Knowledge as representing an indefatigable truth applicable to all of humanity, that is, each and every individual comprising humanity is a delusion. It is a convenience that applies to the person or persons that believe such a notion ensures safety and survival within a localised social and cultural setting. That kind of knowledge would be very difficult to evidence without consulting every living individual on the planet, and treating each set of views as a singular and unique perspective. Much like statistical data can only be representative of a portion of society, a generalisation, an ideal that indexes certain trends within human endeavour, it cannot be descriptive of humanity as a whole, nor is it meant to be.
What’s more, knowledge is subject to change. If this were not the case then as a species reliant on verbal and non-verbal communication to interact socially with any success, we would not have developed the ability or the need to question and thus innovate through our resourcefulness. So that when an idea doesn’t work, we simply try something else, more often than not. Right?
Therefore, to talk about a ‘truth’ in anything is both foolhardy and against the survival of the species as a whole. The concept of a ‘truth’ is based on prescriptive rules. However, common sense, truth’s better looking cousin relies on what is valid and salient in any given moment, and is adaptable as circumstances allow, unlike ugly cousin Truth who stamps its feet and proclaims to be right all the time. Tiresome.
Common sense, as a popularly held concept is based on applicable theory and observation, though even then it has to be demonstrable and applicable to more than just a single human being in order for it to become useful and salient. Though this is clearly not the case in any observable scenario, because as stated such evidence would be difficult to obtain and thus adequately substantiate.
Not all vaccines work for everybody for example. There is always an exception to the rule, no matter how solid a foundation a concept or a type of knowledge may appear to have.
Therefore, our use of metaphor, and by that I mean the way in which we use an interchangeable combination of words to describe the world around us and our experience of it and in it, is how we as a species deal with that lack of all encompassing substantive knowledge alluded to by any kind of truth or truism. We are incapable of being specific in our understanding of the world, and communicating that understanding, precisely because we do so through our own subjective experience in any given moment using communicative tools that are only designed to express generalisations. We are limited in our understanding and thus our ability to be specific by the scope of our own knowledge base.
This doesn’t make a mockery of knowledge at all as some have suggested, in that if it is immediately applicable and useful, then it is valuable. However, it does make a mockery of knowledge being accepted as irrefutable and prescriptive fact. As a blanket rule applicable across the metaphorical board!
This view of knowledge and what it is might appear controversial to those who have fixed notions about the world, and in no way do I seek to demean other people’s communicative experiences or sense of identity, as it relates personally and to one’s peers. However, we construct our identities based on the knowledge and thus beliefs that we have access and exposure to socially and culturally to a very large degree, and the language we use is an expression of that identity. It is as intimately a part of us as our reflections in a mirror, so it is understandable that when a belief system is questioned, a way of looking at the world that works on a personal level then any suggestions to the contrary are felt as a threat. This being said, the only way in which we grow on a personal and social level is by adjusting our beliefs and the language we use in their expression as a natural recourse to an ever changing environment. So, to be rigid in one’s thinking is anathema to progress, and we cannot help but progress no matter how much we dig our heels in.
Prescriptive knowledge impedes growth and innovation because it does not allow for deviation, by way of being able to express a difference of opinion.
Effective knowledge then, is both applicable and adaptable, generating the potential for new conversations to be had, and for adjustments to be made as need requires, and by that I mean both personal and wider social need, and the necessary negotiation between the two.
This adaptability of knowledge as expressed through verbal and non-verbal communication forms the basis for the study of sociolinguistics, and by implication is highly descriptive and indicative of human behaviour as suggested, and something I hope to explore in further detail in future posts.