Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


What Changes and Affects Knowledge?

A question that constantly puzzles me is whether knowledge can be changed and under what circumstances can it be changed. I came across an insightful article on the internet that I think explains it very well and helped to give me closure on the topic. I will rephrase it for you:



You are the perfect example of knowledge. Every sentence you speak is a sentence you know how to say and phrase because of something called prior knowledge. Prior knowledge is a form of early, basic knowledge that leads and drives you to acquire new knowledge. Our prior knowledge comes into play the second we’re born. Once we learn about one thing, whether it be something we physically do or information we only gain mentally, we naturally build off our prior knowledge and learn more about whatever the thing is throughout our lives. But can anything affect or alter this process? What happens then? Something that is believed to really mess up our natural process of knowledge intake is ((plot twist)) school. It is believed that teachers do not take the concept of prior knowledge enough into account when teaching their students.  At some point, we’ve all had that lesson that we could never quite understand no matter how much effort the teacher put in to making us understand. So why don’t we understand? Why can’t our brains just absorb the knowledge and be done with it? This may be because the actual question or problem we were trying to solve was beyond our prior knowledge. This is what is being argued that teachers do not take seriously enough; they teach without making sure our prior knowledge is up to date and do not always provide enough prior knowledge for a new lesson (why we always seem to forget what we learn in school, maybe?)



Here’s my own personal example: A few years ago a friend of mine wrote my name in Chinese for me. I wanted to write it myself and attempted, but found it pretty difficult. Then I heard myself say, “This is really hard to draw!” My friend looked at me skeptically and said “It’s not drawing, it’s writing.” Well, to me it felt like drawing, because writing in Chinese was beyond my prior knowledge. Until we acquire a skill or information 100%, it is very difficult for our brains to really pick up on it and store it in our prior knowledge. Imagine a person who has lived in Mexico all their life, without ever leaving the country. This person has never been exposed to cold temperatures a minute of their life. So, how do they know what it feels like to be “too cold?” How do they even know what it feels like to be too hot, if constant heat is what they are accustomed to? In a situation where there are 2 premises, such as heat and cold, we cannot store prior knowledge of both premises as a whole (for example, temperature in general) unless we have prior knowledge of both premises as 2 opposite things.


But what happens when prior knowledge is flawed? How do we know that knowledge is correct? Some may argue that prior knowledge causes further problems in the process of learning and that applying too much prior knowledge to learning something new can mess up the learning process and cause an altered view. The unanswered question is just how important and accurate prior knowledge really is; in what situations should we apply it and when should we not? In my opinion, prior knowledge is taken for granted in today’s society. Although I don’t think it’s a huge crucial problem, I do believe that prior knowledge plays a big role in what makes us understand things, and a lack of it can cause us to have trouble keeping up and learn the way we potentially could.


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