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What we know June 23, 2010

Posted by Ian in Science.
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Our knowledge of the world around us comes from observing what we see around us.  These observations can be anything from noting that we happen to think about something through to specially set up  scientific experiments to observe something.  Each time we observe something new we add to our knowledge. 

If we don’t observe something directly or indirectly then we don’t really have a right to say we know it.  Even if you really strongly feel that something is right, your only observation is that you really strongly feel that.  Strong feelings do not tell you anything except what you feel about it.  This is where the weakness of faith can be seen, whether in a deity, psychic or some alternative healing product.

The diagram below summarises my view of knowledge:

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The yellow space represents all possible/conceivable things whether realistic, palusible or wildly improbable.  There are no rules as to what can exist here, anything goes.  The blue spheres represent specific ideas within this pool of possibilities.  You could think of the yellow space as containing infinite blue spheres.

The green sphere represents our current observations of the world, or our current body of knowledge – i.e. things we could be said to know.  Items in the green sphere could be considered as blue spheres that have been connected to the real world.  The red part-sphere represents new observations being added to the green sphere.  In the next iteration this would simply be part of a slightly bigger green sphere.

The joining of concepts to observed reality is the space of science.  By thinking of something that might be true and then setting up experiments to try and observe such a thing, we create the possibility of connecting a possibility to our actual body of knowledge.

In my opinion rational thinking involves recognising the difference between what is in a blue sphere and what is in the green sphere.  I see most of the beliefs of religion, homeopathy, psychics and the rest of it existing squarely in isolated blue spheres.  It is often the case that they refuse to let science in which means essentially they refuse to let their concepts be connected to reality. 

It is also important to note that the blue spheres are important and should not be discarded out of hand.  But they are only useful if their place relative to our knowledge is properly recognised.  Only then can they be discussed meaningfully.

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