Of all human endeavors and enterprises the
pursuit of knowledge is among the most constant imperatives. To be human is to
constantly be searching for a model of the world that works for you: a model
that fits your understanding of empirical, observed information from your own
senses, or information that is collective human knowledge. Knowledge can be
defined as a ‘justified true belief’ or information derived or received through
reason, emotion, faith, language, intuition or sense perception.  It can be further subdivided into two
categories; shared knowledge that results in accepted paradigms, and personal
knowledge stemming from within.


In the
words of William Drummond “He that will not reason is a bigot; he that
cannot reason is a fool; and he that dares not reason is a slave.” This
statement encapsulates the essence of the concept in question – expressing that
humans are confined by blind acceptance and freed by procuring knowledge and
engaging their questioning faculties. However, the statement omits the leading
consequence of procuring new knowledge – the substantial growth in doubt. It is the trademark of an enlightened thinker that when things once
believed correct turn out to be false, we in turn question things we currently take
as true. The
ignorant are complacent and confident in this complacency, while those who seek
knowledge may find information that challenges knowledge already in existence –
whether it be shared or personal. At the most basic,
the absence of knowledge corresponds with the absence of doubt: an amoeba cannot
know what it does not know. With self-awareness and thought comes knowledge,
and with knowledge comes uncertainty about the limits of that knowledge.



The idea of shared knowledge and accepted
paradigms is at the core of scientific progress and scientific method: progress
in this space often builds on the accepted work of others and makes broad
assumptions about the applicability or reliability of prior knowledge and
discoveries- as Newton wrote to Hooke in the context of his ideas on optics,
‘If I have seen further than others it is by standing on the shoulders of
giants’ This reiterates the idea that scientific progress is based on prior and
shared acceptance of knowledge, whether that prior knowledge is viewed as
complete or partial. It is as paradigm shifts occur in scientific fields that
knowledge is thrown into question.

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Neuroscientist Stuart Firestein argues that ignorance is
born of a communal gap in our knowledge













The concept of doubt is often linked in a
religious context to the concept of faith. While religion is often seen as the antithesis
of the scientific method there are many parallels in how doubt and certainty
are handled. Scientific progress often involves the acceptance of complexity-
that a deeper understanding of a topic, say particle physics, often throws up
new questions that do not yet have a clear answer. Doubt in this form is a part
of the process- a skeptical approach to testing a hypothesis is necessary for
the scientific process to operate. Religion in many cases involves a push to
simplify: rather than following the branching consequences of the uncovering of
a piece of knowledge, it can seek to constrain the ‘personal model’ to a neatly
bounded concept such as a higher being or cosmic force.


Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ implies
a lack of trust in the appearance of things and a belief that the senses are
not wholly reliable: this is echoed in Bishop Berkely’s immaterialist
philosophy and Samuel Johnson’s famous stone-kicking ‘I refute it thus.’
Descartes’ quote was driven by the need for confidence and certainty and
expressed that while the nature of material things might be in doubt, what was
not in doubt was the fact that the human in question was able to think about
those things.




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