Knowledge or Inspiration

Knowledge or Inspiration

It may seem like a trivial question at first, but those people I asked were varied in their responses nearly 50/50. It got me thinking, which is never a good thing, but perhaps the deeper question isnt whether people would rather be educated or inspired (which would inform teachers as to whether they should focus more on content or delivery), but instead what is the underlying motivation behind the preference for one of the other?

Answering the latter gives us a glimpse of the psyche of the individual in question. Perhaps the two are always in flux. As the scales tip away from knowledge and inspiration makes gains (though these two arent necessarily correlated) the desire for learning out-weighs the need for motivation. Conversely, as inspiration wanes and knowledge increases, it would seem an intuitive that individuals desire a renewed sense of drive.

However, highly motivated people would probably tend to inspire themselves (Im using the two terms interchangeably) and therefore seek more knowledge more often. To expand on this lets characterize the possible combinations and what they mean.

  1. High Inspiration; High Education (Over Achiever)
  2. Low Inspiration; High Education (Slacker)
  3. High Inspiration; Low Education (Dreamer, religious nut)
  4. Low Inspiration; Low Education (Sheep)

Okay, so the labels I applied are just for fun, so dont read too much in to them. A person with a balance of either high education and inspiration or low education and inspiration are equivalent in that their net desire for either is neutral. The other two cases, where the individual has a higher desire for knowledge or inspiration than the other respectively, probably yield more interesting hypotheses. Yes, we are talking about the slacker and the dreamer.

The slacker, isnt actually a slacker. In my survey people who desired more inspiration uniformly responded that they have plenty of knowledge or could get it efficiently and inspiration was more rare. People who responded to my questioning with this answer tended to give longer and more well thought out answers. It was almost as though they were seeking to justify their reasoning to me. It was very interesting to me because Id probably answer with a greater desire for inspiration.

Others who responded that theyd prefer more education to more inspiration all had the same answer too. It was always approximately that they are already inspired and have something they wish to learn more about so they can put their desires through to fruition.

Half of the respondents seemed to be searching for challenges to engage and the other half were looking for information to solve challenges they were already engaged in. In the end one of my friends, Ryan, said it best (forgive me for paraphrasing): knowledge without inspiration is pointless, but inspiration without knowledge is useless.

Obviously, the two are linked (indeterminately, but linked none-the-less), but in asking the question I may have learned something new about each and every respondent. That is to say, which question is more interesting to them at that given moment: How? or Why?

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Why So Serious About Philosophy Part 2

Why So Serious About Philosophy Part 2

Psych! Man I miss the 80’s. Expressions like ‘psych’ really should never have gone out of style.

This JTB model of knowledge survived from Aristotle right up until 1963 when a man named Edmund Gettier wrote the philosophical equivalent of a drunken scribble on a cocktail napkin, a little three page ditty called “Is justified true belief knowledge?” The title is a bit sassy given that Gettier showed, rather quickly, that no, JTB is not sufficient for knowledge. He could have titled the paper “Justified true belief is not knowledge so suck it, Aristotle” and been less of a prick.

Rather than use Gettier’s example of a case where someone could have justified true belief in something but that few would consider it knowledge (’cause it involves a bit of technical logic magic), I will instead use Kripke’s phony barn country example (’cause it’s super sweet), but credit for the idea should still go to Gettier (the category of these things is called ‘Gettier problems’, so this is not unfair).

Imagine you are driving your car through the country. Why? It’s not terribly important for the point of this thought experiment but if you insist on being unduly nosy, let’s say that you are going to a Jethro Tull concert to sell your macrame wish buckets. Anyway, this countryside is covered in barns. What you don’t know, however, is that you are driving through phony barn country and that all but one of these barns are fake (why is there one real barn in there? Presumably even makers of phony barns have need of an actual barn on occasion).

You look up from the highway and see a barn and say with characteristic wit and insight, “I know there is a barn there”. As it happens, you are looking at the one real barn in all of phony barn country, you lucky thing. You have the true belief that you are looking at the barn and it is justified because normally when you look at a thing that looks exactly like a barn you are right to believe it is, in fact, a barn.

But do you know that you are looking at a barn? And why did you feel it merited saying it aloud? Man, you are a terrible traveling companion. Most people would want to say that you did not know it was a barn even though you had a justified true belief. You just got lucky as if you had looked up earlier, later, or even to the other side of the road and said the same thing you would have been wrong in thinking you were looking at a real barn. For shame!

So, if you are still feeling so damnably sure of yourself and think you know things, come up with a solution to what else is required other than JTB to consider something actual knowledge. Crack that nugget and you can land yourself a plum tenure at a sunny college, replete with sexy TA’s and permissive rules regarding sexual relations with said TA’s.

Knowledge is a beautiful thing.

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Why So Serious About Philosophy Part 1

Why So Serious About Philosophy Part 1

So you claim to know things, eh? You know your name is so-and-so (I assume it is not actually ‘so-and-so’ but rather whatever it is). You know that the sun rises each day and you know that naming your abdominal muscles unironically should be a source of shame rather than pride.

So you think you know stuff, eh? What are you, some kind of big shot?

Well, knowledge is a tricky thing- tricky as in difficult not tricky as in ‘a unit of prostitution’-y. So tricky, in fact, that by the conclusion of this post you will still not have a satisfactory definition of what it is to know something. The problem is that most ways of describing what ‘knowing’ means includes cases that we would not want to call knowledge or leave out cases that we are pretty sure count.

Aristotle was appropriately smug. Among his countless other contributions to philosophy and science, he banged out a theory of knowledge (philosophy of knowledge is called epistemology) that we call ‘justified true belief’. You know X if you have justified true belief X. If you know XXX, you may have a bit of a sticky mess on your hands.

So, what does JTB mean? Well, belief is just used to mean you think the thing. I believe that the sky is blue, for example, and I believe that frat boys have ruined the otherwise functional popping of collars on polo shirts. But people can believe false things, obviously, like that Sarah Jessica Parker should regularly appear in movies.

The belief being true is a pretty uncontroversial requirement for that belief to be knowledge. The old saying is that you cannot know falsehoods – a saying just a bit older than ‘wish in one hand, fart in the other and see how embarrassed you feel’. If you ‘know’ that all horses have six legs, then most people would be rightly comfortable in saying you don’t actually know that- you erroneously believe it.

The ‘justified’ part of justified true belief is more than just a true belief in the seductive aural canoodling of Justin Timberlake. Basically, the justification requirement prevents correct guesses from counting as knowledge. If you draw a card from a deck and, without seeing it, I tell you that I know it is the 8 of spades and it turns out that it is the 8 of spades, I would not really have known that. I am, of course, leaving aside ideas of telepathy and magic and all that because the contents of my skull are mostly brain matter as opposed to jello and loose twine. I had the true belief that the card was the 8 of spades but lacked any compelling justification for it. You would still have to do a shot of O’Douls, though, cause hey, that’s apparently the rule in the shitty imaginary game we were playing.

Well, we are all done here.


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