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Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:22 pm UTC
by DivideByZero
Basically me and my friend are arguing whether if something cannot be said, can it really be known to us?

Can I possibly know something yet not be able to describe it?


I'm pretty sure there is no absolute answer (yes or no) but can anyone come up with some arguments for why the ability to describe something IS REQUIRED for knowledge?

I want some support to the idea that "no, you can't know something yet not be able to describe it"

Any ideas?

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:27 pm UTC
by SecondTalon
DivideByZero wrote:Basically me and my friend are arguing whether if something cannot be said, can it really be known to us?
Can I possibly know something yet not be able to describe it?
Tell me how a strawberry tastes so that I can taste it.

Remember how a strawberry tastes.

BAM. There's your difference.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:29 pm UTC
by DivideByZero
yeah but how can i have a persuasive argument proving that description is necessary for knowledge?

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:31 pm UTC
by Jos
There are situations when "undescribable" knowlege is worthless; Eg. when the information has to be transferred to someone else (seeing as there is easy to doubt information you cannot verify)

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:32 pm UTC
by SecondTalon
.. you can't because there isn't one?

I mean, it really depends on how you're defining knowledge, now doesn't it? Some people define it as the stuff that *can* be described. I mean, I know how I feel when I sneeze, yet I can't really accurately describe it. Is this knowledge? Perhaps more importantly, does anyone care how *I* feel when I sneeze outside of me?

I can, however, tell you that if you are counting objects and add another object to the list to be counted, your count increases by one. X+1=X+1 and all.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:37 pm UTC
by DivideByZero
So if I can't describe how I feel, I don't know how I feel.
Would that be right?

but.. what about color
I can't describe color to you (without referencing another color) so how can I argue that I don't know colors.

That color example is really getting me here....

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:40 pm UTC
by zug
The first thing that popped into my head while reading the OP is how awesome sex is and how the experience can be mechanically (or even emotionally) explained to a virgin, but until the activity is actually undertaken, intellectual knowledge does not grant a real understanding of the awesomeness and all-encompassingness of sex.

I could spend an afternoon teaching a 15 year old a bunch of sex positions and techniques, but until he actually DID the thing he necessarily couldn't be knowledgeable on the subject, though he would be able to describe the things I've taught him to other people and pretend to understand it in the meantime.

So you can describe knowledge without actually possessing it, yes.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:41 pm UTC
by SecondTalon
So if I can't describe how I feel, I don't know how I feel.
Would that be right?
... no, that would be wrong. Let me try again.
DivideByZero wrote:
Can I possibly know something yet not be able to describe it?
I'm pretty sure there is no absolute answer (yes or no)
... annndd.. this is where you're wrong (and that's okay). There is an absolute answer, and that answer is Yes. Yes, you can possibly know something yet not be able to describe it. You know what Red looks like in comparison to Orange. You know how Strawberries taste in comparison to Oranges.

You likely cannot describe them completely in such a way that an individual who had never seen red nor orange would know what you were talking about, or if they'd never eaten fruit or whatever.

You can, however, describe math in such a way that someone who has never formally manipulated numbers would possibly get it. You can describe another language in such a way as to allow someone who could not speak it becomes able to speak it (Granted, we are talking about a several month description with lots of practice, but you get the point).

You can describe some things you know. You also are incapable of describing some things you know. This doesn't change your knowing of them.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:47 pm UTC
by Rinsaikeru
Is direct physical sensory experience the same thing as knowledge? I'm not sure we should conflate taste with say a knowledge of how photosynthesis works.

I'd say if you are knowledgeable about a concept--you should be able to describe it so that others can understand you.

If you have experienced something via your senses some are easier to describe (say touch) than others (say smell).

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:58 pm UTC
by DivideByZero
SecondTalon wrote:... annndd.. this is where you're wrong (and that's okay). There is an absolute answer, and that answer is Yes. Yes, you can possibly know something yet not be able to describe it. You know what Red looks like in comparison to Orange. You know how Strawberries taste in comparison to Oranges.

You likely cannot describe them completely in such a way that an individual who had never seen red nor orange would know what you were talking about, or if they'd never eaten fruit or whatever.

You can, however, describe math in such a way that someone who has never formally manipulated numbers would possibly get it. You can describe another language in such a way as to allow someone who could not speak it becomes able to speak it (Granted, we are talking about a several month description with lots of practice, but you get the point).

You can describe some things you know. You also are incapable of describing some things you know. This doesn't change your knowing of them.



Arite.. well now I'm beginning to double think my self and my original preposition. Maybe there are some things that cannot be described (like taste, color, etc).

I read somewhere that three criteria must be met in order to achieve knowledge.
1) one must believe it to know it
2) truth must be independent from people
3) a true statement must always remain true forever

I just don't understand how the argument (of indescribable knowledge) supports claim number 2 above.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:08 pm UTC
by Emily St Aubert
I would suggest having a look at Plato's Theaetetus as a starting point. Socrates and Theaetetus have a dialogue in which they consider different definitions of knowledge. Ultimately they decide they're lacking, iirc; but the discussions on whether sense perception or true judgement (both of which are relativistic of course) can account for 'knowledge' are pretty entertaining.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2009 11:31 pm UTC
by SecondTalon
DivideByZero wrote:I read somewhere that three criteria must be met in order to achieve knowledge.
1) one must believe it to know it
2) truth must be independent from people
3) a true statement must always remain true forever
Hey, welcome to Philosophy, where they have long, in-depth, accurate discussions on just what exactly they mean by the word "word".

Basically - in becoming an object, does a word achieve meaning and existence? What is the difference between "Dog" and "Dharg"? One is the sound we make in reference to the canine, one is more or less nonsense, but in becoming a byword for canine, does "Dog" itself achieve a meaning beyond the characters that make it up (o, d, g) and the sounds your vocal chords and mouth have to make in order to produce the noise? Dog and God are two very different concepts, yet the same sounds are used to make them, just in reverse order. odg and ogd are not words, yet they too have the same sounds and parts that Dog does. In being our exact definition, does the word Dog achieve something more than just letters and sounds?

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:02 am UTC
by DivideByZero
SecondTalon wrote:
DivideByZero wrote:I read somewhere that three criteria must be met in order to achieve knowledge.
1) one must believe it to know it
2) truth must be independent from people
3) a true statement must always remain true forever
Hey, welcome to Philosophy, where they have long, in-depth, accurate discussions on just what exactly they mean by the word "word".

Basically - in becoming an object, does a word achieve meaning and existence? What is the difference between "Dog" and "Dharg"? One is the sound we make in reference to the canine, one is more or less nonsense, but in becoming a byword for canine, does "Dog" itself achieve a meaning beyond the characters that make it up (o, d, g) and the sounds your vocal chords and mouth have to make in order to produce the noise? Dog and God are two very different concepts, yet the same sounds are used to make them, just in reverse order. odg and ogd are not words, yet they too have the same sounds and parts that Dog does. In being our exact definition, does the word Dog achieve something more than just letters and sounds?



I see what you did there :P

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:06 am UTC
by hnooch
Another example which stays away from the realm of conscious experience is proposed by Richard Feynman. He gives the example of knowing what a car's crankshaft looks like and how it works without easily being able to describe that knowledge to someone else. Although it's describable in principle (unlike "red" or "strawberry", though whether that's describable is debatable), I think we want to be able to say that Feynman knows what a crankshaft is, but can't describe it. (with words — he acknowledges that he has visual knowledge of a crankshaft)

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:17 am UTC
by Outchanter
Also things related to proprioception. Like riding a bike, juggling, or kung fu.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:40 am UTC
by Klapaucius
I have this problem all the time, and not always with things that are impossible or even very hard to describe. I think I'm just terrible at verbalizing things.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:44 am UTC
by Philwelch
DivideByZero wrote:I read somewhere that three criteria must be met in order to achieve knowledge.
1) one must believe it to know it
2) truth must be independent from people
3) a true statement must always remain true forever


You got that wrong. 3 is wrong because I know that I am sitting in a chair, even though in a few minutes I will be standing in the kitchen. (OK, 3 is arguable if you are clever enough, but I'm going to let you figure out how.)

The three classical criteria (from Plato, restated in various ways) are:

Edmund Gettier, restating Plato wrote:S knows that P if and only if
1. P is true,
2. S believes that P, and
3. S is justified in believing that P.


Various restatements include:

Chrisholm wrote:S knows that P if and only if
1. S accepts P,
2. S has adequate evidence for P, and
3. P is true.
.

Edmund Gettier addressed these criteria in his famous paper, "Is True Justified Belief Knowledge?". You can google "Gettier", "Gettier problem", or "Is True Justified Belief Knowledge" and get this link to it on the first page. In short, Gettier pretty conclusively showed that, no, true justified belief is not necessarily knowledge. In the past 46 years or so, philosophers have worked on new definitions of knowledge, but as usual, no one agrees on one yet.

Gettier, by the way, is one of my philosophical heroes because, aside from that single three page paper that overthrew millenia of philosophical agreement on the definition of "knowledge", he published almost nothing else in his entire career. This came up when he applied for tenure. From what I've heard, Gettier responded by bringing in many of the hundreds of papers and books that had already been written in response to his paper. In recognition of the impact of "Is Justified Belief Knowledge?", Gettier was granted tenure and hasn't published since.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:16 am UTC
by DivideByZero
Philwelch wrote:
DivideByZero wrote:I read somewhere that three criteria must be met in order to achieve knowledge.
1) one must believe it to know it
2) truth must be independent from people
3) a true statement must always remain true forever


You got that wrong. 3 is wrong because I know that I am sitting in a chair, even though in a few minutes I will be standing in the kitchen. (OK, 3 is arguable if you are clever enough, but I'm going to let you figure out how.)



For 3, a true statement can remain true forever because of time. If I am sitting in a chair at this exact time (7:14 am) and minutes later I stand up, the fact that I was sitting there at that time is still true. (x,y,z,t)

I'll read up on Gettier tonight. I like the way he quantize knowledge logically into P's and S's.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:55 pm UTC
by smw543
Enough books have been written on epistemology to fill several Olympic-sized swimming pools. Concerning the original question, I'd say it depends on how much you're allowed to reference other concepts. Why can't I define green as a combination of blue and yellow? At the risk of sounding like a deconstructionist, you can't define anything entirely from scratch. Of course, if we allow for a predetermined body of information, then anything can be described (green could even be described by its hex triplet.)

I would say that it's contingent on whether you can define it to yourself (i.e.: do you truly believe that you understand [x]?) If you want to make it external, then define knowledge of [x] by your ability to describe it to someone with the exact same knowledge as you, except for [x].

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:33 pm UTC
by Fledermen64
No, knowledge is not being able to describe something. I would consider that some form of intelligence (Linguistic or otherwise or some combination). My argument is that I can know of physical laws and phenomenon and utilize them in designing or constructing something without ever being able to describe why or how.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 9:51 am UTC
by BoomFrog
Let's take the strawberry tasting to an extreme. I taste a strawberry but cannot describe to you accurately how this strawberry tastes. Then we spend years eating other fruits and formalize terms to describe every facet of fruit tasting. Then I taste a strawberry and describe to you exactly how it tastes, and you know exactly what I mean now. Now I can describe this knowledge. Was still knowledge before I could describe it? I think so.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:08 am UTC
by Outchanter
Just to comment on the apparent consensus - while knowledge can exist without being described, I think society places greater emphasis on knowledge that can be described (or in a pinch, transferred visually or tactually) because it's often of greater benefit to society as a whole. As the Science of the Discworld books call it: extelligence. Like intelligence, but lasting over the lifetime of a civilization instead of just one person.

E.g., suppose Einstein had understood General Relativity perfectly but never been able to explain it to anyone else. Maybe he could have invented a few things that took advantage of it, but once he died, that would've been it.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:13 pm UTC
by SecondTalon
Outchanter wrote:E.g., suppose Einstein had understood General Relativity perfectly but never been able to explain it to anyone else. Maybe he could have invented a few things that took advantage of it, but once he died, that would've been it.
I disagree. Assuming one person can understand a thing, this proves that the thing is understandable.

Using SCIENCE, the scientific community would have examined the things Albert invented and determined that there was a common element, and worked backwards from there until others in the community could understand what was going on, even if they couldn't formally communicate it.

Like the Strawberry definition above (which I hadn't though about, honestly) they would have likely created words and phrases to help them formally communicate it.

I mean.. look at Quarks.
Wikipedia wrote:There are six different types of quarks, known as flavors: up (symbol: u), down (d), charm (c), strange (s), top (t) and bottom (b).


Charm and strange are part of a formal scientific explanation for quarks, and are flavors of it. Scientifically. Formally. Serious people discussing in serious ways the flavor of charm.

Science is run by drunks who have to pretend to be sober, I think.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Thu Mar 26, 2009 10:02 pm UTC
by Klapaucius
SecondTalon wrote:
Charm and strange are part of a formal scientific explanation for quarks, and are flavors of it. Scientifically. Formally. Serious people discussing in serious ways the flavor of charm.

Science is run by drunks who have to pretend to be sober, I think.
It's just a dead-metaphor synonym for "type"--as in, "Japanese baseball is a different flavor of baseball", which is less ambiguous in that it seems to imply a delineation related to something other than appearance or composition; the quarks are the same, but each is its own flavor.

Personally, I think science are run by the knurd who pretend to be sober.

Re: Ability to describe knowledge = knowledge?

Posted: Fri Mar 27, 2009 1:43 am UTC
by Outchanter
SecondTalon wrote:
Outchanter wrote:E.g., suppose Einstein had understood General Relativity perfectly but never been able to explain it to anyone else. Maybe he could have invented a few things that took advantage of it, but once he died, that would've been it.
I disagree. Assuming one person can understand a thing, this proves that the thing is understandable.

Using SCIENCE, the scientific community would have examined the things Albert invented and determined that there was a common element, and worked backwards from there until others in the community could understand what was going on, even if they couldn't formally communicate it.

Assuming that by the time they got hold of them, there were enough devices, and in good enough condition, to be reverse engineered. But it's more convenient to have a paper neatly detailing how the whole theory can be derived from a handful of axioms, in the first place :-P

Klapaucius wrote:
SexyTalon wrote:Charm and strange are part of a formal scientific explanation for quarks, and are flavors of it. Scientifically. Formally. Serious people discussing in serious ways the flavor of charm.

Science is run by drunks who have to pretend to be sober, I think.
It's just a dead-metaphor synonym for "type"--as in, "Japanese baseball is a different flavor of baseball", which is less ambiguous in that it seems to imply a delineation related to something other than appearance or composition; the quarks are the same, but each is its own flavor.

Personally, I think science are run by the knurd who pretend to be sober.

Could there be another peak on the opposite side? http://xkcd.com/323/