Friday, June 07, 2013

A thought about knowledge

We are all ignorant about some things, and I would say most things. Modern society works by specialization. We all depend on systems that other people know how to operate, maintain and repair, systems we don't understand that well ourselves.

The key think is to know what you know and to know what you don't know. Utilize what you know. Learn what you need to know. Where you don't know, take guidance from people who do know. If you get sick, go to a doctor; if your car gets sick, get it fixed by someone who knows how to fix cars and is good at it.

Unfortunately, looking lots of people make pronouncements as though they were authoritative about things that they don't really know about. Yet we want to take guidance from those who make pronouncement about the things they do know about. So the key is "information literacy" -- the ability to judge the expertise of the sources of statements, the ability to judge the credibility of statements being made.

It is relatively easy when people are certified as experts -- licensed physicians and professionally licensed engineers talking about their fields for example. A PhD economist, tenured at a major university with say a Nobel Prize is probably credible about economics.

The hard thing is to recognize that someone who is reinforcing your prejudices may not be credible, may not in fact be adding to the credibility of your prejudiced understanding.

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