Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (DOL#1) -Benedict Mendes

A quick summation of this class so far for me would be: I have no idea what I’m doing. The types of learning and thinking this class has introduced to me  are quite unfamiliar. For example, the “Talk with me” paper, the stereotype of the lone thinker is debunked in the context of philosophy, saying instead that philosophy, at it’s core, is a social activity and should be treated as such. For me, I had always thought of philosophy as something that was done in your own mind, and to some degree, I still do. Of course, discussing opinions and coming to some kind of agreement or understanding is completely necessary in a debate setting, but when I’m presented with many new ideas at once I need time to process. I cannot develop a fully fleshed out argument or opinion on the spot, I need time to think about the information I’ve been presented and make my own conclusions from it before I can delve into the debating scene. This is in contrast with the principle that for philosophic discussion to occur there must be at least some dissent. I disagree somewhat, as I feel that time alone is needed to digest information and really find where one stands on a certain point, but I also agree that one can only get so far by shutting one’s self in and delving into your own mind. I also disagree with the point that dissent is always valuable, even if the dissenter is partly, or even completely wrong in their opinion. The point that dissent is needed to move away from repeated dogma can be true in many cases, however, are the people dissenting not also usually the people preaching dogma? Those who dislike change and will stick to their beliefs no matter how society is changing can be problematic as they can hinder society, as a whole, from moving in a positive direction. So, in some cases dissent is not only not valuable, but actually prevents progress.

 

On a more personal note, when this assignment was being discussed I was extremely confused and a little overwhelmed. It was only discussed in vague terms, which I’m not at all used to when it comes to school projects. Then, when the class met in room 111 (The couch room, my favourite classroom in the school without doubt) it was said that we were going to make the criteria. Here’s a little snapshot of what I was thinking: “????????¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿?¿?¿?¿?¿” In what class, on this earth, does the class get a say in the criteria? Apparently, the answer is this one. Of course, this sent my academic and structure focused mind into a complete panic. I can’t deal with the amount of responsibility that no criteria, or very little criteria, implies. It’s like, if you put me in an infinite field with no boundaries I would probably just ball up into fetal position and lay there in wait of rescue, I just wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I personally need limits to an assignment to be successful in it because it’s easier for me to be creative in a set margin, which sounds extremely contradictory I know. Also, in terms of the mindset that this class introduces, I feel like I have too much of a “scientific” mind to approach philosophy. To me, if I can’t measure it or define it, then what’s the point of discussing it? That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s kind of the gist of my thinking.

 

As a whole, I think the first part of this course for me will be largely discovering more about and improving/changing myself before I can really get into big discussions. However, that doesn’t mean that I just won’t participate and will sit in my chair with my perfect eyebrows furrowed in thought, I will still do my best to get involved in discussions as much as I can, and besides, arguing with people has always been a strength of mine. So, in conclusion, do I now have kind of an idea of what I’m doing? Yes and no. Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.

 

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Katie Crompton – Attempt at Communication (DOL #1)

These first couple weeks in Philosophy 12 have got me incredibly excited and thoroughly confused all at the same time. Coming into this class I had no idea what was coming my way. I was worried that my brain, which a lot of the time thinks of things as black or white, wouldn’t be cut out for this incredibly colourful course. After the first day, I realized one of the things I needed to do for me to be successful would be to stretch my mind and learn to be more open, which is much easier said than done.

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Image from The Art Studio NY Blog

  Our first few discussions really got me thinking about the isolation vs. communication debate. Communication is a huge part of our daily life. In our current society it is easier than ever to spark conversations with anyone at anytime, anywhere, which can be both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, you can Skype with your cousins who live on the other side of the world, or you can message your best friend who moved to a different province last year. But on the not-so-bright side, there is that anonymous person on a Youtube video you put up who comments, “i h8 u” or your extremely conservative relatives posting anti-everything statuses on Facebook. Communication is something that everyone has to deal with in their daily lives, or is it? Is it better to hear other’s ideas or keep to your own? Does your mind thrive in isolation or when being social?

  Personally, I feel it is extremely important to speak with others and give people the opportunity to question you on your beliefs. This is something I am working on as I sometimes have a hard time expressing myself in fear that my opinions will be thought of as unimportant. One of my goals for this course is to become more open and not let myself fear sounding unintelligent. After all, you don’t know how much you know until someone challenges you and you have to explain yourself.

“Telling someone something he will not understand is pointless, even if you add he will not understand it” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Image from The Rock School

Image from The Rock School

  This quote got me thinking a lot about the connection between communication and wisdom. I have discovered through our class discussions and the essay Talk With Me by Nigel Warburton that wisdom isn’t knowing a bunch of useless facts that you can blurt out whenever you want to sound ‘smart’. It is having a wealth of knowledge that you are eager to share and discuss with others. Wisdom is also having the ability to see and understand other people’s opinions, though you may not fully agree with them.

  These discussions on communication and wisdom have really helped me realize how I learn and how I can grow as a person in this course. I am looking forward to hopefully letting my guard down and adding a little bit of colour into my black and white brain. It will be a challenge for me but I am excited to see what the next few months have in store.

 

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Talking Back: Knowledge’s Dependency upon Communication

Image taken from flickr.com user “liz west” and used under Creative Commons License.

You touch a hot stove. The nerves in your fingers send frantic messages screaming up your nervous system, travelling first through your arm then up through your neck. Your brain registers and processes the signal, then sends a reflex hurtling back to the rest of the body. Muscles in your arm contract and release, yanking your hand out of danger. Total time elapsed: a fraction of a second.

Communication is the essence of knowledge. We as humans communicate in many different ways, from text and speech to more basic systems such as body language. The initial communication, the first, most vital step in the hierarchy of information transfer, is none of these. Before text, speech, or body language is the human brain’s communication with the environment surrounding it. The stove is hot, the counter is smooth, the knife is sharp; all of these properties are recorded by our sensory organs. Our eyes, ears, nose, hands, and mouth all pick up information that is transmitted to the brain for processing. This is the initial communication, better described as the first and most basic transmission of information for all humans. Without this, it is impossible for humans to posses sensory information.

Note the careful use of vocabulary in the previous paragraph. There is a very important distinction between information and knowledge, and it would be folly to use the two interchangeably. To better explain what knowledge is (or at least my interpretation of it), I have prepared a logical argument that I will be going over piece by piece.

Proposition

if information is a collection of facts provided or learned about something or someone;

and communication is the imparting or exchanging of information;

and an entity is a thing with distinct and independent existence;

and a conscious being is an entity that maintains self-awareness, responds to stimuli, and acquires information;

then knowledge is the communication of information where at least one of the communicating entities is a conscious being.

This argument is a list of definitions, starting by defining important terms and ending with a declaration of the essence of knowledge. To enable understanding, I’ve broken the argument down into bite-sized pieces for each individual statement.

Image taken from flickr.com user “Heath Brandon” and used under Creative Commons License.

Definition #1: Information

information is a collection of facts provided or learned about something or someone;

The different uses of the word information cause issues when attempting to define it. An article by Luciano Floridi quotes philosopher Claude Shannon that “the word ‘information’ has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory.” Essentially, the word can be used to represent multiple distinct philosophical objects. For clarity and simplification, I have whittled down the definition of information to a manageable size.

Information is, quite simply, facts. A piece of information is a property or attribute of the object which it references. For example, sharp is a property of a knife whereas dull is a property of a spoon. Information exists independently of language. To return to logic, although the statement (words) may be different the proposition (essence) remains the same. I would extend this to argue that information can also exist without the need for consciousness. To put it simply, if a tree fell in the forest it would make a sound regardless of whether anybody was around to hear it. This may clash with the unprovability of anything outside our own minds, but that’s a different argument in itself.

Definition #2: Communication

communication is the imparting or exchanging of information;

Drawing upon our definition of information, defining communication brings us closer to our final definition of knowledge itself. Communication is the transmission of facts, except that the original information is copied instead of moved. For example, if I read from a textbook that the sky is blue, the textbook still has that information after I read it.

To further break down the definition of communication, it is necessary to regard the two verbs used in the above definition. The exchange of information is a two way path; I tell you something, you tell me something. A basic example of this would be a conversation. On the other hand, the imparting of information is a one-way transfer. An example of this would be reading a book, where you receive information but send none back.

Another important method of imparting information is somewhat less obvious. Unlike a book, the environment around us does not always have facts displayed in written format. Despite this, humans still manage to acquire information from the natural world. How this happens can be thought of in two different ways: either humans take information from concrete objects, or concrete objects give information to humans. Whichever one is true is irrelevant for this definition, because either way it is a one way transfer of information from the environment to humans.

Definition #3: Entity

an entity is a thing with distinct and independent existence;

Image taken from upload.wikimedia.org and used under Creative Commons License.

An entity, quite simply is something that exists. Whether physical, mental, concrete, or abstract, an entity is something. Almost synonymous to “thing”, the word entity is simply used to describe the independence of some type of object. This term was mostly included in the argument to provide clarity for the definition of a conscious being.

Definition #4: Conscious Being

a conscious being is an entity that maintains self-awareness, responds to stimuli, and acquires information;

Defining consciousness remains an enormous issues for philosophers, scientists, and psychologists alike. Simply put, no-one can agree what is is. Nonetheless, for brevity’s sake I have created a simplified definition of a conscious being that is satisfactory for the scope of my argument.

The first quality of a conscious being is that it maintains self-awareness. In other words, it knows that is exists and is distinctly separate from other entities. Human are organisms that exhibit this quality, though primates and other animals may also posses complete of incomplete versions of self-awareness. The importance of this quality is that it separates humans from computers and other entities that may have the other two required properties.

The second quality of a conscious being is that it responds to stimuli. Philosopher Rubert Van Gulick restates this as “[a creature] capable of sensing and responding to its world”. This means that a conscious being changes, and perhaps adapts to differing environments and situations. Many non-conscious beings also exhibit this trait, but it is still an important attribute for a conscious being to have.

The third quality of a conscious being is that it acquires information. This quality is almost included in the previous property, but is still an important distinction for a conscious being. Something that is conscious must be able to use some form of sensory system to acquire and possess knowledge, whether from their physical environment or from elsewhere.

Conclusion

knowledge is the communication of information where at least one of the communicating entities is a conscious being.

The key of this statement is that one of the communicating entities must be a conscious being. This is what separates information from knowledge. If two computers are exchanging data, they are transferring information. It can be though of like this:

information is the basic facts, whereas;

knowledge is information filtered through consciousness

Because of this, knowledge cannot exist independently of a conscious being. Just like how information depends on concrete objects, knowledge depends on consciousness. Information is always true or false, right or wrong, but because of its dependency on consciousness knowledge is slightly more nuanced. Issues such as belief and justified belief come into effect, demonstrating how knowledge is influenced by the mind that contains it.

What this tells us about knowledge is that it is the humanization of information. Information is objective, but knowledge is the opposite. Just like humans, information is more complex than simply being true or false. Knowledge’s subjectivity could be considered the root of all human conflict. For if there was no knowledge, just unbiased information, wouldn’t that make everything so much simpler?

Bibliography

Floridi, Luciano, “Semantic Conceptions of Information”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/information-semantic/>.

Van Gulick, Robert, “Consciousness”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2014/entries/consciousness/>.

 

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Sticky Posts for the Week of September 24th – 28th

Visitors to the class blog this week.

It’s been a busy week shaping up on the Philosophy 12 course blog, with comments and posts covering topics from morality to education, literature and the existence of good and evil. Threads of conversation and comments leading off in countless directions. Upon some conversation in class and reference to some of the blogs analytic – tracking, there are a few posts that we decided could be gathered as a sort of week-in-review to hopefully foster further conversation around the themes that are arising:

  • Nature? What Nature? 
    Liam’s post on good and evil has garnered much conversation about the existence of morality, and the social constructions surrounding our ideas of good, evil, and all that lies between. Seven comments and counting.
  • Ignorance is not Bliss
    While Mariana wasn’t the only Philosophy 12 participant  to mine this terrain, her post has served something of a hub around the conversation about learning and the discomfort it brings about, but also the rewards of growth. Five comments and counting.

  • Polar Bears, Planets and Believing in Knowledge
    Kelly’s post concerns learning as well, but addresses the shifting terrain of truth and the difficulty of “knowability.” Three comments and counting. 

I’ve collected these posts and links here in the hopes that aggregating these various conversations might allow us to take them to a new place and understanding. Don’t feel obligated to continue the thread in the comments section for the posts if you want to synthesize and regroup what you are reading and take it to the ‘next’ place – start a new post and link to the thread that preceded it: make the connections for your audience, and take us with you!

 
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