Forget alternative facts. To get to the bottom of what we know and how we know we know it, delve into the science of knowledge itself: epistemology. Build the foundations first.
You glance at the clock in your drawing room, which had served you faithfully for years without ever breaking down. It says 12o’clock. And you believe what it says. But for the first time in its existence, it has broken down.
But by chance, it is 12 o’clock. So you arrived at the “right knowledge” by accident. You didn’t KNOW it is midday, yet your “knowledge” gleaned from a trusted clock is absolute. There is no reason for you to double check, to doubt your trusted clock.
(From Edmund Gettier’s Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? To purchase, click here).
That was a short illustration that the concept we hold dear as “Truth” and/or “Knowledge’ – of which many of us are slaves to – is a whole lot more complicated than simply “I am right, because I got it from a reliable source.” Dig deep enough, and you can always find equal volume of counter-truth. There’s a lot of dirt on Mother Theresa too.
New Scientist recently did a short, easy-to-understand write-up about what separates fact from belief (to read, click here). What you believe so passionately in may not be a fact, like a young child brought up on magic’s absolute belief in Father Christmas and red-nosed reindeers.
Questioning beliefs is not something we do intuitively, because school systems brainwashed us into believing that what we read in authoritative textbooks must be truth. As a young University student, I believed that the human heart, nerve and brain cells cannot be regenerated – that knowledge was concrete – yet I have seen differently in recent years as science progresses.
No, we don’t question the validity of what we read, especially if it comes from a source that we believe to be truthful and authoritative. We swallow everything hook, line and sinker. Sometimes, we believe it with religious zeal and shut our minds to the possibility that we and our revered sources, could be wrong, like the old clock that says 12o’clock.
Thus, I teach my child personally. I teach her chemistry, but wrapped within lessons on chemical kinetics, enthalpy, Gibbs Free Energy, Hess’s Law and Born-Haber cycle, I teach her strong young mind to fly free. To fly free from the textbooks and me. This system is known as Trivium and she is just about to enter Quadrivium.
Her beliefs are different from mine and from the forefathers who shaped our thinking. She doesn’t believe in gravity for example, nor the laws of thermodynamics (amongst other things). We talk about it endlessly from a multitude of curious angles. And when I could teach her no more, I asked her to write to Professor Carlo Rovelli. I can only teach her what I know best, what I know to be my truth, namely, love, kindness and family. The rest is her personal journey. But teach her the foundations well, and she will be fine in the big world beyond.
Carlo Rovelli’s new book is Reality Is Not What It Seems.
From New Scientist:
I love this saying from Jennifer Nagel from the University of Toronto, quoted in the New Scientist article: “Knowing something is a mental state that locks you on to the truth, What that lock is, though – well, we don’t really know.”
So, don’t be so blinded by your truth. Teach your child to find hers/his.
You can read a review of Carlo Rovelli’s latest book here.
Please read this article in Scientific American on what happens when facts threaten your worldview.