Directed knowledge

I have been considering a concept of late, which i call directed statements. These are descriptions of future states of the world; they are directed in that they represent a vector of sorts, one that begins here & now and ends in a future state of the world. There are many kinds of such directed statements: desires, hopes, faiths, goals, oughts & shoulds.

One very important subset of directed statements are those that are true, which i define as possible, attainable future states of the world. These statements i call directed knowledge. They have, i believe, a very special and important property: insofar as they are true, when we accept them as such they rearrange our basic picture of the world, correcting it, and thereby showing us how to attain that future state starting from where we are here & now.

As such, directed knowledge is a leverage point in the future from which we can lift ourselves into new & better people. This knowledge of what could be is a mechanism of the world, a force within human beings which we can use to become the people we would not otherwise have been able to become. It is also my attempt to translate the salvific power of the Christian’s faith that e is already saved.

How can one know that a directed statement is true, hence directed knowledge? Some such statements can be verified by the natural sciences. For example, we can be quite certain that the sun will come out tomorrow, barring very large asteroids or some horrible oversight in the theory of gravitation. However, most of the statements about the future provided by science are regrettably not of immediate import to our lives. Moreover, the important ones have mostly been already incorporated into our basic pictures of the world (the ever re-rising sun certainly has). Only those directed statements are useful to us that are novel and which we have to be accepted, thereby changing our world pictures. So we must look for a different way of finding true directed statements.

Another category of such true statements are those that have been verified not through science but through other people’s lives. If a statement has worked for enough people in the past, we can be (almost) sure it will work for us now. That you can overcome your harmful instincts and emotions and learn to control them is such a tried and true statement, verified over and over again by the sages of the world and many another successful and happy soul. This is truly directed knowledge, and if accepted by anyone, will transform how e* sees the world and lives within it. Hence, directed knowledge is certainly amenable to experimental verification, though usually of a more practical than scientific nature.

(Good directed knowledge is clearly another important and further subset of directed statements, one which can be defined as possible & desirable future states of the world. Of course, there are many, usually conflicting, ways to define what is desirable, and perhaps none that will ever be entirely satisfactory. For my part, i have settled on that which you truly want in the long run and all things considered. This definition only applies to individuals in the context of an ethics, and probably cannot be fruitfully extended to groups, let alone the planet, that is, to politics. Good directed knowledge might not therefore be a very useful concept on its own as it is nothing more than the conjunction of two otherwise very useful ideas: directed knowledge and the good.)

* For more information on the non-gendered third person singular pronoun “e” see here.

 

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5 Comments to “Directed knowledge”

  1. I guess “I’m going to die” and “the winter will end” are directed knowledge. The first time I hear these statements, my view of the world changes. These are a kind of universal directed knowledge.

    I say, “If George drinks that glass of water, he will die.” I know that a deadly poison has been poured into the water. That’s a more limited statement. Is it directed knowledge or just a directed statement?

  2. Yes, “the winter wil endl” is certainly directed knowledge for some people, though to be honest i’m taking a liking to the snow and will be sad to see it go (why can’t we have year-long seasons? i don’t have time to adjust to the new one that it is already on its way out.)

    as for the poisoned water, the statement is only really directed once George knows it, then it will indeed hopefully change his life. For you it is not directed, unless you try to stop him.

  3. Oh, eenauk. So hopelessly philosophical. (:-)

    “However, most of the statements about the future provided by science are regrettably not of immediate import to our lives.”

    If the goal is *transformation*, as you imply with *directed* knowledge, then science provides EVERYTHING we need to know about how to change ourselves. Want to be a happier person? Go work out, which helps release endorphins. Join social networks, which wards off Alzheimers. Want more synapses in your brain? Learn a new language, or learn how to play an instrument, etc. Everything about changing ourselves has to do with knowing what produces what kind of change. Maybe knowing that the sun will rise does not, but that’s just such a limited representation of “scientific facts” — it’s the wrong branch of science to be quoting.

    “Another category of such true statements are those that have been verified not through science but through other people’s lives. If a statement has worked for enough people in the past, we can be (almost) sure it will work for us now. That you can overcome your harmful instincts and emotions and learn to control them is such a tried and true statement, verified over and over again by the sages of the world and many another successful and happy soul.”

    — and how is that not verifiable by science? Science precisely documents what works and what doesn’t, and tries to understand why. Whether it worked for “sages of the world” or anybody else is irrelevant. For instance, you can show that setting goals too high is a recipe for failure, and that change has to be incremental. Here, looking for exceptional examples may precisely be the wrong approach — most people can’t handle changing 20 bad things about themselves at once.

    The irreverent Yossarian thinks “sage” sounds like fluff. 🙂

    • Yossarian –

      You are quite right that my swipe at science was, well, somewhat broad and perhaps just plain wrong. There certainly are many scientific facts that do impact our lives and teach us how to change. I was pehaps not explicit enough in what i was considering, perhaps because i wasn’t too sure myself — but getting feedback is what the blogosphere is about, and yours is quite valuable.

      The concept of directed knowledge i am toying with is supposed to be a secularized version of faith or hope. Faith has this particularity that it refers to future states that we cannot be sure about (they are not scientific facts) but the very belief in them often is enough to effect a change in people. That is, just knowing you can become happier by working out is not always sufficient to get someone to work out (that requires a strong enough will). However, if such people have faith that God will take care of them no matter what, they will automatically be happy (if somewhat less healthy). That faith transforms their lives merely because they take it to be certain, i.e. knowledge, that they are covered by God.

      I want to figure out how to translate that “feature” of human beings and the world into a non-theistic language. I called it directed knowledge (as opposed to, say, static knowledge) because it seems to be a very special kind of knowledge, one that transforms you simply because you know it, as opposed to “static knowledge” that you have to put into practice to eventually transform yourself. The facts you cited are static in that they describe truths about the world, but truths that require you to do something with before they will do you any good. I am looking for facts that are “performative”, facts that change you despite yourself.

      You are also right about the “sage” bit, i just couldn’t find quite the right word 🙂

      • Ah — thanks for the clarification — I see what you’re getting at. There are two related concepts which may be useful here: the placebo effect (also well-documented by science); e.g. believing in something will make it real (to some extent); and “self-fulfilling prophecy” (from psychology). Might be useful concepts here, but this may just be the prism through which I’m reading your quest.
        I’m curious whether there are data out there on whether believers are happier than non-believers. I doubt anyone has looked into this at the whole population level (e.g. not just in old people, and factoring out loneliness, which would be a confound). If it is true, then it suggests believers have found a placebo effect that allows them to turn off their worries (which is not a bad thing to aim for). But all this would say is that believers have more powerful placebos than non-believers, and are more credulous than non-believers. Now what would be really interesting is finding out how the placebo effect works exactly, and how to give everybody the right placebo that works for them.
        Good luck in your quest! 🙂

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