Education, Training, Learning, Knowledge: Part 4

Los Alamos World Futures Institute

In last week’s column, we ended by saying that education and training involves knowledge, information and beliefs. Albert Einstein said (or wrote) that “the value of education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.” Allegedly, he also said “Never memorize what you can look up in books.”

Knowledge is continually debated by philosophers in the field of epistemology. According to a classical definition, statement is considered knowledge if it is justified, true, and believed. But it is still debated. According to Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, the theory of knowledge is distant from the sciences because it is their foundation. This suggests that there are some standards for determining the existence of knowledge such as the scientific method.

As an example, here on earth, based on observable and observed facts, the acceleration due to gravity of an object in a vacuum is 32 feet per second per second.  This means that if you drop a ball in a vacuum from a height of 100 feet, after one second the ball will be traveling at a speed of 32 feet per second of 21.82 miles per hour. We know this because it has been measured, established by science, and documented. It is justified by theory. It has been proven true by experiment. And it is believed (you can find it documented in books).

Now consider the baseball played Joe Whatshisname. He is the greatest baseball player of all time. I absolutely know it. It is common knowledge. But while I believe it, is it justified by the statistics? Is it truly true? After all, statistics don’t lie unless they misrepresent the truth. In the case of Whatshisname, we can look up statistics about the individual bubble – Whatshisname – and find his batting average, runs batted in, etc., and according to an “agreed” ranking system determine if he really deserves the accolade “best baseball player ever.” It is sort of a scientific approach to performance assessment. But is this knowledge or merely information? And is the belief that Whatshisname was “the greatest” truth (a fact) or merely a belief (which could be true)?

Going back to the bubble model, does every bubble need to know that Whatshisname was the greatest baseball player of all time or is it merely information or a data point that can be stored in the knowledge base of humanity?  What does each individual bubble really need to KNOW?
In 1817, Sylvanus Thayer, the fourth superintendent of the United States Military Academy, introduced a line and staff management system to organize the running of West Point. Two cadets that graduated in 1819, Daniel Tyler and George Whistler, applied what they learned down the road. Tyler did a time-motion study in 1832 and established production norms for every job at the Springfield Armory. Whistler, in 1837, developed a line and staff management system for the Western Railroad. Did they have the actual data or information in their heads or did they simply know how to think about their problems and solve them through a previously learned thought process?

An individual bubble is faced with a problem. Floating in the fluid of knowledge and information, what does the individual bubble need to know, what does the individual bubble need to have to store in her or his personal knowledge base to find a solution? If the problem is buying red or green apples, it is trivial. If it is “should I increase the speed of my automobile,” it probably isn’t even considered. If it is buying house A or house B, it is highly complex and requires a disciplined approach. If it is which candidate to vote for, it becomes enormously complex and often solved by emotion.

Knowledge is justified, true, and believed (by humanity collectively – my add in). The acceleration of gravity in a vacuum on earth being 32 feet per second per second is information that can be used to determine the speed of an object after a period of time using scientific knowledge. Whatshisname being the best baseball player of all time is a belief which may be true or may be false, cannot be proven universally to humanity, but is believed to be true by some or many.

Education and training are about learning. Learning what? What is the necessary return on investment (ROI)? What does the individual bubble need to learn to be a positively contributing part of humanity? If it’s all about scientific thinking, why include the arts? Or history? Or psychology? Or ethics? Or baseball?

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