Friday, June 29, 2012

Means of knowledge

This began life as my comment on Bee's blog.  The question has been bothering me for a few days.

Let us say that formal mathematical reasoning began around the time of Euclid, some 2500 years ago. Let us say that science as we understand it today began around the time of Newton, or some 300 years ago.

Each maybe with someone else or sometime a bit earlier.  The historical details are not important to the point, which is the relative recentness of the appearance of these methods of acquiring knowledge compared to the long lineage of man - even if you take humans to have the potential mental capability to acquire and use these methods even for only the last 10,000 years, instead of the hundred-fold longer period of the million+ years of human evolution.

Much before the appearance of the formal mathematical method, and the scientific method, could anyone have dreamed of these methods and their effectiveness?

Can we conceive of additional effective methods of acquiring knowledge? Is our inability to imagine them a proof that there can be no such methods? It would be somewhat arrogant to think that we've exhausted the possibilities so soon.

Or are we at the dawn of a third method, that vaguely at the edge of our intuition? The new cognition enhancing tools we have are the computer and the network, and maybe the collaborative mathematics and science enabled by the web are just our first fumbling steps towards what we cannot yet grasp.