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Compare and contrast knowledge which can be expressed in words/symbols Essay

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It is funny how the universal signs of intelligence are words and symbols or things that contain them. When someone walks past me with a load of books in their hand I immediately think “oh what a smart and knowledgeable person,” and I’m sure I’m not the only one that makes these snap judgments. But from my point of view it’s understandable that words and symbols are the universal sign of knowledge since we are taught from books and blackboards since our toddler years.

Now what I consider knowledge is things that we hold to be true and are able to identify in real life.

Teachers have been molding our brains to be able to communicate our knowledge using words since we were little, but as we grow older and we get into secondary school we come to realize that there is knowledge that cannot be expressed through words and symbols. The goal of the International Baccalaureate program is to make students well rounded and knowledgeable in many fields and along with that comes many requirements that other programs do not ask of their students.

From my perspective knowledge that cannot be expressed in words and symbols is as important to have as knowledge that can, justifying the CAS requirements.

CAS is the International Baccalaureate program’s way of teaching us what cannot be covered in books or lectures. This knowledge can be described in words but only to a certain extent. I think that CAS is a very large contributing factor to why the IB program nurtures well rounded students. CAS pushes students to seek out new activities for the purposes of gaining experiences that would have been otherwise undiscovered. I believe that the key ingredient to knowledge which cannot be expressed in words and symbols is experience. For one of my CAS creative activities I knit scarves for my friends to wear to a movie premier.

Through this activity I learned many things that would otherwise be inadequately explained in words. I learned perseverance from powering through all of the arm cramps and headaches brought on by the sight of yarn. I learned about my personal effort limits when I realized that making four scarves in a week’s time was a greatly optimistic prediction of my abilities. I got out from this experience a sense of pride in what I made, a feeling that is much more complex than the “pleasure taken in something done” dictionary definition.

All of these things add up to knowledge that could not have been expressed to me through words and symbols because they depended on my own experience. But CAS is not solely done by physical experience; there is a certain verbal component to it such as reading to understand how to do something. In another personal experience, not done for CAS, I tried to learn how to swim so before I took swimming lessons I read instruction manuals on swimming. When I finally got the chance to test out what I had learned from the manual in a pool I failed miserably.

I knew the concept and the process but somehow there was a disconnect between reading and knowing the steps and their physical application. So from this you can see that verbal/textual knowledge is important to have but it is no replacement for experience. In math words and symbols are essentially all that are used, or rather all that can be used. In this area of knowledge there really isn’t any room for non-verbal knowledge. For example, in my math class I am given a problem to solve; the answer is always expected to be written down to show the right answer since there really is not room left to interpretation.

It would be quite the task to explain to my teacher how I used my emotions to lead me to the four digit answer. This begs the question: to what extent is verbal knowledge more objective than knowledge that cannot be expressed in this way? Math is an area of knowledge that is for the most part definite and pertaining to the cold hard facts, so any math done has to be based on established and globally accepted theorems and rules. Because of this, there is no room for personal feelings.

When solving out problems you have to be able to write it down so that others can understand what you have done to determine if you justified your answer. Knowledge that can be exactly conveyed is needed in order to make sense of the system of numbers and transfer new ideas whereas knowledge that cannot be expressed in words and symbols are more relative to the knower and subject to emotional coloring as everyone perceives experiences differently. With that said math does take a certain degree of subjectivity as exemplified in Newton’s anecdote to the formation of his laws of gravity.

It takes a specific person’s creative imagination and intuition to be able to solve difficult problems; then their insightful problem solving methods are adopted. When I was thinking about knowledge that cannot be express by words or symbols ethics came to mind. Ethics is always that area in our human nature that no one is exactly sure of. Rather than the black and white, right and wrong that we find in math, ethics shows us that there are many shades of gray that make it hard for us to explain why, for example, you can think stealing money is wrong but you are perfectly fine with downloading music from torrents.

It is apparently hardwired into our nature to find certain things wrong and others our duty, none of which we can fully explain into words or symbols. This kind of moral knowledge is more intuitive than an exact science like math which can be reasoned through proofs. For example, recently someone from the grade below me came to me asking for clarification on an assignment.

Now, because I already had the class I understood the assignment and could have explained it to this person, but the problem came when I considered that I have enough things to worry about other than making sure someone understands an assignment that the rest of us had to figure out ourselves. Nevertheless, I explained the tedious assignment to the person because I felt that it was my duty to help the person. This sense of responsibility for helping others is doubtlessly engrained in all of us, or at least the sane, even when it defies reason and we know that we probably will not gain anything from the good deed.

But going back to the very basis of this topic some may ask the question: is there really any knowledge that cannot be communicated through language? Some believe that if you cannot put it into words or symbols then it was never an idea or thought to begin with. Their idea is that those moments where people cannot explain how they feel are not caused because the knowledge cannot be expressed in words or symbols but because the experiencer does not have the vocabulary or the eloquence to express it.

From another perspective it could also be said because language is a human invention that it is a problem of language where we have not created enough words to express certain thoughts and that after we label these certain thoughts it could then be expressed in words/symbols. Though there may be arguments about the existence of knowledge that cannot be expressed with words and symbols, I still believe that there is. I believe that there is a gap between book knowledge and knowledge gained from personal experience.

Words simply cannot replace human experience, as exemplified by my failed attempts to swim after reading about it and being told how. Words and symbols are essential to areas of knowledge such as math and the sciences where knowledge needs to be specifically conveyed so that there will not be any misunderstandings, but in other areas such as ethics words seem mostly inadequate and there is much more room for different interpretations.

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