very abstract, like Differential and Integral Calculus, Multivariate Analysis, Optimization, Dynamic Programming and Stochastic Differential Calculus. The Theory of Knowledge theorist, Hessen describes Rationalism as the cause of knowledge, proving phenomena that exist. Thus, all knowledge becomes an idea, as purported by Plato, thus stating that the world of phenomena is in a state of constant flux and thus cannot provide authentic knowledge. Finance theory follows the CAPM model to follow this logicality and universal validity process. Hessen then defines the Empiricist model of knowledge that suggests that all knowledge is formed from experience, which dominates over reason at many times. People do not have knowledge by birth, they learn by experience and observation of their surroundings. Thus, Finance Theory also uses statistical techniques like ‘Econometrics’ to show ‘contrast hypothesis’ on several financial models, to observe and arrive at a truth which is realistic and based on different conditions. Thus, Finance can be mathematically abstract, based on mere intellectualism and conjecture and also become a subjective observation of facts and phenomena over a period of time to arrive at logical conclusions derived from practical experience (Hogan 2006).
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Shifting to the arts, we find this even truer. Language and Linguistics are the most primary forms of knowledge but Socio-Linguistics has proved that the acceptability of canonized languages, the different forms of Hybrid, Pidgin or Creole English, the use of signs and symbols instead of a verbal and written language; the problems of caste, gender, nationality, dialects, emotions, cultures and rituals make the concept of perception and communication an entirely subjective and complicated process (Pojman 1993).
Literature and Art have always been considered abstract and unrealistic forms of knowledge as they are based on Imagination. However, literary criticism has gone through several stages to define the means of correct perception and the process of extracting it from the literary work. The theory of Aestheticism, propagated by Oscar Wilde, Walter Peter and Harold Bloom associated knowledge with beauty. The ‘beauty’ of a work of art should be self-sufficient as knowledge and experience—there must be no ideas of morality attached to art. This goes against Plato’s famous dictum that all poets were liars as they copied or imitated the imperfect world that they saw around them, not helping society in reforming itself or contributing to any significant knowledge (Lehrer 1990).
Structuralists and semioticians asserted that there were ‘signs’ in a work of literature that would mirror or help interpret other ‘signs’ in the work, leading to linguistic patterns of knowledge, which would be more rational and authentic. Russian Formalism under Victor Shklovsky and Vladimir Propp followed the theories of Marxism and Socialism to make literature appear as a social document of knowledge; a tool for highlighting totalitarian suppression of political truth and for propaganda of class wars (Lehrer 1990).
The literary theories claimed that the generalized, rationalized, objective, patriarchal and westernised forms of knowledge, be it history, literature, travel accounts, philosophy, psychology and culture were highly inaccurate. Harping on the uncertainty of written and spoken language and celebrating the differences of class, gender, nationality, politics, interpretation and narrative, these theories show that the experience of life and the means of observing and recording knowledge are dependent on many factors, instead of being an absolute form of truth. Thus, knowledge depends on the angle of perception and the viewer, just like a photographer in front of different lenses. In this context we see the perception of ‘us’ and then we see the perception of ‘they’ and it depends on the position of ours that determines the way we see others. As a result, all our perceptions and knowledge depend on the position that we reside and see just like perception of the aliens about the chair (Hogan 2006).
Cortada, J.W. and J.A. Woods. The Knowledge Management Yearbook 1999-2000. Butterworth-Heinemann, NY.
Fuller, R.C. (2006), Wonder: from emotion to spirituality, UNC Press, London.
Hogan, K. (2006), ‘Exploring a process view of students’ knowledge about the nature of science’, Science Education, vol. 84, no. 1, pp. 51-70.
Lehrer, K. (1990), Theory of knowledge, Routledge, NY.
Pojman, L.P. (1993), The Theory of knowledge: classical and contemporary readings, Wadsworth Pub. Co., London.