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The Evolution of Knowledge

  1. Jun 13, 2003 #1


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    Hmm... I have a new hypothesis on how knowledge (or at least, scientific knowledge) works. Knowledge, imho is does not proceed from divine inspiration, or random spurts, or gradual building up, but in a combination of these processes via a system akin to evolution.

    1. Mutation. This comes from random complexity in the human brain, contributing to what we consider creativity. From this, we have random thoughts occasionally to come up with completely new lines of thought. These provide our moments of inspiration, but few of these inspired thoughts are true. Sometimes, mutation of knowledge can create new ideas that are completely useless in the growth of understanding, and these grow of themselves as though a cancer. (such as many crackpot theories, group misconceptions and perhaps religion/superstition? Or maybe not. :wink:)

    2. Crossover. Rival ideas meet and recombine. When two people talk about two theories, this collision can create a new offspring theory that contains elements of both systems. Some selection is also involved at this point, where people choose which theory to listen to and which to discard. This breeding of theories creates a large population of people with slightly different world views, and helps to proliferate theories far and wide. PF can be considered a mating ground of knowledge. :smile:

    3. Selection. Theories are each tested against evidence, and in competition with other theories. While a single negative does not kill the theory, it decreases it's frequency among the heads of the population, and the strength of conviction it's trueness. Positives do the reverse. Hence, predictive and improving theories are favoured over stagnant and unproven hypotheses. However, the evolutionary knowledge system reaches a natural equilibrium where each theory cannot acheive an absolute dominance. This can be equated to keeping a large gene pool, and this allows the sudden emergence of new theories over old stagnated ones.

    From the above system, a number of features may be noticed.

    A. The evolution of knowledge generally tends to local highs in correctness. It takes a difficult mutation/intuitive leap to reach new quantum shifts in understanding.

    B. The system is basically random, and is derived from the idea that (a) understanding varies across minds, (b) theories breed and recombine, (c) random additions of knowledge occur, (d) theories are judged on successfulness. With these 4 conditions, evolution of knowledge would naturally occur. Without any of these 4 (eg. if there is indoctrination, segragation of intellectuals, discouragement of originality or a faith based approach to knowledge), stagnation would occur.

    C. The process is infinite. Ie. There is no sign of a set ending to searching for knowledge, or an acheivable final goal of knowledge.

    D. Theories normally don't die. They don't have 100% dominance either. As a theories reachs very low levels of existence, factors come into play which gives it an advantage over high dominance theories. The limited lack of full rejection of ideas is useful as it allows continued testing and recombination of knowledge.

    Well? Comments/flames?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 14, 2003 #2
    Sounds like a lot ideas I've read on the subject. Notably, you do not define knowledge, thereby depriving your theory of much meaningful context, and do not go into details, thus depriving it of much content.

    For example, an experiment with a computer program demonstrated that it could learn how to speak any of five languages within as little as a few hours just from listening to the babeling of small children. It would constantly shuffle words somewhat randomly and see if they worked. Anytime something seemed to work, it would play with more.

    However, being just a program it had no real idea what the words meant and had a tendency to correct all the grammatical mistakes of the languages. Thus the question arises, does the program possess knowledge or is it simply adaptive? It is the deeper questions like this which give meaning to the rest of what you have written.
  4. Jun 14, 2003 #3
    An interesting analysis of knowledge progression FZ, I've always felt if enough people were to communicate their ideas they would stand to all benefit and the ideas but I have the impression fringe science is a very secretive buisness for the most part. About mutation I would call that one radical and abstract lines of thought that most people don't want to think about because they typically result in error and a negative feeling or percieved loss of control, by this I mean sanity or reality is relative, one may dare to be insane before finding a greater sanity, but like a hiking trip into uncharted territory one should always bring a good compass(recognition of being wrong) to find their way home, because we all have to get back home in the end, perhaps an unlucky few stay out there too long and get lost. I suspect that a thing intellectuals have in common are strong rebellious tendencies, they are typically problem children-Socrates would rather die than not be able to teach now that's an extreme sport.
  5. Jun 15, 2003 #4


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    Wuli: Ok, I define knowledge as:

    Facts or experiences known by a person.

    And know as:

    Be or feel certain of the truth of information.

    Hence, whether or not the computer can have knowledge is dependent on whether you consider the computer having awareness and judgement of the information. IMHO, the computer does at least know the things on the hard disk. It may not understand it, but it can confirm it's existence. It is forced to make the axiom as part of it's logical programming that the data which it is fed is true, and so it knows the language. I make the distinction here between knowledge and understanding. Understanding perhaps is not evolved or transferred, but acquired individually.

    To extend the analogy, I consider knowledge as simultaneously and internal subjective world of things we have perceived or learned and as a blueprint or genome for our thoughts and actions. If free will exists, then this genome forms the background on which we make free decisions. If it does not, then this genome dictates precisely what elements we piece together in making decisions. Each individual belief or conclusion we have is represented as a gene in the overall structure of knowledge we have, and we exchange these genes when we communicate.
  6. Jun 15, 2003 #5
    It's a little hard for me to understand what you mean by the idea that computers can have feelings and the ability to decern truth from falsehood. It just seems to me you are either using the word know to replace information and, in the process, mushing the word truth beyond any clear meaning. By this definition one water molecule can know the truth about it's neighbor and has feelings on the subject.
  7. Jun 15, 2003 #6


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    Well... maybe I'm just confused... :wink:

    I didn't mean that computers can have feelings. By the human idea of feelings, clearly they don't. I am questioning whether it is neccessary to have feelings on the matter to know something - ie. if knowing must be active.

    I am attributing knowing to the act of internalising, and then treating the internalised data as though it is true. By my (skewed and perverted) mind, computers do know because they transfer things they have into a structure within them, and then perform their calculations of though it was true. The water molecule does not know as far as I am concerned, because the things around it remain things around it - it does not have a memory, or a system to process it.

    My mushed up understanding of truth is that it is twofold - a Truth out there, objectively, and what we regard as truth, internally. The truth internally makes up our knowledge, and the knowledge dictates the background to our thoughts.
    Does that clarify matters, or render the whole thing more absurd?
  8. Jun 15, 2003 #7
    Still sounds pretty confused to me. Water molecules interact with their environment, and this constant interaction imprints information. In fact, this is also an idea in QM and Relativity, nothing can exist without existing at some place and at some time and everything is constantly interacting.

    It sounds like you are attempting to create a dualstic picture of some sort which defines emotion and meaning as seperate and distinct entities. I just don't think it can be done myself. Knowing something as in knowing the times table is not the same thing as understanding or being able to place something in a context and attach meaning to it. My computer knows the times table, but cannot place it in any context or attach any meaning.
  9. Jun 16, 2003 #8


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    Does it? Can you please elaborate please...? I had the impression that the water molecules each are influenced only to the duration of the effect, and while they react to what is around them, they are not marked internally by this. If this was wrong, then to an extent water molecules do store information. Maybe in a sense the water has "knowledge".
    So maybe knowledge should be attributed to only things that we consider sentient? It is pretty difficult, since the lines are quite blurred at this point. Or maybe knowledge is not in such absolute terms - ie. degrees of knowledge.

    I don't quite understand you. That is pretty much my point, as far as I can see. The computer knows the programming you give it as it stores it on the hard drive and processes it as though it is true. It has knowledge of a sort. But as the computer doesn't understand the things it is given, and doesn't have an opinion over it. By my speculation, the idea of understanding or feeling cannot be taught, but found by itself.
  10. Jun 16, 2003 #9
    Well, maybe that wasn't such a great example. However, I did read a recent article on research that seemed to defy this long standing conventional wisdom that water molecules do not retain such information. At any rate, you understand the gist of what I meant to say.

    I think the word "know and knowledge is simply too broadly used and a bit confusing when discussing this issue. It is used in the instance of a computer knowing something as simply an easier way to say it has the information.

    Feeling, understanding, and especially meaning are better words perhaps, and all refer to the same process in my opinion of placing things contextually. They all refer to a process that is both biological and cognitive, nature and nurture. For example, one brain injury victim was discovered who apparently lost much of his emotional capacity. Without it, he apparently lost so much of his ability to place things contextually his problem was quickly discovered.

    Some people argue, for example, that the purpose and meaning of life is simply to reproduce. While this is a reasonable argument, it is obviously not the purpose or meaning for people who cannot reproduce. Are we to say then that they have no purpose, that their lives are meaningless? Obviously not, if for no other reason than because as individuals we give meaning and purpose to things ourselves through our capacity for emotion.

    Whether or not the contexts and meanings we assign things reflects reality or not is an entirely different issue. The simple fact is we do this as easily as fish swims. Note that it is not as simple as saying that our feelings lead or thoughts or vice versa. It works both ways. When my son doesn't eat, he gets crabby and this effects and affects his thoughts and the meaning he assigns to things. When he spends too much time playing computer games, his thoughts effect and affect his feelings and so on.

    Again, rather than nature vs nurture, it is both nature and nurture in all their wonderfully messy complexity. An organic self-organizing view of cognition, feeling, meaning, and context where simple mechanistic descriptions constantly fall short. Thus, for us when someone says "I think I have a feel for it now" or "That's soooo meaningful" or whatever we can relate to what they are saying without having an explicite way of describing it any better.

    Do ya know what I mean now?
  11. Jun 17, 2003 #10


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    Hmm... very good post.
    I need some time to make sense of that.

    But just a quicky - would it be better not to apply it as an idea of random organic evolution of "knowledge", but as instead a model for looking at the development of the "beliefs" of (human) individuals for how the universe around them really are?
  12. Jun 17, 2003 #11
    This goes a bit beyond simple beliefs, just as metaphysics goes beyond physics. For countless people God, the meaning of life, or whatever is less some abstract intellectual concept as it is something you feel, something you know, intuit, or whatever.

    Meaning is not as simple amd easy to deconstruct a concept as belief, it involves our senses and hearts as much as our minds. Belief, as Lao Tzu said, is a colorful hope or fear. The meaning behind these words is much more profound than a simple semantic analysis can indicate.
  13. Jun 18, 2003 #12


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    Actually... I wonder about this...

    Why can't knowledge in this context be simply considered as information?

    If we look at the standard biological version of evolution of lifeforms, what we are really talking about IS just the evolution of information, only in the specific case of information encoded in DNA. The various creatures etc are really only significant as carriers of this information. Can we then consider my model as simply a generalised case?

    A case that ANY information which varies across a population of carriers, is vaulnerable to external additions, is allowed to mix and interact and selected in some fashion would naturally and neccessarily develop in the way described?

    If we restrict the information to say, mental understanding(in creatures that are capable of carrying this in their heads), we can get on ederivation, but they are all aspects of a general rule.

    Well? Find the obvious flaw...:wink:
  14. Jun 18, 2003 #13
    I think you have the right idea, it is the time scale that is wrong. Some believe, for example, that mountains are live and conscious but on an extremely slow timescale. Hence, we do not have the capacity to test the idea. We can, however, look at animals and see they too have some knowledge. Take a newborn tiger or whatever away from its parents and it will not learn what it needs to survive in the wild. It's DNA is simply not enough. Likewise, animals can learn new kinds of behavior as lab rats testify to every day.

    This is actually a critical question in QM as well. Are particles alive? Well, if you measure one of an entangled pair the other seems to somehow "know" and act accordingly. Unlike a mechanical or chemical reaction, this knowledge seems to transcend spacetime.

    Personally, I think these are a stretch but ya never know....

    Watch out what you wish for, ya just might get it!
  15. Jun 18, 2003 #14

    Do an internet search :)
  16. Jun 18, 2003 #15


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    Yes... I may well have been influenced by Dawkins in all this...
  17. Jun 19, 2003 #16
    I think mems are just an attempt to analyze meaning in a digital manner. You have either the analogue contextual perspective or the digital mems one. Analogue is obviously a more complete approach, but digital is much better for a lot of practical uses. However, as it stands I can't think of a single practical use for mems yet discovered, but I know of at least one major application of contextualism.
  18. Aug 29, 2003 #17


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