Have you ever stopped to wonder how it is that we know what we know; or even if what we think we know is somehow a reality? This is a basic problem with knowledge and understanding. It is very much a subjective thing that is influenced by who we are, the experiences we have had and the ideals we hold. The word epistemology is defined as a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge. It comes from the Greek prefix epi-, meaning ‘upon’, and histani, meaning ‘stand’. Therefore, to ‘stand upon’, or provide a basis for knowing. What each one of us ‘stands upon’ is different, and this causes misunderstandings sometimes. To say something is a reality when there is such a wide variance for interpretation is to be too sure of ones own reality. What is reality anyway? My reality, your reality, objective reality in science. Let’s have a closer look.

As an ideal of a ‘truth’, let’s take the scientific method and look at it closely. It is considered to be a process that begins with an idea, usually based on observations. Evidence for this idea is collected through experimentation under controlled conditions. By inductive reasoning, meaningful relationships are found that lead to discernable patterns. From these generalized relationships a conclusion is drawn and formulated into a theory or hypothesis. Is it fact? Is it reality? If the prediction matches the observation then does it make it reality? Maybe and maybe not. It is quite interesting that many major discoveries into the nature of the universe are discovered by accident and not by methodical scientific probing. This might be a hint that the scientific method itself is not a ‘truth’. Do we find what we seek or seek only that which we want to find? We are not dispassionate beings and cannot detach ourselves from the universe and the emotions it invokes in us.

Karl Popper (1902-1994) argued that knowledge is basically hypothetical or conjectural and is based on cultural and historical bias. He proposed that falsification of a theory is the true test of its reality. Knowledge is not objective, Popper said. To find a ‘truth’ one should not seek to validate it
but to invalidate it, there by eliminating any presupposed bias. This is in a way counter to the way we think, but very much a productive approach. It is a counter method to correct our way of thinking on the nature of things. There is much more to the ideas of Popper than I have written here. He may have been one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Only time will tell if his ideas become accepted in generations to come.

The thought is put before you here. Think about it. This is something to ponder in the New Year. It is entirely possible that everything you know or think you know is not entirely correct. Just the possibility of that is exciting or irritating depending on your personal perspective. I can tell you this my friends, the chances are that most everything you know and I know and the sum of human knowledge up to this point is wrong in one aspect or another. The future in thought will correct us, but for now it works in spite of itself rater than because of explanations, and these will prevail until better ones come along. Shakespeare said. “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself King of infinite space, were it not that I had bad dreams.” But he added, “Which dreams, indeed, are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitions is merely the shadow of a dream.”