- What actually is knowledge?
- How can we be sure what we know?
- How can we trust our perceptions?
- What are the common challenges that we face?
Why this topic?
As such, I find myself watching the news or scrolling my Twitter feed, increasingly perplexed by the complete lack of a shared worldview. Indeed, there doesn’t even appear to be a shared narrative of enquiry. There isn’t a dialectic, working towards a better understanding of the truth, but simply a drive to ‘win’ the argument - to be right, and to be proud that you believe what you believe (even better if it is in capitalised tweet format). I feel that we have long known that we, as a species, are particularly susceptible to such problems. We love combining pattern recognition with tribal urges to construct our worlds: filling our lives with superstitions and religions, as well as some more useful fabrications such as countries and money. The way that social media has, through its deliberate design, amplified and honed these tendencies has led to some worrying trends. If the popular discourse on the recent key topics is anything to go by, we are increasingly divided and talking past each other. As such, it seems like this is an important time to take stock of the way that we can better understand the nature of these problems, and thereby work out better ways to talk about them. As someone who has found it to be interesting to think about how we know what the best thing to do is in medical practice, this seemed like a great way to delve into the basics of what might underpin the very nature of our approach.
What's the plan?
I hope to cover some of the major questions in epistemology:
- What actually is knowledge? How do we define it and what impact does this definition have on our common appreciation of it?
- What are Gettier cases, and how does this influence our thinking of what we might think of as knowledge?
- What problems arise from our trust in our senses and in other people’s testimony? What degree of skepticism can we reasonably expect to end up with?
- What is science and how does the scientific method help with some of the problems that we have unearthed?
- What does Popper’s take on falsifiability mean for our ability to establish a worldview?
- What does Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shifts mean for the scientific method, and how can it help us?
- How might all of this apply to evidence based medical practice?
These are the key questions that I wish to answer at this time, but I am sure that there will be more that arise during my ongoing exploration. I wish to end this initial post with an upfront confession: I am not actually a philosopher! And whilst I have enjoyed the exploration of the scientific literature that accompanies medical training, I do not have much in the way of formal research training either. As such, I will apologise for any amateur errors or mistakes that the eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt be able to detect as I venture into this domain. A major goal of this writing is my own education, but learning as I go along almost certainly means that I will be making mistakes as I document the process. Indeed, it is probably the iterative nature of the electronic format that has most helped me with the construction of the different domains of knowledge that I have visited over time. I hope you find this approach similarly useful, and I am always keen to hear any feedback that you might have. I hope you enjoy the series.
Links & References
- Epistemology. The Basics of Philosophy. https://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_epistemology.html
- Epistemology. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. 2020. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/
- Wireless Philosophy. Philosophy - Epistemology. Youtube. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Y3utIeTPg&list=PLtKNX4SfKpzUxuye9OdaRfL5fbpGa3bH5&index=1
- The Social Dilemma. Netflix. 2020