The mind gains knowledge through processing information in stimuli and internally rationalizing it. This I know to be true, but it cannot stand alone. Therefore, the following propositions must also be taken into account for us to all take this statement as true:
If the brain is a blank slate aside from instinctual qualities
And if those qualities include rational thought
And if knowledge does not have to be true to be known
As long as those statements are all true, then our final statement on how we gain knowledge also applies. Therefore, rather than prove my statement, we can prove the propositions that come before it, as the statement would logically follow as true.
The brain is a blank slate, aside from instinctual qualities.
This statement serves as two ideas in one, two ideas that would at face value contradict each other, but that can live in a balanced harmony to explain the brain and how it is. First, we can define what the blank slate is. Although cited in history many times, the theory was popularized in John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
The idea behind the Blank Slate theory is that at birth, an infant emerges with a mind blank of anything – thoughts, personality, instincts, and even the ability to process information. From there, processing, personality, thoughts, and all other basic brain functions are learned through sensory experience.
This theory obviously stands as undeniable pure empiricism, and because my statement does not, we are simply going to modify Locke’s theory as so many others have. Locke wrote his Essay Concerning Human Understanding in the late 1600’s, and by the late 1800’s Wilhelm Wundt had characterized all repeated human behaviour as human instinct, the most basic definition. From there, many psychologists and philosophers alike have toyed with the idea of instincts. For this statement, we’re going to use the criteria outlined in the book Instinct: An Enduring Problem in Psychology. The criteria go as followed:
To be considered instinctual, a behavior must:
a) be automatic
b) be irresistible
c) occur at some point in development
d) be triggered by some event in the environment
e) occur in every member of the species
f) be unmodifiable
g) govern behavior for which the organism needs no training (although the organism may profit from experience and to that degree the behavior is modifiable)
In layman’s terms, an instinct must be a behaviour that can occur in every human being when stimulated in a certain way, and it must be a behaviour that overrides reason and rational thought, therefore requiring no prior skill. Think fight or flight, a popularly cited and discussed human instinct. As for infant instincts, there are quite a few recorded that are cited by psychologists and parenting websites alike.
The instinctual qualities we are born with include rational thought
Once again, to answer this we must address and answer two things. The first is to define what rational thought is (and the purpose it plays in this statement on epistemology), and the second is to state that we are born with that rational thought.
Due to the nature of the word rational an the amount of people who have studied, defined, and warped it’s definition. this case, rational thought is the ability to process information, eg. rationalism, the theory that reasoning is the main source of our knowledge. Of course, because of our reliance on empiricism for the blank slate theory, we’ve reached a point here where rationalism and empiricism play an equal part in the gaining of knowledge.
With our definition of rational thought defined as the ability to process information through reasoning, we can safely assume infants are born with the ability to reason at the most basic levels. It’s undeniable that infants cry when they require attention, and in this case we can assume that the following basic reasoning is occurring.
“I’m hungry, so I will call for my mother.”
“My diaper is soiled, I will call for an adult.”
“Something has startled me, I will call for help.”
We can also apply the instinctual qualities earlier defined to rationalizing, further cementing the idea. Infant rationalizing is instant. For example, an infant will cry immediately after being started. It’s irresistible, babies cannot resist crying when they need help, unless serious trauma has rendered them silent. It occurs immediately at birth, a point in development. It is triggered by stimuli in the environment, such as fear, discomfort, and hunger. It occurs in all infants who are born healthy. It does not vary or change. And, finally, it does not need any prior training. In fact, quite the opposite, as most healthy infants come out into the world screaming.
Knowledge does not have to be true to be known.
This is perhaps the hardest statement to prove, if only because once we define knowledge and truth, we are left with something that still must be believed with perhaps a little bit of faith. Or, perhaps not, because even if it’s untrue it is known.
Either way, let us use the most literal dictionary definition of knowledge.
noun knowl·edge \ˈnä-lij\: information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education
As for truth… Well, truth is unknown. That is to say, there is no giant checklist that will say whether what we know is really a truth or not, and when so many things are either subjective or wholly based on perspective, we may never know. Because of that, humans have the potential to be knowledgeless if knowledge MUST be true to be known, so we will simply say that knowledge as potentially untrue is fair.
The mind gains knowledge through processing information in stimuli and internally rationalizing it.
The mind gains knowledge, (which does not need to be true,) through processing information in stimuli, (empiricism,) and internally rationalizing, (and instinct all humans are born with, and also rationalism) it.