When acquiring knowledge, itbegins to harbor skepticism. With doubt questions such as how certain one isappear. For example, if one knew nothing then they’d build upon their knowledgeand if one knew some information then they could be susceptible to bias to newknowledge. In other words, the more theories one attracts the more confused anddoubtful one becomes. Doubt rises without a criterion for certainty anddecreases when certainty is acquired.
However, the larger amount of informationrequiring confirmation begins to demolish certainty. This situation of a largeracquirement of knowledge and an even greater amount of doubt follows isextremely present in two areas of knowledge – religion and science. Consideringthat knowledge is justified true belief and confidence is certainty it isextremely difficult to define what the universal criteria is when encounteringjustification for certainty however, in science this correctness comes fromtests when in religion this certainty comes from faith. The field of religion isestablished on theology and faith. For example, one may believe in a higherdeity for guidance and a justification for reason.
Similarly, a christian willinevitably fall submissive to the teachings of God because that is whom theirreligion is enhanced by. In addition to doubt being the questioning of what onethought they knew the more it can be seen as a weakness too. Itsuniversally known that beyond any possibility of doubt that our consciousnessexists, and that some kind of reality external to our consciousness exists. Therest of our knowledge consists of our understanding of the nature of these twoexistents. As the reality we perceive is hard, it is possible to test our ideasagainst it, and thus to learn. However, it is impossible for such derivedknowledge to be absolutely sure because surely some element of doubt alwaysremains.
For example, the world we know could end tomorrow, and be revealed asa complex hallucination. Additionally, reason is the primary tool of ourconscious mind, but is not designed by it. It is almost a “given” ofconsciousness, its basis rooted in external reality. Therefore, its reliabilitycannot be an Absolute. Doubt like this: naturally beyond disproof but with nobasis in evidence, can be reviewed as “empty doubt”. Empty doubt isessentially meaningless. By definition, there is no evidence for it. By itsnature, we can’t do a thing about it.
Yet it is known by those who woulddestroy the human mind as if it were some sort of invincible weapon. However,we do know that some sort of reality exists; we do know that it can getexceedingly unpleasant, if not fatal. it is, therefore, impossible for ussimply to bask mindlessly in the middle of two equal and opposite empty doubts.By their nature, empty doubts are undecidable.
Therefore they are not tools ofcognition, and have no value to a conscious mind in its necessary pursuit ofknowledge. We must attempt to decide between propositions and are thus forcedinto the realm of “real doubt”.Our knowledge of reality canbe separated into two parts: our knowledge of facts and our understanding ofwhy they are so. The first part consists of observations of things that existwhile the second is of theories and statements of natural law.
Our knowledge ofthe facts of reality may be incomplete, but what we know, we definitely know.There may be more details to discover, but as reality itself is difficult andnot self-contradictory, further exploration of reality cannot invalidateearlier knowledge. Thus if we discover an inconsistency, we know we have comeacross some previously unknown factor.Its almostimpossible to know every single fact of reality-only something like the size ofthe universe can guard the information in the universe. Our power to understandthe universe consists of our ability firstly to abstract the concretes ofreality into concepts, and secondly to use logic to arrive at testable theoriesabout it. The first allows us to think about innumerable concretes as a singleunit, and the second allows us to discover the laws and principles whichexplain the facts of reality. Our understanding of natural laws is more proneto error than the simple collection of facts and their abstraction intoconcepts: as our theories explain rather than describe, they can’t be verifiedas directly by reference to primary perceptions.
However, the accumulation ofsuccessful precise predictions, and the building of further successful theoriesand technologies on their foundations, eventually proves them: in that no realdoubt remains. Then one might still have grounds to seek to improve them, orfind limits to them: but not to doubt their basic truth. The ABO blood groupsare a satisfactory example. Their existence and the resulting rules of bloodmixing were established.
Inconsistencies (clotting between supposedlycompatible groups) showed up further blood factors such as Rh, thus extendingthe earlier knowledge without invalidating it. Further research then explainedthe blood groups by reference to surface molecules and the workings of theimmune system. Much still remains to be learnt about the immune system, but thewealth of consistent data and successful applications proves the basic theorybeyond all real doubt. If im going to learn about the world, then I most definitelymake one core assumption: it is possible to gain knowledge about reality whichcan help me preserve and improve my life. This is not an absolute: there is nonecessity for it to be true. However, if it is not true then I am paralysed, atthe mercy of arbitrary, unknowable forces.
Unless I am to just give up and die,I simply have to assume that the combination of my senses, my reason and thenature of the world, do in fact allow me to acquire knowledge. I do not have toassume that all knowledge is accessible, only that enough of it is. This,therefore, is the prime principle by which any rational consciousness wishingto live must act: I must try to learn about the world. For that to occur, thisis the key principle it must assume: knowledge of reality is possible.
It is avery important point that although I must start by assuming this axiom, by sodoing I am putting it to the test. Following events could prove the principle wrong,and therefore the principle is impossible, but until then it must be held. Ultimatelya rational being cannot begin anywhereelse.Knowledgebuilds on knowledge. Almost a truism, this is the cause of the exponentialgrowth in scientific knowledge. New theories suggest new avenues forinvestigation. The arduous life’s work of one person becomes the starting pointfor another. New knowledge leads to advanced technology, which increases therate at which further new knowledge can be gained, and so on in the increasingspiral.
Result is the virtual disappearance of many former scourges ofmankind; a massive increase in human productivity; everyday technologies andluxuries beyond the imagination of previous generations; the ability to fly outof the world and to reach the planets. There can be no real doubt thatknowledge builds on knowledge. But for this process to work, the knowledgebeing built upon must be fundamentally valid. The process works, withspectacular success. Therefore, the knowledge is valid. It is true. We can becertain of what we know, with only empty doubt remaining its cognitivelymeaningless.
When a theory precisely accounts for a wide range of things andcontradicts nothing known, then either it is basically true or it is an amazingcoincidence. By definition, the latter is very unlikely. When we can makecomputers on a chip; when we can genetically engineered microbes as we like;when we can make tons of metal fly us through the sky at our command: we don’tthink, “Wow, what a bit of luck!” We know: “Such is the power ofour minds to know reality and by knowing it, to turn it to our use.”