So, it’s been two weeks since I posted my initial blog “What is Science?” and in the mean time I’ve been trying to think of which topic to write on next. Or, really, which topic to start with. I’ve finally decided to start with skepticism and knowledge.
These two words are heavily loaded with cultural context and definition.
The colloquial definition of skepticism is “someone who disagrees.” Often in the context that they’re being “hard headed” or “disagreeing just to disagree”; the list goes on. In this light it portrays skepticism negatively, and creates a culture in which questioning is something bad to do.
But questioning itself isn’t inherently bad. Nor does questioning automatically mean you disagree. And likewise, disagreeing doesn’t mean you’re being skeptical. Being skeptical also doesn’t mean you doubt, and not being skeptical doesn’t mean you don’t doubt.
Being skeptical simply means you’re wanting more evidence to support the claim being made.
Now this is where it can get a bit convoluted. What is evidence? Evidence is a body (or collection) of knowledge / information (to support a claim). What then is knowledge and how does one gain it? This is an enormous topic in itself. I’m only really going to be scraping the surface here… well, just barely poking it, maybe.
Colloquially, knowledge is defined as a binary of “true” and “false”, “fact” and “fiction.” Either or. But knowledge isn’t binary. Rather, it’s a gradient of certainty based on testability AND free of bias (to our best extent possible).
In which case a fact translates “to the best of our knowledge.” As in, an accumulation of evidence, explanations, and how everything relates. (Yes, knowledge is based on previous knowledge, and so on and so forth. You can keep asking why and how until you get down to the smallest, most fundamental interactions. So knowledge in how it’s presented is also based in which context you’re using it in.)
This is an important distinction. If something were assumed absolutely true, there would be no questioning it, in which case knowledge would become stagnant. You would be less likely to look for a better explanation and more information, even in the face of contradiction. There would simply be no growth in that area.
This goes hand in hand with skepticism, in which you consistently question everything. Even the knowledge you do have is falsifiable and is questioned and up for scrutiny by everyone (peer review). This is really the basis for science.
Again, this is barely an introduction to these subjects. But I feel is a good starting point. The next blog will most likely be a very brief introduction on logic and reason, and I’ll throw in more bits on how these subjects relate to skepticism and knowledge as well.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Thank you for reading. :)