Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Symmetry of Ignorance (2)

I was thinking about the symmetry of ignorance today in terms of infinity.

Let's assume that there is an essentially infinite body of potential knowledge relevant to a problem. From a practical point of view we could argue this in terms of the size of the body of published literature, and the pace at which that body is growing, as long as the subject matter is defined sufficiently broadly, there is far more material than an individual can read in a practical amount of time.

If we accept this to be the case, and we also accept that the knowledge of any individual is finite, then it necessarily follows that each individual is faced with a practical infinity of material still to learn, no matter how much they have already learned. Therefore the amount we each don't know is equal, even when the amount that we each do know is unequal.

On a certain level, we might look at this argument as nothing more than sophistry of a sort--an argument for the sake of the argument. Can we even accept the notion that there is a practical infinity of knowledge in a well-defined field of study?

But on another level, we can see that part of the fundamental development of knowledge systems relies on the development of different perspectives--both those that are the incorporation of new ideas into older frameworks, and those that represent paradigmatic shifts to entirely new frameworks of reasoning (e.g., the Copernican revolution).

In a way, what every author has to offer is a new way to look at old questions or old material. This is inevitable: we are all different people with our ideas shaped by our experiences. Even if we closely share ideas with a person or group of people, there are probably ways in which our perspectives differ.

Even if you are reporting on things that have been reported on before, you can create something new by presenting that old material through a new context.

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