Here’s a thought I had:
It seems, to me, that we are in what I have been calling the “era of the dissolution of knowledge”. I’m finding that knowledge means almost nothing anymore. Its as if knowledge has lost its “oomph”. It seems that knowledge is becoming more and more “dissolved”, “diluted”, or in a disarray. Its got to the point that any knowledge, really, is just another “statement said”, “another opinion”, “another fact”, etc. to add to an already too large collection. To me, its as if everything has become nothing but an endless “babble”, a continuous statement of facts, opinions, information, etc. that has no real value and which eventually leads nowhere except the illusion that we “know” more.
Because of this dissolution, I’m finding it harder and harder to find someone to talk to. In fact, it was during conversations with people that I began to notice the problem. When I talk to people I notice a number of attitudes that have appeared particularly recently:
- That nothing has any real value.
- That no one listens.
- That things are not viewed as “sacred” or having any deep meaning.
- That there’s always another point of view.
- That everything can be proven wrong.
- That knowledge is treated as “trivial”.
- That any “knowing” has become nothing but a game of “who knows the most” . . . the one who remembers the most wins!
Because of these things I’ve almost given up talking to people about things anymore. What’s the point?
I should note that by “knowledge” I mean the combination of these two things:
- Information. This refers to what is known, the “matter” of knowledge.
- Worth. This refers to how this information is taken, the “meaning” of knowledge.
To me, knowledge consists of these two things, not one or the other. What has happened recently is that there has developed a great over emphasis on information (the “matter” of knowledge) and a devaluation or absence of worth (the “meaning” of knowledge). But to truly be a “knowledge”, and have any value, any knowledge must have both. This is because they both work together and support each other. The way in which they compliment each other can be stated this way: worth is the real value of knowledge but it needs information as a means for that worth. This means that by destroying worth we destroy knowledge, literally, and turn it into “matter” – information – which has no real value. Once knowledge becomes information it becomes nothing but “this or that, blah, blah, blah”. This, it seems to me, is what is happening today.
The dilemma, then, is that we are losing worth in knowledge, not information. Knowledge, in general, is becoming nothing but a mess of endless information and facts. In some respects, never have we had so much information but, at the same time, never has information been so worthless.
Some of the causes of the growing worthlessness of knowledge include:
- Lack of unity . . there are too many points of view. Everywhere you turn there is some new point of view, opinion, or what have you. This causes a lack of unity, consistent belief, and fosters doubt, confusion, and uncertainty. What this reveals is that in order for knowledge to have worth there must be consistency. You can’t have continuous contrary, new, and conflicting information.
- There is no authority. Recently, we have lost our religion, culture, social structure and other forms of authority. This has made a dramatic hit on knowledge. The fact is the worth of knowledge originates with authority . . . when there is no authority, there is no worth. Therefore, in these times of continuous undermining of authority, the worth of knowledge is also undermined.
- There is often no real care or concern about the “meaning” of knowledge . . . its looked at superficially. I’ve noticed a complete absence of this idea of a “deeper meaning” in things recently. Knowledge has become “mundane” without any special revelation or meaning.
- Knowledge is used only as a means to an end. A common “end” that is seen nowadays is that knowledge is used as a way to get a job, and hold it. Without the influence of a job there would probably be no real interest in knowledge at all by most people! Other “ends” include social status, intellectual pride, and such.
- There is a lack of “humility”. One could say that the humble attitude of a “student”, of someone who doesn’t know, and knows it, has become a rarity. A “student”, nowadays, is someone without humility. They are only waiting to hear the information so they can remember it. Once they do this, they assume that they are now experts as a result. In this way, there is a lack of an attitude of “actually listening”, of sitting oneself down “as a student” and listening. Everybody is too much of an expert to do this (remember that, nowadays, people have seen in a documentary, read it in a book, taken a class on it, heard about it, or whatever).
- Its too accessible . . . you just “read it”. In fact, you can just “google” it and find any information you want. Knowledge is now something that is just read it or heard. This devalues knowledge. It also makes it so that people don’t “listen” . . . they can access it any time.
- Knowledge is a matter of memory . . . you don’t work for it. Most knowledge, nowadays, is nothing but finding out what someone else said or did. In this way, knowledge has become a matter of “standing on the shoulders of other people”. A person doesn’t really do any work to discover it on their own. I have always believed that “knowledge is better earned than learned”.
- There has become too much information. The mere quantity of knowledge that has appeared just in these 50 years has been too much to “digest” . . . its become a blur. In this way, the excessive quantity of information has had an effect of devaluation of knowledge.
- The quest for “scientific truth” has taken the “inner human meaning” out of knowledge over the years. We must remember that scientific thinking became pitted against religious thinking, particularly beginning in the 1800’s. The society before that time took a primarily religious form of thinking. What amazes me is that people tended to forget that the original “religious truth” was never meant to be a “scientific truth”, of explaining things abstractly. “Religious truth” can be stated as a truth where the things in life are made to have “inner human meaning”. “Scientific truth”, on the other hand, tended to be a cold, abstract and distant form of meaning which often did not cater to “inner human meaning”. But, as the 1800’s progressed, and into the 1900’s, this “scientific truth” began to supplant “religious thinking”. This, it seems to me, was a critical event. Basically, the moving of knowledge into the cold, abstract, and distant scientific thinking these past 200 years has been instrumental in the devaluation of knowledge . . . it began a pattern of looking at things without “inner human meaning”. This caused a destruction of the worth in knowledge and the growing prevalence of information. In fact, one might even be able to say that science began the dissolution of knowledge.
One of the qualities that seems to appear in these things can be described in the words “humanly relevant”. In other words, this whole problem really revolves around the “human meaning” in knowledge. Basically, there are now too many things that are detracting, destroying, or undermining the “human relevance” in knowledge. Really, all the above examples are different forms of the degradation of “human relevance”.
With this, we see this pattern:
- The worth in knowledge is based in if it is “humanly relevant” or not.
- Information is knowledge that is not “humanly relevant”.
The prevalence of the information point of view shows how there is a loss in our “human relevance”. In this way, it shows that the loss of worth in knowledge is a sign of our growing dehumanization and detachment of “human meaning”. This loss of “human meaning” has given knowledge a cold almost dead quality. Personally, I think that quality reflects people nowadays.
Some aspects of this appeared in a recent conversation I had with a guy about 30 who was working on his masters degree. In this conversation it became clear that I took the “old school” point of view, when knowledge, particularly University-based knowledge, was viewed as having “great meaning”, almost to the point of being sacred. This point of view, I realized, originates from the period of Christianity, when Christian belief dictated much of the attitudes that surrounded knowledge at the University (which is why its viewed with such “deep meaning”). He asked me why I dropped out of the University and some of my replies revealed this thinking:
- I said that I did not want to be an appendage, handmaiden, or marionette to the system. It became clear to me that this is what the University expected me to be. In fact, my passing depended on it! This meant that my conforming to its dictates is what was important, not the meaning in it.
- I said that I had to believe in what I learned. I can’t “learn it to just pass the class”. I found that difficult to do, almost sacrilegious. This shows a sense of depth in knowledge, that it had to hit me “deeply”.
Looking back on it now I could see that I dropped out of the University because it no longer reflected those “old school” Christian-based principles seen in the original Universities. Interestingly, even when I dropped out (about 25 years ago) I can recall stating that the University has ceased to be a University and it has become what I jokingly called the “trade school a la Grande” . . . people were there only to learn what was required to get a job! Instead of learning to weld or be a mechanic, as in a trade school, they learn “bigger trades”, such as being a surgeon or a lawyer. This is way it is a “trade school a la Grande”, because they learn a more involved trade. It was no longer a “University”. I can recall making a big point out of this back then. I can see now that I was actually defining a University in that “old school” way, based in Christian principles reflecting the importance of meaning in what was taught and a meaning that hit deeply into a person. This sense, evidently, has been lost now.
He, on the other hand, treated knowledge as dead information, a means to an end, and in a cold, abstract, and distant way. He saw no “inner meaning” in any of it. He learned it, whether he agreed with it or not, in order to pass the class and get a job. There was a complete lack of “personal meaning” in any of the knowledge. In addition, there was a lack of a general “human meaning” in any of the knowledge. In short, he did not see knowledge in a greater context. Knowledge was treated almost like money, a means to “buy” something, so to speak.
Its because of things like that it seems that there is a crisis of knowledge nowadays. Its become nothing but information and without any real value or worth. It seems that knowledge is going through a great dissolution and breakdown, losing meaning and worth.
In actuality, what this is really referring to is a failure in belief . . . things have become dead information, nothing is really believed. And so the “dissolution of knowledge” is really a dilemma of belief.
I tend to feel that the reason why belief is so important is that it “implants you in the world”. It does this in three ways:
- It makes the world relevant.
- It makes you relevant.
- It makes what you do in the world relevant.
In other words, the more a person believes in something the more you and the world become relevant. When a person does not have belief there is an absence of relevance and people become “detached” from life.
I should point out that when I say “belief” I do not necessarily mean religious belief . . . it primarily refers to a belief in “something”. Typically, though, the best form of belief tends to be religious-like in orientation. That is to say, it is a belief that there is “more” to things than we think. In this way, we could say that there are two forms of belief:
- Positive belief – a belief in something that is known and defined.
- Negative belief – a belief in something unknown and undefined (that is, that there is something “more” that we don’t know).
To truly have belief a person must display both, in my opinion. Interestingly, contrary to what is often supposed, many forms of religious belief are actually a form of positive belief, without negative belief. They tend to believe in a “specified dogma and god” which is completely delineated and defined. In this way, they are not really a “complete belief” but more of a strict, rigid, and narrow belief system.
The overemphasis on knowledge, such as is common nowadays, tends to enforce a positive belief orientation . . . its only what you know that matters. This tends to create an orientation that has qualities such as:
- It tends to be “dead”, rigid, and detached.
- Its illusionary (that is, knowledge gives the illusion that you have a grasp on things).
- It has little or no relevance.
These are qualities that are taken when things become nothing but “information”, as I said above. This suggests that positive belief is comparable to “information” and negative belief is comparable to “worth”.
This is quite significant as it shows that worth is not found in “knowing” something. In other words, the fact that you “know things” does not automatically make or give them worth. There must be more. This means that all this learning, remembering, and such, which goes on so much nowadays, does not necessarily lead to a worth in knowledge. In other words, learning, by itself, tends to undermine the worth of knowledge, which is exactly what we’re seeing.
Negative knowledge, and its association with positive knowledge, tends to display itself in several interesting ways such as:
- Discovery – For many people, the “power” of knowledge is not in “knowing” (which, of course, is positive knowledge) but in the “discovery”, so to speak, of something new. In other words, its not the “having of knowledge” but the condition of “just about to find something new” that is appealing and influential. In this way negative knowledge is displayed. This is because, in “just about to find something new” they are looking at the unknown and undefined.
- Applying – The applying of positive knowledge in ways that are unknown initially also demonstrates the unknown and undefined quality of negative knowledge. Here, people have to “figure things out” which means that they “don’t know”.
In both of these cases, we see that the “power” of knowledge is not in “knowing” by itself, but in having knowledge to use (positive knowledge – something definable) and having to discover something about it (negative knowledge – not defined). In this way, we see how these two forms of knowledge actually complement and work with each other. Truly, it is in associations, such as these, that we see the “power” of knowledge.
Positive knowledge tends to be defined. That is to say, it has a quality of “localization” . . . it is “this” or “that”. In other words, positive knowledge tends to cause a “narrowing down” in perspective. For example, when you look in the sky and see the clouds you cease to see the clouds and, instead, see cumulus clouds. It takes it out of the entirety and narrows it down to, usually, a word or concept.
Negative knowledge, on the other hand, tends to be more general. It see’s things in the respect of the greater context of things. In other words, negative knowledge tends to be holistic. The sense that “there is something more” makes one look “beyond what is obviously there”. This requires the deeper aspects of ones self to do, in my opinion. In this way, the negative knowledge orientation as if forces one to “pull out deeper aspects of ones self”, often revealing aspects of ones self that a person didn’t even know they had. In addition, being more holistic this orientation tends to place ones self in the greater context of the world. In so doing, it places one in-the-world as a reality (which is lacking in the positive knowledge orientation). With these qualities its no wonder that the negative knowledge orientation contains worth, which causes relevance, which causes meaning.
People who take the more “information” orientation of positive knowledge tend to lack these qualities . . . not only does knowledge become “dead information” but they, in a sense, become dead inside and in relation to the world. Since this orientation is so prevalent nowadays it has turned knowledge into something “dead”. This quality of knowledge being “dead”, as well as the people who learn it, has caused a breakdown in the worth, meaning, and relevance of knowledge which is the “dissolution of knowledge” that I am speaking of.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen