Thursday, March 08, 2007

What Is Knowledge?

Knowledge is analogous to language. Both undergo translations, experience loss of data, and rely on the relation between particles to impart meaning.

A lavish concert in an opulent theater contains plenty of information. The vaulted and molded ceilings, the gilded walls, plush seats, soft carpets, the gently stirring crowd, and of course, the music, all comprise the entire experience. There are subjective elements to it as well, like the elation at the soaring notes, the allure of light perfume, or the annoyance at the coughing person a few seats down. This complete concert can be captured or stored in some other medium, like digital film or music. Doing so is a matter of converting the information present in the setting (the language of it) into another language (the 1s and 0s of electronic media). A camera can record the lights emanating from the stage that silhouette the conductor. A digital recorder can piece together the many vibrations of the strings and horns, making them bits in circuitry.

Much of the information present in the setting would be lost when it is converted from one language into another. Digital media cannot represent the elation or the annoyance. It can’t feel the plush seats and the soft carpet. No camera can view all angles at once, or represent depth. These sensations are necessarily lost, as this new data format does not recognize them. The whole theater is not reproduced in its entirety.

The human mind, too, could be considered a recording device, with its own language or data format. Knowledge can be represented in the brain by connections between neurons. The connections between these neurons are important as they relate to each other. Simultaneous understanding of several words is a prerequisite for understanding a new word found in the dictionary. A word is only meaningful if it has a context and can be linked in some way to other words. A word without a definition is meaningless. Likewise, a bit of knowledge can only be meaningful if it can relate to other bits of knowledge. A pre-existing network of associated neurons is necessary for the acquisition of new information in the brain, just as a previously constructed set of linguistic building blocks is necessary to comprehend a new word.



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