How do we "know" that we know anything? The roots of confidence are a tangled mesh of facts and theories, measurements and hunches, linked in a network of mutual support. Different realms of knowledge have radically different characteristics:
- robust zones—Some patches of the tapestry are dense with redundant connections. No single thread is critical; cutting one makes a negligible difference to the weave. If an observation in this area is proved to have been wrong, little unravels. Much of our understanding of history is secure, for instance, as it comes to us through so many overlapping channels.
- stiff zones—Some structures are built of crystalline beams, few in number but each exceedingly stout. A crack in one of these rigid load-bearing members causes a catastrophic collapse and realignment. Mathematics is the example par excellence of such a delicately poised yet strong field of knowledge.
- slack zones—Some regions are so poorly illuminated that virtually nothing can be seen. When only thin spiderwebs of data span a space, we can at most send the lightest and most tentative hypotheses to attempt a crossing. The network of knowledge here has so much free play that major changes in evidence are expected, and when they occur they cause major paradigm revisions. Cosmology and perhaps the theory of mind are areas where this kind of profound ignorance reigns.
Tuesday, February 15, 2000 at 06:15:13 (EST) = Datetag20000215
TopicThinking - TopicScience - TopicPhilosophy
(correlates: DarwinOnTheFaceOfNature, TechnicalShirt, GibbonChapter19, ...)