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Updated: 2017.11.20 21:48
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Darwinism in Knowledge Progression
[ Issue 156 Page 11 ] Monday, September 25, 2017, 20:12:53 Jae Hwan Jeong Staff Reporter jeong7331@kaist.ac.kr

Although a distinctive line can be drawn between the concept of “truthfulness” and “usefulness”, the increasing demand for a comprehensive set of information in today’s pursuit of knowledge means that we should be critical of the selectivity and the integrity of the knowledge presented to us. An increasingly popular proposition goes: “Knowledge within a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection.” Based on the classical principles of natural selection, quantitative and qualitative traits of knowledge can be extrapolated from the metaphor; there is always more knowledge present than the amount necessary, and over time, only few of them survive based on their suitability to the environment in which they exist. The metaphor suggests that the knowledge available is molded and filtered according to the values and ideals of society. These implications lead us to ask firstly whether the Darwinistic model of knowledge successfully reflects the way in which we look at the world and secondly, whether the metaphor can be applied to multiple disciplines.

Dalton’s atomic model, which suggested that atoms are comprised of different and unique elements, was first approached experimentally through Rutherford’s scattering of alpha particles. Whilst J. J. Thomson had correctly identified the presence of negatively charged particles within all atoms, it was only through Rutherford’s gold foil experiment that allowed for the science world to confirm the negligible size of the electrons and the bigger positive nucleus at the core of all atoms. But what was later accepted was the Bohr model in 1913, which further identified the different energy levels present in different atoms. The visual representation of the Bohr atom is drawn parallel to the heliocentric model of our universe in that there are electrons with their individual orbits revolving around the nucleus. The heliocentric model of the Universe, however, was proposed in the early 1500s and the time interval between the two seemingly different models exemplifies the singularity of knowledge within the natural sciences; the fact that similar models progress and develop at different paces for different areas within the natural sciences suggests that each strain of knowledge can be regarded as different forms of organisms that go through genetic mutations at different speeds, hence corroborating the validity of the Darwinistic model of knowledge.

However, the level of significance ascribed to natural phenomena and the need to see certain occurrences under scrutiny sprout from the observer’s thoughts and perspectives. René Descartes’ statement, “cogito ergo sum”, translated to “I think, therefore I am,” claims that the very evidence to our existence is our cognitive capacity to challenge and question our sense of “self” — the philosophy reflects the importance and the inexorable disposition towards individual perception. As such, an impetus of change in the Natural Sciences is inherently driven by the observer’s intuition. Newton’s discovery of gravitational force was based on his observation of an apple falling from a tree. The phenomenon of a falling apple could have been regarded by the observer as being insignificant, but because Newton’s intuition had urged him to seek a rational reasoning behind the phenomenon, new scientific theories could be found. In this sense, knowledge within the natural sciences develops not according to its suitability to the environment but according to its suitability to an individual’s mind. This argument counters the validity of the Darwinistic model of knowledge and goes on to suggest that progression of knowledge may be much more sporadic and unpredictable.

The counterclaims reveal the extent to which human intuition and perception interfere with the progression of knowledge; preconceived biases often impede the development of an obviously superior form of knowledge. Conversely, because the metaphor constantly brings our conviction into question, we may spend more time evaluating the knowledge that we already have instead of progressing towards the ones that haven’t been found. It can also be seen that multiple forms of knowledge being present at once allows the process of natural selection to take place more easily, which perhaps suggests us to work towards the Darwinistic model, letting objectivity take precedent over humans’ possibly restricted and flawed thoughts.

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