"That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow." Consider some of the knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge
"That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow." Consider some of the knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.
A few years ago, when my grandfather was diagnosed of Diabetes, his endocrinologists recommended that he take artificial sweeteners, and stop all sugar intakes. The sweetener, “Splenda”, helped him control his sugar levels to a vast extent. But recently my grandfather has started suffering from illnesses such as nausea, headache, dizziness and a slight loss of memory. Epidemiological evidence points to a link between a variety of negative health and the consumption of high-intensity artificial sweeteners. This example set me thinking and therefore raised a knowledge issues before me as to “what are the grounds upon which we give up the accepted knowledge, and adapt ourselves to the new knowledge?” and “to what extent does the role of authority impact what is accepted as knowledge?”
To me, knowledge is an entity that is an amalgamation of information and facts that is attained by an individual via education, observation and exposure. My grandfather exhibited belief in his doctor’s prognoses. When I asked him why, he claimed not only that he trusted his doctor to give him the right advice but also was of the belief that his doctor was his source of knowledge as the advice of the doctor satisfied his reason and perception. The language of the television ads for Splenda further propelled his emotions to adapt himself to new knowledge. But today I feel that knowledge is an issue that needs more than meets the eye. More than the ways of conventional knowing it requires experience, observations and imagination. There should be certain grounds, which we must consider before discarding knowledge in favour of a new knowledge claim. As a knower, I want to answer this question in the areas of knowledge human sciences and natural sciences and explore the issues that are instrumental in discarding an accepted knowledge claim.
This is a preview of the whole essay
In the area of Knowledge, the human Sciences, anthropologists study the past and present of humans, and apply knowledge to seek solutions to human problems. One of the big issues that I confronted while studying anthropology is the Sati practice observed in India in the 17th century. According to this practice a widow, who was shunned by the Orthodox Hindu society, was considered a pure and chaste woman if she immolated herself on the pyre of her dead husband. This knowledge was deeply rooted in the minds of many sections of Hindu society to such an extent that even their emotional upheaval at such a tragic death did not oppose their reason. The proponents of this practice showed their intense belief in theology, and considered that the Sati would free herself and her husband from the vicious circle of life and death. They pleaded in the name of religion and ethics so staunchly that despite this illegal practice the Satis were burnt, whether voluntarily or forcibly. The practice flourished until the advent of the British rule in India. “In 1827 the Governor-General of India, Lord Bentinck, finally outlawed the custom in its entirety, claiming it had no sound theological basis.” Lord Bentinck wrote that this practice led to gender bias on the society, and gave a number of rational explanations why this practice had started in India. Gradually the Hindus learned that this practice was outlawed and illegal, and many reforms were created in the society. Today this knowledge that Sati practice is unethical and unfair appeals to our reason, emotions, and sense perception, and in the light of these we have discarded this heinous practice. This is how we derive new knowledge, and discard the accepted one. In such cases I feel that authority has a major role in enlightening the masses. Bentinck had authority, and he exercised it. There had been various voices of dissent on the sati practice before him too, but those pleas fell on deaf ears.
New knowledge comes, not on the wings of imagination alone, but accompanied by the ways of knowing, our observations and experiences. New knowledge does not dawn on us spontaneously; it takes time to apply to our ways of knowledge and ways of life. And once it applies, there is no gainsaying that the accepted knowledge is discarded in favour of the new one. But it does not amount to saying that every old knowledge is changeable with the passage of time. Nor is everyone willing to learn this knowledge and discard his perception on an issue. Despite so many hue and cries on the Sati practice, an 18-year-old woman, Roop Kanwar, immolated herself on the pyre of her husband in the state of Rajasthan in 1987 in the company of all her relatives. Despite the new knowledge we are not always willing to adapt ourselves to the changes that should be welcome. For example there are millions of people who do not endorse Darwin’s views that we have evolved from monkeys and apes. In there eyes we are the children of anthropomorphic god! We human beings have such a mindset that we are reluctant more often than not to accept knowledge that is new and more appealing. Despite the new knowledge derived scientifically, we tend to live in myths, illusions, and are influenced by old wives’ tales.
Another example that draws my attention to the knowledge issue is man’s long-term belief in old knowledge pertaining to digestive disorders. It was commonly believed that peptic ulcers were caused by stress and heavy intake of spicy foods and alcohol. What were the factors that led to the concretion of such knowledge in the human brains? No doubt, it was the amateur’s magazine articles, the rumors taking a powerful stance, the unsound reason and the biased emotions! People started taking the local concoctions to overcome this disease. For example they increased their intake of milk, and tried their best to overcome stress by taking sedatives and anti-depressants. The result-it led to a further aggravation of the malady. It was only when researchers came with a new scientific theory that ulcers are caused either by “infection with a bacterium called (H. pylori) or by use of pain medications such as , , or ” that this new knowledge shook the foundations of the old knowledge invested in out brains. The scientists “Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren” conducted a number of experiments and gave empirical evidence in support of their claims. The vaccines developed by them successfully treated the patients suffering from chronic peptic ulcer conditions, and the hackneyed knowledge of stress and spicy food was cast aside. No doubt these scientists were awarded the Noble prize of medicine for their revolutionary discovery in 2005. What was it that led to this new knowledge? The scientists were skeptics and they wanted evidence in support of the claims of the physicians who suggested the flawed knowledge. The research, observations, experiments by hits and trials, removed “Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren” from the myth and they came up with a new knowledge in the light of their ways of knowing. Today the scientists “Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren” are the new voice of authority that has shaken our fickle beliefs in peptic ulcer knowledge that had been prevailing from time immemorial.
But again, it will not be right to say that every knowledge that we know is bound to change. No. We still believe that the value of Pi is 3.14 and that it takes 8 minutes for the light from the sun to reach us. Every theory cannot be challenged. To challenge a theory a scientist, be he a human scientist or a natural scientist, has to be twice as vigil as the earlier ones. He is not only supposed to bring a new claim but also has to break the fetters that have engulfed us human beings. Now to answer the knowledge issue taken by me that “what are the grounds upon which we give up the accepted knowledge, and adapt ourselves to the new knowledge?” and “to what extent does the role of authority impact what is accepted as knowledge?” I am of the opinion that “The old order changeth yielding place to new.” Knowledge is a concept that re-corrects itself, as there exists no absolute knowledge in this world. Every thing is changeable in nature, and hence it is mandatory on the part of every knower that he make a proper balance between his reason and emotion, and not get influenced by language until it apples to his perceptions. Human progress is remarkable in that it does not stick to the old ways; it changes but only when the changes come accompanied by evidence and the voice of authority. And whenever it happens the old knowledge will always be discarded tomorrow.