Mingkun Wan

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Why some knowledge cannot be accumulated like scientific knowledge?

Scientific knowledge has been accumulated and developed for hundreds of years by universities or other scientific community. This is why technology can be developed so quickly and efficient. However, some knowledge seems to be non-accumulateable. For example, for thousands of years, people still face the problem of corruption and meaning of life like our ancestors do. Moreover, the kind of knowledge that do not accumulate seems to be mostly philosophical knowledge and social knowledge.It seems that we simply do not learn from past about these kind of knowledge, and this is why we face the same problems again and again for thousands of years. However, I firmly believe that these kinds of knowledge are as important as scientific knowledge in order to make the society a better society.Will there be a way for us to accumulate these kind of knowledge like scientific knowledge? Will we have a way to develop those knowledge like scientific knowledge to avoid commiting the same problems again and again, or to avoid the "repeat of history"?

  • Dec 31 2013: I wonder if rather than knowledge not being accumulated, we have simply stopped using the cultural structures through which most of that type of knowledge has been shared. Most cultures historically embraced an oral tradition. Many societies also held the elders of the community in high regard. As society changes however, so do those structures. If as a society we find ways to reignite the oral tradition and create new spaces for dialogue we may also find that we are better at surfacing and sharing those types of accumulated knowledge.
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      Jan 2 2014: Hi Natasha,

      You provided a very very interesting point of view. Just like you said, knowledge has its own carriers. Just like today's education system and school are better at developing and passing down scientific knowledge, there are many other systems and institutions that are good at passing down social and philosophical knowledge, such as oral tradition and poetry. However, we have abandoned those systems today and this is one reason that why those knowledge cannot be accumulated.
  • Jan 4 2014: Maybe there'sanother way of looking at this problem.it seems that since the laws of physics are uniform in nature (in that they are predictable and do not change from person to person), it has been easier to lay a foundation that humanity can continually build on. Philosophical knowledge, on the other hand, seems to me to be ultimately a way of knowing the self and it is up to each person to examine their personal life experiences through this lense of philosophy. It doesn't seem that we've lost this knowledge. I can read translations of philosophical works from thousands of years ago anytime I can muster the energy to walk over to my bookshelf. Maybe what we've lost in our societies is the tradition and value of self examination.
  • Jan 2 2014: There is more than one problem here, the first problem, as other commentators have correctly pointed out, is not in the accumulation but in the transmission. Current society makes sure that scientific knowledge is effectively and continuously transmitted to the next generation which then adds more, so more and more scientific knowledge is accumulated with each passing generation, this doesn't seem to happen with other types of knowledge so knowledge is lost when the generation that acquired it passes away. The second problem is discontinuity, if you generate one piece of knowledge and you succeed in passing it to the next generation, but for some reason that generation don't pass it over to the next, such knowledge will be lost, and anyone needing it in the future will have to generate it all over again form scratch. The third problem is scale, we humans are too bad to link cause and effect when they are separated by big spans of time, the kind of time spans in which social events occur, so if it takes more than one generation to produce a piece of knowledge it is less likely that such knowledge gets transmitted to the next generation, because the producers have very small amount of time to do so before they die.
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      Jan 4 2014: Hi Demetrius:

      The third problem you point out is really interesting. Would you like to tell me your ideas about how to improve our ability to link cause and effect if something takes more than one generation to produce a piece of knowledge? Should we pay more attention on History education?
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    Jan 2 2014: i don't think that we have a satisfactory understanding how culture works. because i claim it is mostly cultural issue. some ideas spread, others don't. why islam spreads fast for a good one and a half thousand years, while buddhism pretty much doesn't. why buddhism gained popularity in the 60's and 70's in the US, but then it kind of phased out. there are or can be a great many answers, but i doubt we have a definitive answer.

    for example if you look at science, it has a rather peculiar spread pattern. it is not that people are getting more scientific. only a tiny minority do. they are the researchers and engineers that create the technology that the rest of the population just uses. there are even anti-scientific and anti-technology sentiments, but they are not enough to stop scientific progress.

    on the other hand, in the economy, the situation is somewhat similar, but with different outcome. free enterprise pretty much delivers similar benefits as science does, and those that benefited, often subscribe to anti-capitalistic sentiments. but anti-capitalism is strong enough to seriously hurt that process. no politician ever would stand up and say: we need less science. but it is quite okay to say we need less capitalism.

    it pretty much boils down to memes. our brain and our mind is a chaotic system with a lot of built-in mechanisms (instincts) and also learned mechanisms (culture). it is very hard to understand why one meme is easily picked up by this system, while others penetrate it only slowly.
  • Jan 11 2014: There is hard science, soft science and philosophy knowledge. Hard science is always repeatable and verifiable. If it is not, then it is a theory and can be studied.
  • Jan 6 2014: I could give instances of where very scientific minds have given very irrational answers to questions/problems.

    Science is not the only answer, but critical thinking based on scientific principles is a good start. In schools we teach science, but do we teach critical thinking, philosophy, and much else besides that would help us all make much more rational decisions?!

    Scientific learning, as with many other areas of learning lead the student into one way of thinking. Tunnel vision, where different ways of thinking are avoided, or even invisible.

    Science has given us knowledge, but not always informed us as to the best ways to use what we have learned. There needs to be a greater co-operation between the fields of science and philosophy. Philosophy is, I think, not valued as much as scientific knowledge, and sometimes with good reason.
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    Jan 4 2014: Actually science has engulfed this world under itself. Without science, it is very difficult to survive at least in today's world. Science has become a part of our live. We daily see that science is applied in many tasks of our daily life. So I must say that life without science is impossible too.
  • Jan 2 2014: I don't know that the systems have been completely abandoned. I think that in many modern cultures they look different and we need to work to adapt them to the ways in which we currently relate. We need to rebuild community. I also think though, that we do still in many ways accumulate other kinds of knowledge, we may just not be as intentional about it as we are with Scientific knowledge.
  • Jan 2 2014: The problem is repetition. We simply do not spend the same amount of time teaching our children that we used to. We would rather spend our time working or watching TV or Facebook or whatever device or substance we are addicted to.
  • Dec 31 2013: Its accumulated just fine, the problem is it tends to get stuck inside dusty old books (and lately equally dusty, not so old servers and hard drives) instead of in people's heads.

    The vast majority of people, including those on all levels of government, military, or corporate positions of power don't know much in the way of history; the best you can usually hopeful is the incredibly simplified and biased version taught in school.
    And even the ones that do know history on a more satisfactory level often fail to apply it properly in situations where the lessons of the past are applicable.
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      Dec 31 2013: I agree with you Nadav! However, I am still curious about how do you think about why people cannot "apply it properly in situations where the lessons of the past are applicable". Is it the problem of our education system?
      • Dec 31 2013: Its partially a problem with the educational system, and partially a failing of the people themselves.
        The truth is, half the people on this planet are in possession of less then average intelligence (very sad, I know). Applicability requires a great deal of pattern recognition, as well as an uncommon understanding, which many people aren't capable of even when the knowledge is available. There is simply more demand for intelligent people then the supply can keep up with.

        It doesn't help that making high office in practically anything often has more to do with charisma and connections then intelligence and competency. This is as true in a dictatorship as it is in a democracy.
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    Dec 31 2013: Are you saying that knowledge of values, traditions, and philosophies do not get passed down over time within cultures?
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      Dec 31 2013: Yes. It seems to me that some social philosophical problems are repeated again and again for thousands of years and knowledge of how to solve those problems are never passed down, not like scientific knowledge. For example, no one would say that Earth is the center of the universe today. However, government still corrupt, different countries still fight against each other, philosophers still argue about the same problem for thousands of years. It seems to me that those problems are just repeating themselves over and over again and people never learn from them.
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        Dec 31 2013: The place of the Earth in the universe is not a question of how to do something made complicated by people's competing interests and varied social contexts.