Where does knowledge come from?
There are so many origins of knowledge that they are too numerous to count. We take in information and ideas from books, TV, the internet, our family, our friends, our teachers, and many, many other sources. But how does it become ‘knowledge’? Much of it we discard as either inaccurate or false, and we do not go on to present it to others as something we know or believe in.
A Sunday newspaper in Britain once announced:
Apparently, NASA was planning a secret mission to retrieve the aeroplane, and tow it back to earth. Not many people took it seriously. Why not?
1. Their intuition informed them that such a story seemed ridiculous.
2. Their reason told them that such a thing could not be physically possible.
3. & 4. Their understanding of language informed them that this headline was an overly sensational way of appealing to people’s emotions, a fact that was confirmed by the nature of the newspaper itself, which was known to write fantastic stories (often illustrated with half-naked women).
5. Finally, there was the photo of the aeroplane on the surface of the moon, which looked extremely fake.
In TOK terms, in other words, they used five of the different ways of knowing to filter the information through their minds, and arrive at the conclusion that this was not valid knowledge.
A few years later, newspapers reported that scientists had cloned a sheep.
This was also a story that would once have been impossible to believe. But, unlike the first story, it was taken very seriously.
What led to the first story being rejected, and the second one accepted? Why do we now have as part of our scientific and technological knowledge the awareness that animals can be cloned, and not that airplanes are able to make it into space? Our ways of knowing help to inform us, but what exactly is their relationship with the knowledge we are presented with to reach a valid conclusion?
1. They felt intuitively that it was valid.
2. Their reason told them, given that a well-known university was involved, and that the story was widely reported with identical facts by the world’s press, it was likely to be true.
3. The different steps of the scientific experiments were visually demonstrated, through photos and diagrams, to prove that the scientific method had been adhered to, and those involved were interviewed, and their answers were listened to and judged as being convincing.
4. There was no attempt by the scientists to make emotional appeals to support their claims.
Once again, people’s ways of knowing filtered the information, but this time it was confirmed as valid knowledge.