Saturday, January 1, 2011

Knowledge is not infinite; neither is ignorance

A FB friend posted a quote by Zhuang Zi,

Life Is Finite, While Knowledge Is Infinite.

Thing is, words have meaning, and those many meanings that words can have may be unbounded. Yet while  unbounded implies pluralities it certainly doesn't necessitate infinities. The real difficulty here is that we neglect an operational definition for knowledge, one that allows us to allocate our ignorances wisely.

Knowledge poses an interesting term in this respect, because we so often conflate the many meanings to the point that the word itself barely means anything distinguishable.  To Zhuang Zi, knowledge is certainly not a trait wholly attributable to humans, else his quote would be silly on its face. Zhuang's knowledge exists outside of Life, something to be pursued yet which is unfathomable.

On the other hand, what is knowledge if it is not known by a knower? The true knowledge of every man perishes with him, whether he be an author or a ditch digger, rich or poor, wise or foolish.  Without a knower, our thoughts may be meta references to that we don't yet know; they may be delusions, or  dreamlike feelings reverberating in our skulls affirming that we know when really, we don't.

It is the arrangement of neural inter-patternings enabling imagining of our universe including concepts such as "other" and "self" that we call knowledge. Those patterns are complicated. Numerous. Interdependent. But not infinite. It is that finitude that allows us to learn, make practical generalizations, and to reframe and parameterize our understanding.

While the experiences that are thrown at society in general and us in particular are unbounded,  they induce knowledge if and only if they alter someone's brain chemistry; and that knowledge only remains around as long as those brains retain their altered states. In effect, our brains are big self-mutating hash functions, funneling those experiences from an infinity of infinities down to a countable set of neural patterns. And like any hash function, the pigeonhole principle rules.

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