Seeking Knowledge and Wisdom

Life is difficult. As long as our ego dictates our lives, we can never get out of this mindset. It is inevitable. Being in this world and of this world, we can’t be wholly egoless and selfless. Even saints and angels have a subtle sense of their ego and self.

Given such a condition, we seek solutions in various ways. Perhaps, some would go for reading books to learn invaluable lessons from great teachers in the past. For them, reading books could be even the way to find the meaning of life.

There are, however, several types of books, depending on what we would expect from them. And the books to find the meaning of life could be more for knowledge and wisdom. Overall, books could be for these possible categories:

  1. Data
  2. Information
  3. Knowledge
  4. Wisdom

Books for data are straightforward. What we usually call “logs” could be in this category. They contain anything recorded unselectively and mechanically.

In the realm of statistics and social sciences, however, when we say the term like data-driven, such data-sets are not only for data alone but more for information. If a given raw data set becomes selectively filtered with specific intentions and purposes, then such books with them could be more for information, instead of data alone.

Such books, like the yellow pages and timetables, are not the books for data but more for information. They look dull and yet practical and useful for specific purposes. Cooking recipes could be also in this category. The majority of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia entries should be in it as well. They are primarily for information.

How about knowledge?

Books for knowledge are much more purposeful and hermeneutic. These are the result of specific researches and projects. In such books for knowledge, the authorship is explicit.

With their clear intentions and hypotheses, the authors gathered data and information, and eventually came up with their opinions, insights, and theories. In these books, we can see what the authors try to say and prove through their writings. In reading them, therefore, we as readers can feel as if we are talking with the authors and listening to their arguments. We can either agree or disagree with them.

Books for knowledge are also heavily methodological. The authors have their intentions and hypotheses, gather data and information, and finally come up with their conclusions. We could call this process a scientific research. It seems, however, there could be three types of scientific approach:

  1. Natural sciences
  2. Social sciences
  3. Human sciences

What we generally call scientific should be primarily in the category of natural sciences. Their rigorous approaches can provide a series of falsifiable knowledge, arguments, and theories, which contributed to the unprecedented progress of science and technology.

Only in this field, we can call the authors scientists. Only in this field, we can treat the data and information as objective knowledge, separating them from the ambiguity of our consciousness (free-will, intentionality, and reflexivity).

Saying 1 + 1 = 2 is an operation of objective knowledge. We don’t have to say, “I think 1 + 1 = 2” or “It seems to me that 1 + 1 = 2” etc. It is a hard fact and logically proved truth, though it is not so simple as we imagine. For natural sciences, our universe is a machine. Thus, what scientists should do is to figure out its mechanism as objective knowledge – how the world works and how we can utilize it.

As Karl Popper said, such objective knowledge could develop and evolve itself into further sophistications through the process of error eliminations, called falsifiability.

PS 1 >>> TT 1 >>> EE 1 >>> PS 2

PS 1 stands for problem situation 1. Upon which, we come up with TT 1, that stands for tentative theory 1 for PS 1. But then, there must always be errors to be corrected and eliminated. EE 1 stands for such error elimination process 1. After EE 1, another problem situation must emerge even out of such EE 1, which is PS 2. Then there would be TT 2, and EE 2, and more. This process will go on and on.

Strictly speaking, however, even such process of natural sciences contain the inherent impossibility on how to describe and signify the universe in itself without and with our language intervention. We could see them in various attempts such as statistical predictions, fractal scaling, quantum uncertain principle, and Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, etc.

How about social sciences?

Social sciences are, putting it bluntly, much more controversial. Throughout various schools of sociologies and economics, and more, the efforts to describe our societies scientifically seems tricky.

A variety of statistical data sets shows specific aspects of our communities from micro to macro. These are indeed useful, at the same time, quite dangerous.

Perhaps, we could see the inception of such approaches from the works of Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, even Karl Marx, and more. Despite their efforts to make their approaches as natural scientific as possible, there has always been an inherent impossibility to make their research objects authentically objective knowledge in Popper’s sense.

Probably, we could see our society as a machine and seek after its mechanism on how it works and how we utilize it. But then, since we humans are also parts of this machine, we would face the difficulty of an observer/observed dilemma, just like the uncertain principle of quantum physics. Thus, we would face the ontological issues of cosmology and philosophy.

After all, any descriptions of social science could be a pseudoscientific perspective of what one sees as one’s shadow in the cave. They are not so different from religious, theological argumentations.

Despite their efforts, the numerous outputs of social sciences have always been hot topics for philosophy – such questions as “Are they scientific? If so, what does it mean to say scientific on earth?”

Such discussions in themselves have become a specific field of philosophy such as philosophy of sciences as well as postmodernism and post-postmodernism. Despite the vast quantity of products in social sciences, we are not yet sure how preciously these could be falsifiable enough and objective enough in order to contribute to the progress of our societies in such way that natural sciences did to our technological progress.

We see various schools in the fields of sociologies and economics. In reality, however, it seems they could never agree with one another. They are just like religious denominations. They worship the founder of each school and go through the specific apprenticeship to become an expert in the given schools. That’s it.

How about human sciences?

In the same manner, it is far from natural sciences. Unlike social sciences, human sciences don’t like to call themselves scientific in the first place, even in the field of psychology and history.

Psychology in itself contains the same spectrum from natural sciences to human sciences. Clinical and experimental schools are scientific, whereas some others are not so different from religious articulations if not modern versions of sorcerers. We call them a pop psychology to provide superficial categorizations on who we are and others.

How about history?

At a glance, the study of history is more like philology, where objective knowledge and evidence are a primary focus to pursue so-called historical truth.

Strictly speaking; however, even the study of history would face the issue of descriptions in the following two perspectives:

  1. Historicity
  2. Historiography

Historicity implies the fact that a specific event took place only once in history, which had never happened in the past and will never happen in the future. It is ontologically outside of the scientific falsifiability.

In natural science, if other researchers can repeat the same result in their experiments, then they can agree and conclude that the result is truthful. If the event is only once in history, on the other hand, we can never prove the truthfulness of this historical event through scientific experiments.

The truthfulness and agreeability of historicity is entirely a different creature from that of natural sciences. Just like the life of Jesus Christ, our life is existentially once, which is true and real, but outside of any scientific proof.

The life of Jesus Christ or any historical figures and events could be historically real. These, however, are not exempted from the issue of interpretations and hermeneutics. After all, any history is someone’s interpretation despite a series of factual, historical events. There is no such thing as one universal history for everyone.

History is by nature intersubjective and multifaceted. There could be as many histories as the number of our different perspectives. We call them historiographies. Like social sciences, the study of history also falls in the philosophical topics of postmodern and post-postmodern discussions.

Instead of human sciences, therefore, we could or should merely call this category “humanity” or “liberal arts.” It is solely the area where we humans could seek knowledge and wisdom through our languages and symbols, which are, of course, admittedly very limited. Therefore, the implication is somewhat interdisciplinary. We are all blind touching an elephant.

The lineup has varied throughout history and will change more in the future. The modern version could be as follows:

  • Arts (fine arts, music, performing arts, literature)
  • Philosophy
  • Religious studies
  • Social science (anthropology, geography, history, jurisprudence, linguistics, political science, psychology, sociology)
  • Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, earth sciences)

Traditionally in the medieval age, both philosophy and theology (currently, religious studies) are used to be overarching for the rest of disciplines as both should always be a meta-perspective. In other words, through them, we need to understand the very limits of human knowledge and wisdom per se.

After all, we see what we want to see. At most, we can see what we can see. While the universe is transcendent, what we have is our eyes and their scientific extensions alone. Seeking wisdom, therefore, is seeking and admitting our limits – what we don’t see.

As long as our ego dictates our lives, we can never get out of this mindset. It is inevitable. Being in this world and of this world, we can’t be wholly egoless and selfless. Even saints and angels have a subtle sense of their ego and self.

Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:

Hebrews 2:7

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Psalm 8:3-5

Image by Dariusz Sankowski 

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