The Knowledge Explosion in the Modern times:
Posted by khuram on August 19, 2006
The Knowledge Explosion in the Modern times:
Humans are rational beings. Unlike other animals, they always need to have some kind of theoretical relationship not only between themselves and the universe as a whole, but they also need to have some theoretical understanding about the mutual relations among them. “Knowledge” is all what humans theoretically know, of themselves, of the universe and of their own mutual relations. “Knowledge” in our known world, is under the sole possession of mankind. Other animals do have their existence in this world and they do have their own mutual relations also. They do not possess ‘knowledge’ however because they possess no theoretical stuff at all. We are not sure whether they can feel their independent existence apart from their surrounding environment or not. Even if they feel so, we are sure then, that those feelings must not be of theoretical nature.
Humans are unique in this world in that they act in accordance with their theoretical understandings. To understand the exact nature of ‘human knowledge’, it is necessary that we must differentiate between humans’ theory based actions and the instinct based actions of animals.
Other animals’ all type of action result only from one or the other instinctive motive. Instincts are bodily pleasures and displeasures, which, in an automatic way, guide the animal behavior and action in such a way that would be helpful for the performance of various biological processes. Thus it happens that animals feel some bodily displeasure, let’s say in the form of hunger, they then feel odor coming from their food source, their legs get the motion and take them towards the source, where the odor was coming from. They, in a manner which we can call ‘biological mechanical’, just have to eat that food because exactly it would be the demand of their bodily instinct, which is perhaps, or can be regarded as, some biological genius, which although is quite un-aware about its own existence but still then guides and controls the animal action in such a purposeful way which is directed towards aims that not only the animal’s life be sustained, but also the species as a whole may be perpetuated. In this way, animals live such a biological life, which has no theoretical awareness, even about their own existence, at all.
Humans, on the other hand, not only live just a biological life, their life can be termed as theoretical-life also because of their heavy reliance on their theoretical nature understandings, in most of their behaviors and actions. Humans actually are inferior to other animals as far as the performance of their biological instincts is concerned. These biological instincts, no doubt, do have their role in shaping the pattern of human behavior and action but in the case of humans, greater than to the role of instincts, is the role of psychological and mental factors in the formation of this pattern i.e. of human behavior and action. In contrast to the instincts, which exist in the form of purposeful bodily pleasures and displeasures, humans also feel ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’ which should not be considered to be ‘bodily’ in nature but more precisely, can be thought of as ‘psychological’ in nature. To have psychological features, in addition to just having biological instincts is a great advancement in humans as compared to other animals. Humans however are not limited just in having the extra psychological features, they, in further advance form are also given the God gifts of intellect and wisdom. In contrast to psychological factors which function by giving the feelings of ‘happiness’ and ‘sadness’, the more advanced features of ‘intellect’ and ‘wisdom’ give humans the thing that is the most advanced and mysterious of all, which functions by giving the ‘theoretical meanings’ of such diverse things as ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ throughout to the capabilities of understanding science, philosophies and religion. All these things such as ethics, science, philosophy and religion, which are there because humans possess intellect and wisdom, and because the role of humans in this world is that of representatives of Almighty God, can be collectively termed to be “human knowledge”. This ‘knowledge’ makes humans the superior most form of life.
All the human knowledge can be thought of as a sum total of all the different types of theoretical understandings of various natural phenomena. This human knowledge can broadly be categorized in two main classes; first is the knowledge of true religion, which has been given to humans by God Almighty Himself. Second is in the form of Man’s self-made theoretical explanations, which are in the form of philosophies, sciences and technical understandings. For the purpose of this essay, we shall analyze the issue of “knowledge explosion” but only in second class of knowledge, which is man’s self-made.
The unique faculties of intellect and wisdom always compel humans to search for appropriate theoretical explanations of whatever phenomenon they observe in the natural environment. The title of this essay i.e. the knowledge Explosion in the Modern Times, also requires to describe in the essay, such a theoretical explanation that should properly account for the phenomenon of knowledge explosion in the modern times. So this essay should account for the theoretical problem of just how the human knowledge has been evolved over time and just how it has assumed its present day form.
This is a complex philosophical issue in fact and so all the technicalities relating to this topic cannot be covered in a short essay. Therefore, the process of knowledge evolution, only in a generalized way can be discussed here. Earlier we have identified humans to be the rational beings. Humans, as they are rational in their character and essence, always want to have some kind of theoretical awareness of whatever they identify in the observable universe. Humans, using their intellect and wisdom, can explain the identified phenomena but subject to a very important limitation. The limitation is that they can explain the identified phenomena only on the basis of whatever (limited or even incorrect) information they already possess. But afterwards, whenever any new information comes to their mind, humans then become able to re-explain the same natural phenomena on the basis of this new and increased stock of information. This new explanation, which is based on increased stock of information shall usually be superior and better to the previous explanation of the same identified phenomena because that previous explanation was based on lesser or inferior information.
The process of making explanations of identified phenomenon on the basis of whatever available information and then the re-explanation of the same identified phenomenon, but on the basis of increased stock of information, can be described with the help of an example. In the historical times, the early humans identified a natural phenomenon that sun daily rises in the east and sets in the west. Since they were rational beings, so they were in need to explain this identified phenomenon. They had to find the answer to the question: “why and how sun daily rises in the east and then sets in the west?” Surely, those early humans had to explain this phenomenon on the basis of whatever limited and inferior information they possessed in those early times. Those ancient humans did not know that the earth where they lived was spherical in shape. They could see only the flat surface of earth. They never had seen the ‘edges’ of their ‘flat’ earth. So according to this available information, the earth was ‘flat’ whose ‘edges’ might be located at some un-reachable distance. So this was the ‘available’ information on the basis of which our ancient forefathers had to find the answer to this question that why sun daily rises in the east and then sets in the west.
Experts of ancient history tell us that one of the early attempts of humans to find the answer to this question was something like that it was thought that every day a ‘new’ sun came from the un-reachable eastern corner of flat earth and then went to the western corner. The same thing, as it was thought so, happened on daily basis. This can be considered to be the example of the explanation of identified phenomenon on the basis of available information.
Now come to see the example of re-explanation of the identified phenomenon on the basis of ‘increased’ stock of information. The related information was up-dated in this case when humans came to know that the earth, on which they lived, was a large spherical object in fact. It happened in a way when some wise people took notice of such rarely observed things as (i) at the time of lunar eclipse, earth casts its curved shadow upon moon, (ii) during the course of journey in open sea towards extreme south, some of the constellations in northern sky disappear whereas some new ones appear in the southern sky and; (iii) the things which fall towards earth, seem to be falling towards a common center.
On the basis of these delicate rare observations, it was concluded after all, that our earth in fact is a large spherical object. Now on the basis of this new information in hand, humans became able to re-explain the above described phenomenon that sun rises in the east and sets in the west on daily basis. That re-explanation was something like that now it was considered that the ‘same’ sun circles around the earth. This explanation was better than before but still it was not correct. With the passage of time, there came the time when still better information came to the notice of humans and they again re-explained this phenomenon accordingly.
We have seen, up till now, that just how the quantity and quality of our knowledge has been evolved over time. The term ‘knowledge explosion’ refers to the evolvement of such type of human societies where sufficient quantity of quality knowledge is accessible to the majority of humans.
After having seen that just how the quality and quantity of human knowledge has been increased over time, let us now consider a very important characteristic of human knowledge, which is that the ‘knowledge’ can be accumulated over time. Its meaning is that whenever some new information comes to the notice of humanity, the new information does not erase up the corresponding previous information. The previous information actually is just ‘flagged’ as being ‘out-dated’ but still remains intact as a functional part of overall human knowledge. To mention about still another characteristic of human knowledge is also important at this stage. It is that if humans possess less amount of information, then they can explain only less number of identified phenomena. But if humans possess greater quantity of information, then they become able to explain the large number of identified phenomena
Since the nature of human knowledge is such that the quantity of information that humans possess, accumulates over time, so with the passage of time, usually humans get relatively large number of explanations of the natural phenomena. In this way actually human knowledge ‘accelerates’.
The issue of knowledge explosion in the modern times requires discussing about another related issue. It is that each individual human does not need to explain all what he identifies, at his own. Ready-made explanations can easily be transferred from one human mind to the minds of other individuals. This is usually done in the form of formal education and training through which accumulated knowledge, which was evolved over centuries, is transferred to the minds of new generations in relatively very short period of time. The state of ‘knowledge explosion’ actually is the result of this type of very large-scale educational activities. Present day print and electronic media also has made it possible, for large number of people, to get as huge quantity of knowledge and information as never had been possible to get by a common person. In this way more and more people are having more divers sets of information in their minds. The facilities of interaction with other people who live on distant places also have been immensely increased which has resulted in such a phenomenon, which can be termed as ‘knowledge sharing’.
Its overall result is that more and more people throughout the world are now having that much quantity and quality of knowledge, which was not so possible in early historical times. And since the nature of the functioning of human mind is such that more amount of information produces more new knowledge, so we can anticipate that our future generations shall see relatively more intense ‘knowledge explosion’ to that which we see today.