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Do We Really Know What We Think We Do?

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A human is born to the world to learn it through beliefs, perception and understanding. In other words, a human life is a continuous process of acquiring knowledge and experience and sharing them with other people. The entire “human intellectual products” have been shaped in the concepts and doctrines that are controversial and limited, however may be developed in the new findings. There are many things for people to discover. Thus, humans try to get new knowledge through perception and understanding presenting evidences and doubts that are mainly subjective. A human is a part of universe and life is governed by its logic. However, due to the impossibility to provide strong evidences for some beliefs and assumption, people still underestimate the universe laws and restrain their development. 

The highest level of beliefs is knowledge, gained through trust and justification. The difference between “think”, “believe”, “know” and “know for certain” is a degree of certainty that varies between assumption, trust and justification. In case of assumption, there are no direct evidences; however, related reasons and absence of contrary reasons speak for the truth. In case of belief, some evidences support the truth and no contrary evidences deny it. When the truth is supported with adequate justification convincing for the other people, it is possible to say, “I know”. Finally, positive evidences without any contradictions or logically possible alternatives provide the knowledge with certainty (Certainty, 2008). Knowledge can be justified with the diversified types of the evidences in various amounts.

The tripartite theory of “justified true belief” (JTB), created by Greek philosopher Plato, states that belief, truth and justification cannot exist separately and constitute the essential conditions for each. Thus, a thing is not possible to know without believing it, secondly, a thing must be true and justified to constitute the knowledge (Theory of Knowledge, 2013). However, Edmund Getter casted doubts on JTB doctrine, in which a human may have a justified true belief, but it lacks knowledge. For example, justification for the belief “there is a sheep in the meadow” is that “the thing over there is a sheep”. It is not true, since the “thing” over there is not a sheep but a stone in the shape of sheep. Thus, the JTB doctrine is false because it does not consider any coincidences and “luck” (Gettier, 1963). The Getter’s idea was supported by Bertrand Russell, however it was generally criticized due to the misinterpretation of the term “justification”. Existence of such cases evidences that the knowledge is more than just JTB, and much of the debate gave an impulse for further development of the “knowledge concepts”. Thus, in 1981 Robert Nozick suggested that “justified true belief” had to be “truth-tracking” to avoid any “false” consequences (Wolff, 1991).  Colin McGinn (McGinn, 1984) stated that knowledge is “atomic”; consequently, it is not divisible for smaller elements in the definition. Moreover, Klein stated the idea that knowledge requires certainty to provide “subjective and objective immune to doubt” (Klein, 1992). Knowledge can be justified with the help of a big diversity of theories, mostly focused on the question "To what extent do we need to be certain that our beliefs correspond to the actual world?" (Epistemology, 2005). Thus, coherentism foundationalism, foundherentism, infinitism, externalism and internalism are the theories that differ by the amount and types of evidences for justifying beliefs.    

The world is perceived through physical sensors and is understood through the results of mental processes. All five sensory systems, such as vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch enable a human to receive the information that is afterwards decoded by the brains to get the “feeling-based” knowledge. All the physical “channels” which are limited by their thresholds are typical for a human. Procession of information, gained from learning and experiences, is the “mental” way of forming competences and intelligence, involving attention, memory, language and logic. Limits of intelligence are measured with the help of special test mainly to identify a human’s capability for learning.

Firstly, vision is limited by the field of view (200 degrees horizontally and 135 degrees vertically), angular resolution (1/3600th arc seconds to perceive the smallest thing), and spectrum of vision (perceiving light at wavelength range between 390 and 750 nanometers) (Gonzalez, 2012). Hearing range is 20-20,000 Hz and between 0 and 5 dB. Concerning taste and smell, normally human palates can determine such basic tastes as bitter, sweet, sour and salty and the lowest concentration of the odor perceived by a human varies depending on the compound and chemical characteristics. The sense of touch differs for various parts of the body that have different threshold distance between 2 mm (for fingers) and 45 mm (for calf).

Secondly, a human’s intellectual performance is different in various occasions and judged by different criteria (abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, reasoning, learning, emotional knowledge, retaining, planning and problem solving). Reuven Feuerstein describes intelligence as "the unique propensity of human beings to change or modify the structure of their cognitive functioning to adapt to the changing demands of a life situation”. (Feuerstein, 1990).  Thus, William Stern, a German psychologist invented the concept of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) with 100 grade to assess human intelligence. There are the some other “intelligence-measuring” tests, such as Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (KABC), Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and Raven's Progressive Matrices (RPM).

American educational establishments of all the levels use specialized tests, in particular, “Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), American College Testing (ACT), Graduate Record Examinations (GRE),  Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Medical College Admission Test (MCAT),  The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)”.  (Pellegrino, 1999).

Scientific knowledge is gained through the researches and experiments that makes it more objective and reliable than other types of knowledge, such as social, physical and logical – mathematical. (Types of Knowledge, 2013). Non-scientific types of knowledge are learning techniques and practices that answer the question “How learners gain basic competences to be able to deal with scientific knowledge?”. In particular, social knowledge is valuable for observation needs and it comes from authentic context to be transmitted in the forms of customs, traditions, particular names and labels for environment. Physical knowledge focuses on  understanding of the physical world and behavior of materials with different characteristics and attributes. It forms skills for analyses of the collected data. Finally, logical – mathematical knowledge is fundamental for explaining principals with the help of objective approach.

Skepticism is an epistemological argument that poses the question of whether the knowledge is justified to be true (Andrew, 2002). Skepticism’s limit is subjectivism expressed through the doubts and assumptions. A request for further evidences and justifications can both restrict and induce development of any concept.

Skeptics judge whether a particular point of view or belief is measurable, whereas the “level of proof” is an opinion itself and it is also can be doubted. The burden of proof is the necessity; however, skeptics have a tendency to ask for the excessing amount of evidences. Their “curiosity” can be measured by the level of challenge to their own current view on things. As a result, a concept may be “trapped” by the skeptic’s views. In addition, scientists are human beings with feelings and emotions that are brought into the scientific process. In case of confrontation or resistance, skeptics may be opinionated and dominating by their reputation and status in the scientific community. It can be explained by their unwillingness to shift their stable paradigms not to cause any misbalance in their sense of “scientific security”. However, in response to the skeptic’s request for further evidences a scientist may elaborate a derivative from his/her initial concept that will be a new stage of the development. Moreover, doubts can be a self-fulfilling prophesy. There is a saying in quantum physics that mind of the observer has a similar effect to what is observed. Experiences require preliminary beliefs, especially in the areas that need more intensive participation of mind, such as psychic phenomena, psychology and sociology, spirituality and health. In these highly subjective areas, which are still not investigated, skepticism may provoke some unexpected results leading to the new findings and discoveries.

The brain and mind are intelligence components different by their nature and functions. The brain is physical and it provides biochemical process and responsible for the decoding of the information taken by senses. The mind is mental and it generates vision and words and provides all thinking processes. Despite principal differences, the brain and mind cannot exist separately from each other, because they are two components of a human’s “thinking tool”.

The brain is of definite shape and size that consists of nerve cells and blood vessels. It is a center of nervous system responsible for coordinating movements. The mind refers to a human’s understanding of environment, thinking process and consciousness. The brain is emotional intelligence, which results in knowing things, whereas the mind is emotionless one that provides understanding. The brain is unconscious, it operates innately and “speaks with electric currents produced by the biochemical process”. On the contrary, the mind works consciously and it speaks “with words”. The brain’s output is wisdom that cannot be taught due to its biochemical nature. However, it is generated in the process of “freeing the brain from its emotional burden”, and it is the mind’s responsibility to manage the process and finalize it successfully. Moreover, the brain cannot be taught, its development is physical change of quality. At the same time, it is possible to teach the mind how to generate knowledge.      

According to Khan Sajid, “the brain is the engine, while the care is the physical body of human being where the mind is the driver of this of life” (Khan Sajid, 2011). The “driver” has access to the reality and controls the situation, and the “engine” provides appropriate operation of the “car”. Thus, condition of the brain determines condition of the mind. The “engine” with defects causes operational and maintenance problems resulting in the “emotional and physical breakdowns”. Knowledge is fuel for the “engine” which is needed to move the “car”. Absence of “fuel” leads to the complete stoppage of the “car”, and low quality of the “fuel” causes endless repairing of the “car engine”.

Radical relativism cannot be defensible since it causes “cultural and religious” wars, violence and deaths. Once Greek philosopher Protagoras (B.C.E. 490-420) said: “Man is the measure of all things”. In other words, every individual opinion can be true /false or right/wrong for that particular person (Mosser, 2010). Individual sense of value leads to ethical egoism and actions based on self-interest. In such radical sense, relativism is often considered as philosophical “value-and-judgment fee” opinion about other propels’ cultures and traditions.

The primary antagonist of radical relativism is religion. Western religions and Islamic faith are absolute and free of criticism. The Taliban, a religious group well known for not standing any relativism, was in fanatic battles for more than ten years. Relativism for the Muslim community can end in death sentence, as it was for Christians just a few centuries ago. The Roman Catholic Church has determined relativism as one of the most negative impacts on faith and moral. Radical relativism has the extreme degree of liberalism and individualism. Its concept is “anything goes” that explains lack of tolerance and “cultural wars”. Consequently, radical relativism is not defensible.

There are two main concepts of human perception that are baselines for realism and idealism. Both of them are equally popular all over the world, since realism is the basic concept for liberalism and democratic values, and idealism is the ground for religion and spiritual development. However, only reasonable combination of both can guarantee a balanced behavior of humans that, on the one side, would be tolerant to other peoples’ beliefs, and on the other side, feel more secured being guided by the universe forces.

René Descartes was a starting point for epistemology with his saying “I think; therefore, I am” that was derivate in the argument “to be means to be perceived” (Cottingham, 1986).  George Berkeley, Irish empiricist philosopher, in his work A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011) refutes the claims about the nature of human perception. Berkley suggested that the outside world is composed solely of ideas. Thus, the knowledge is “resembled ideas”, not material objects. The world is logical and regular due to the force that he called the God. There exist only two kinds of things in the universe and they are spirit and ideas. Spirits are active and they cause ideas that cannot exist unperceived. Human beings are finite spirits, whereas the God is an infinite spirit (Shouler, 2013). However John Locke, Berkeley’s contemporary, the most influential among enlightenment thinkers, stated that mind is blank at birth and all knowledge is obtained from experience and senses of perception in the real world.

To sum up, humans really know what they do because, firstly, they are capable to preserve information and process it in knowledge, secondly, they have the necessary “thinking tools” to produce ideas and, thirdly, they are open for disputes that may result in new doctrines. However, humans’ limitations and lack of knowledge about laws of the universe restrain development.  It would be reasonable to review the standard of justification and concentrate more on the things that cannot be easily evidenced.

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