Foundation of Epistemology

This post introduces the foundation of epistemology necessary for future posts.  It will address information, concepts, and knowledge; the 'location' of knowledge; and the formation of priori, and of posteriori.

Like any rational philosophical analysis, present arguments demand definitions.  The following definitions will be used in the discussion of this piece. 

  • Epistemology: the study of knowledge
  • Sensory: information gathered from the senses
  • Posterori: a concept derived of sensory information
  • Priori: a concept derived independent of sensory information

Information, Concepts, and Knowledge

The following post will rely on three interrelated concepts.  The first is information.  Information, unlike any of the other three concepts has not been processed to conclusion.  Information is herein referred to as "raw-data," the factual evidence of the senses, or determined by logic.  Information, in this way, can be categorized into two distinct types of ideas: priori and posteriori; the former being information conceived of logic, and the latter being conceived of sensory data.

Concepts are thus the relationship between two "pieces" of information.  For example, let's suppose that you have gathered the information that with certain objects, when you press your hand against it, the object moves.  Let's also suppose that you've acquired the information that doors rotate about their hinges.  You can form the concept of doors, and that the state that the door is currently in (open/closed) can be changed by pressing on the side opposite to the hinges.  And this metaphor can go further, by pressing on the door at different lengths away from the hinges, the mind acquires the concept of a moment, the concept of torque, the concept of a lever arm, and even the concept of mechanical advantage.

Knowledge is the ability to apply concepts to attain particular ends.  To continue the example above, once you realize that you can open a door by pressing on it, or turning the handle, you gain the knowledge of entering buildings.  This model, information>concepts>knowledge, is also consistent biologically.  Our brains contain specialized cells which communicate to form interrelated ideas.  For example, when your eye detects the shape of a car, and the color red - neurons in the brain indicate that you are in the presence of a red car.  Although this is an oversimiplifaction of consiciousness, it is an accurate depiction of the underlying mechanisms.  

The Location of Knowledge

Clearly, knowledge exists, this being evident in both my capacity to write and your capacity to understand my words.  To claim that knowledge would belong in another dimension is logically inconsistent, and thus cannot be valid.  I discuss this further in my post, “Foundation of Metaphysics.”  For the other subset of possibility, it is impossible that a concept could exist in material reality but outside of our "minds."  It is surely reasonable, and scientifically valid that the cellular interactions of the brain are used to interface with our bodies.  Therefore, in order for humans to apply concepts for the operation and use of our bodies, it follows that the concepts belong within our minds.  Because of the discussion in the metaphysical blog post, it follows that because our minds cannot exist in a superdimensional world, our minds must belong in our brains.  Thus, it follows that concepts must belong in our brains.

Proposition: "Concepts exist in the brain."

  1. Cellular interactions are necessary to operate a human body.
  2. Operation and applications of our bodies to the material world requires concepts.
  3. Cellular interactions originate in the brain.
  4. In order to influence cellular interactions, concepts must exist within proximity.
  5. Concepts exist in the brain.

Acquiring Knowledge

So, we know where knowledge exists, but how does it get there?  The answer has a pretty straightforward answer.  Children are born without knowledge – neither the knowledge to sustain its life, nor the knowledge to appreciably navigate and influence the environment around it.  Barring any such biologically evident innate ability, such as the functions of sleep, digestion, etc. it is reasonable that the method by which a child can interact with the environment is the same method by which the child acquires knowledge.  The child uses its eyes to see, and its ears to hear.  The senses are the fundamental foundation of knowledge.  Like the example in the knowledge hierarchy, without the senses, the child would not learn the concept of opening doors, and neither is the child born with it.  It is only through the mechanisms of observation that the child can accumulate knowledge.  And indeed, the counterexample of bodily functions (like moving and wriggling ones fingers) also holds true – it's by the perception of connected neural pathways that allow the child to experiment and observe the effects of its thoughts. 

Let's consider the possibility that the child does indeed have knowledge without experience.  This would mean that the connection of neural pathways has already been made.  That would imply that knowledge is in some way heritable, or in some way a result of superdimensional influence.  Like above, the possibility of superdimensional influence can be ruled out simply due to its logical inconsistency (see metaphysical post).  And if knowledge is heritable, then the arrangement/connection of neurons must be formed before experience has taken effect.  But if this is the case, then it's contradictory to the fundamental mechanisms of neurons themselves – the connections of neurons (knowledge) must be formed of two interrelated associations of sense-data.  And thus, heritability cannot itself drive the formation of knowledge. 

Proposition: "Knowledge is conceived from the senses."

  1. Children are born without knowledge.
  2. The senses provide the necessary information for interacting with the environment.
  3. Knowledge is necessary to interact with the environment.
  4. Knowledge must be acquired by the senses.

Proposition: "Knowledge cannot be inherited."

  1. Knowledge is the connection between distinct neural-sensory-associations.
  2. These sensory associations must be a product of active experential connection.
  3. Heritability is the tendency of a particular trait from a parent to appear in an offspring's DNA. 
  4. New neural-sensory-association is not directly influenced by DNA.
  5. Knowledge cannot be inherited. 

The Role of Logic

Conspicuously absent from the above is the discussion of logic.  Is all knowledge a result of sensory-data?  A common counterexample I've heard is: "the shortest distance between two points is a straight-line."  Of course, this isn't necessarily the case.  Take the example of airplane paths on the map.  If you use a cylindrical projection, not only are the proportions inaccurate, but also the distance between two points usually isn’t the shortest.  This is a result of unequal circumferences at varying latitudes.  Sometimes, the shortest distance involves flying to a higher-latitude (when in the northern hemisphere), and descending to the destination. 

So here, we have a proposition: "the shortest distance between two points is a straight-line," which is refuted by empirical evidence.  And indeed, the world around us depends on object permanence – an apple will never suddenly transform into a plum, or an eagle; the foundation of logic, of a=a.  And thus in any contradiction between logic and the world around us, empirical sense data must override logical sentiments – as it has in this example.  However, as the universe is mandated by object-permanence, and a=a, we can use our logic to determine the validity - or empirical consistency of a claim.  Object permanence will be fully covered under the “Foundations of Metaphysics” blog post.



I am writing this post as a framework for future works.  If I ever reference an argument, or use a concept developed here, I can refer back to the information determined in this post.  If we are to explore the world around us, if we are to distinguish truth from falsehood, we must determine the foundation of knowledge before we endeavor to determine truth.  If something in the above doesn’t follow logically, or I make a a false presupposition, be sure to mention it in the comments below.  The Foundations of Metaphysics blog post will be published in the near future.