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How can humans produce knowledge?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1490 words Published: 27th Feb 2017

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“There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

What is knowledge? Knowledge from what we understand is a thick concept as it is the understanding of or information about a subject that you get by experience or study, either known by one person or people genrally dictionary.cambridge.org(add citation). Though in the T.O.K text by Richard van de Lagemaat knowledge can be said to be “justified true belief” and hence if something is observed, an idea that is believed, that it is true and if justified then that is knowledge. These two meanings can both can be said to be correct definitions of knowledge. Though how do we gain this understanding or belief in the first place? The tittle of this TOK essay it states that “there are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation and active experimentation.” Active experimentation can be seen as an act where there is voluntary cognisant engagement on the activity at hand while passive observation be seen as proccesses that are more fixed by environmental forces and therefore involuntary. Though knowledge questions based of this deduction on what are passive observation and active experimentation are; is it ever possible for a cognisant mind to be in a passive state? And are there forms of knowledge production in addition to passive observation and active experimentation?

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In both scientific and behavoural experiments is it ever possible for a cognisant mind to be in a passive state? Experiments such as the bobo doll experiment could be brought into question in this case as well as certain simple highschool science experiments. A bobo is an inflatable toy that is approximately five feet tall and usually made of a soft durable vinyl or plastic. This experiment was headed and created by Albert Bandura in 1961 and 1963 in which he studied the behaviour of children. This experiment involved two different observational rooms both would have a bobo doll, adult role model, a child and the same toys. In one room the adult role model acted in a violent manner towards the doll verbally abusing it and acting aggresive physically using the toys or his/her fists. While in another room the adult role model simply played by his or herself showing no direct signs of aggresion after a small period of time both adult role models left the room. The room which contained the violent role model the child acted violently towards the bobo doll while in the room with the adult that did not show aggresion the child would either keep doing what he was doing or played in friendly with the bobo doll. It was seen by Bandura that through the passive observation of the children they learned how to act towards an object or person. The child was not able to control the environment he/she was is it was fixed. Though is it possible to say that all these children did not have a cognisant mind when it came to behaviour?

What had not been taken into account in the experiment where the experiences that the child had gone through at his/her home with their respective parents what had effected them emotionally. Say for example in the case a home where parents had been violent to each other and so this child would have percieved what to do when he/she saw violence, to act back with violence. Would it be a lie to say that this child’s mind is not congnisant in this case? I believe so. At this point he/she actively experiments the position of his/her mother or father by acting violently based on what he/she had percieved, this could be the case with some of the children who acted violently towards the bobo doll and hence the child’s cognisant mind would be not in a passive state this also brought in the ways of knowing both perception and emotion affecting each childs reponse in the experiment. In a situation I was forced against my will to swing a bung tied to a string around in a circle and keep it going in a circular motion. It is not possible for me to passively observe as I know the mechanics behind it learnt though my physics class at school hence I am able to deduce that a certain force is required to keep the bung swinging in a uniformly circular motion and as such I do not need to apply a larger force than what is needed. Therefore the velocity of the bung will not make it more difficult to hold the string and apply the force and it won’t stop or go out of control suddenly. Though another question remains.

Are there forms of knowledge production in addition to passive observation and active experimentation. As innate knowledge comes in to question, and so does the knowledge given to us by authority. It is hard to judge if the evidence is sufficient enough for many new things such as theories or if this is knowledge that has been produced through this active experimentation during this time due our explosive growth of knowledge, over that last hundred years, a short time when compared to the creation of the universe, expert opinion’s changed the ways we think of things such as Isaac newton who came out of nowhere one day and uprooted the laws of physics, but it is rare for that to happen again in this millennia since Albert Einstein. Experts are human beings and therefore imperfect so we can also say that they can be wrong, just because they might specialize in a certain field and they have been in that field for years doesn’t mean that everything they state is “justified true belief” or correct information. This knowledge was brought on by a transition from a passive observation to an active experimentation for the authorities but given to us as second hand information so do we say that it is through passive observation that we learned this or active experimentation or does it fall under both? As expert’s opinions tend help shape the world so does the news media, stating what is currently happening in the world; bad news, extraordinary news or relevant news. As they can be seen as authority giving knowledge to persons who watch or read about what is reported.

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In the case of innate knowledge it tends to be a mystery as to when did it begin? Was the only reason that it had been passed down was that it was necessary for life? Innate knowledge is produced through a species evolution. Can other knowledge that is not nessecary for life be transmitted down through the DNA, from a Father to a son? As baby birds hatch they function the same as almost every animal in terms of eating and excreting. Though the only reason as to why the nest does not fill with excrement is innate knowledge that was in their DNA, no one or thing had tought them do to such a thing they just knew they had to do it. Other cases include a babies knowledge that they can suckle at their mother’s breast in order obtain nutrients or satisfy their hunger. So due to this knowledge that is innate is possible to say that it was produced through evolution or through the DNA? Another example of innate knowledge is the swimming reflex for small toddlers, stated when face down in water that covers their face’s they instictively paddle and or kick in a swimming motion.

These reflexes were neither gained through passive observation nor active experiment but what are some examples of such knowledge producing situations in which there was either passive observation or active experiment. In basic physics we learn of the law of gravity and hence in an experiment to test the law you would release an object from your hand such as a ball we would have prior knowledge and expect the ball to drop due to the force of gravity. If your hear the sound of rain drops outside hitting the pavement or objects which are outside we can passively deduce that it is raining. Or for when you are outside in the middle of the day when the sun is supposed to be out though there dark gray clouds blocking the sun’s rays of light then it rains now knowledge is produced where the person knows that with dark gray clouds rain follows soon after. These three situations are one active experiment and two passive observations in which knowledge was produced.

I agree to an extent seeing as how most knowledge is usually produced through passive observation or active experimentation. Through both obeservation and active experiment we use many ways of knowing such as perception, emotion, intuition and memory. Though these are not the only ways that humankind can produce knowledge. As innate knowledge that is passed down through the DNA whether learned through the passive observation of someone dying before them or a near death experience which etched into their very DNA. I believe that the roots of all knowledge production stems from either passive observation or active experimentation.


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