We Know With Confidence Only When We Know Little; With Knowledge Doubt Increases

I see knowledge as a ways to understand our world and beyond. Knowledge can be gathered through various interactions and observations of the real world, being educated, self experience or even intuitive means. All knowledge is equivocal to some extent, and there will always be some doubt as to whether it is true. I am also a cynical believer that all knowledge is taken for granted as it is cannot be undoubtedly true. Furthermore this knowledge that I presume to be true is in fact to me just the most seemingly true idea that I have discovered so far; whether it is the answer to a math problem, a historical fact or an idea about the world around us.

To me doubt can simply be defined as the counteraction to a fact being true; the concept that there is a chance that the fact might be the opposite: false. Goethe’s somewhat controversial statement plays on a seemingly paradoxical idea, that knowing more about something, reduces the credibility of that knowledge.

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I disagree with the proposition’s suggestion that it is impossible to be confident in something when we know more than little about it as this essentially does not allow for any exceptions to the rule. Although I agree with most of the statement, in that increasing knowledge can reduce confidence and increase doubt, I believe that it isn't always the case and there can be exceptions. I hypothesise that, we know with more confidence, when we know little, with more knowledge we produce and accept, the more doubt as to whether it is true increases too.

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This idea that Goethe presents to us can be explored in various examples, showing how more knowledge, inevitably leads to more doubt, within areas of knowledge such as History and Physics.

In response to my claim, that the more knowledge we produce and accept, the more doubt in the authenticity of this knowledge increases subsequently, a primary example of this is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Deep within the natural sciences, a world of quantum physics exists, which is primarily used by physicists as a leading concept to help us understand more about how particles behave and interact. In quantum physics, everything is quantised and discrete, providing many interesting ideas about our universe. One phenomenal discovery within quantum physics was made by Werner Heisenberg, who determined that it is impossible to observe any particle, knowing its precise momentum and its velocity. In fact, you can only know one or the other with absolute certainty. This discovery showed the world that the increase in certainty of a particle's velocity resulted in an increase in uncertainty of the particle’s momentum, and vice versa. So an increase in the amount of knowledge of the particle also resulted in increased doubt about other aspects of the same particle. After lots of experimentation the formula: ΔxΔP≥h / 4π was created, which shows the relationship in the uncertainty of velocity (Δx) and momentum (ΔP). This is a fundamental law about the universe that we exist in, demonstrating how sometimes the more we know about something, can immediately reduce the certainty and trust in other knowledge, following Goethe’s statement. A counter argument from Goethe's proposed idea is the case of Thomas Young's discovery in the early 1800s. At the time, Young conducted experiments which demonstrated how waves would diffract going through small slits; which created diffraction patterns. Not only did this work with waves of water, but also intangible waves such as sound waves. Young’s ‘double slit experiment’ soon became famous for arguably the most important discovery at the time; this was that when a beam of light was used the experiment, the results indicated that light acted very much like a wave. This was an important discovery, primarily as it defied classical mechanics at the time, where light was postulated to be a particle, which should not act at all in the way it did, producing a wave-like diffraction pattern. As a result, ideas about light being a particle soon changed, Einstein's prediction that light was a particle was disproved and subsequently, light was therefore concluded to be a wave. This example, demonstrates how the acquiring of more knowledge has led to a better understanding of the world around us, providing society with a seeming more correct and less doubtful answer to an important question. This example defies the beliefs of Goethe, and is an illustration of my opinion of the possibility of exceptions to “We know with confidence only when we know little’ .However, more recent discoveries such as the photoelectric effect, made by Albert Einstein, indicates that light is actually a ‘wave acting particle’, disproving Thomas Young’s light wave ideas. This was another important discovery in science history, this is an example of how with more knowledge, we can in fact be more certain about the true nature of light. However, this only poses to be a valid counterclaim if, light is definitely a ‘wave acting particle’. Like various other physics experiments, there is always a cycle of proving and disproving theories, creating doubt in facts and changing them. This goes on and on, will it end with unequivocal facts or is it an endless cycle in which doubt plays a vital part?

Many important, yet contested ideas, are components of The Standard Model, this model tries to help us understand almost everything within our universe, linking many theories together using syllogisms. If any fundamental facts get disproven, this could result in the breaking down of the syllogism reliant Standard Model, causing us to doubt large amount of how our universe works.

A second argument to the claim that, more knowledge leads inevitably to more doubt in this knowledge, is the recent release of FBI files on John F Kennedy’s death. President Kennedy's death is an important event in American history. In 1963, the president was supposedly killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. There has been controversy over his death, government evidence from 1963 is the most well regarded and accepted knowledge of what happened, until recently. October 2017, the American government released more recently updated official files, which held information, regarding the death of the American president. These files released to the public supposedly were more in depth, and factually correct. However along with, other eyewitness stories, all slightly different version of each over, have caused a shadow of doubt over how president Kennedy died and how was involved in killing him. One would believe that the increased amount of information, from more ‘credible’ sources put into public circulation, would lead to more certainty in how JFK died. Instead, more doubt in the facts about JFK’s death, was created. This could have been caused by some of the new facts found in these documents, contradicting against current theories and ideas about how the assassination occurred. Some of the new official facts could have been deemed unlikely or even fake.

Another factor that plays a role in this is emotion, patriotism or dislike for JFK, could lead to unreliable evidence. This increase in information about JFK, could be deemed more doubtful to be true due to the possibility of political gain, giving the American government reason to unload false, but seemingly true knowledge. The use of language used to convey knowledge in the files could be misinterpreted by the public or could be seen as biased and unreliable. With more varied knowledge about the death of JFK, as well as the other factors that could come into play, it is clear that it does lead to uncertainty in the quality of the knowledge and whether it is completely true.However, this isn't the case for all historical events; there are cases of more knowledge found of such events, leading to more certainty in that knowledge. Richard the 3rd, once King of England, died in battle 1485. He was buried, but for some period of time the location of his burial place was unknown. Recently, a skeleton was found buried in a car park in Leicester. Soon after the skeleton was analysed, the body was confirmed to be the remnants of King Richard 3rd, and that beneath the car park, was his final resting place, now known for certain. Thanks to new technology and historical tracking, we are provided with more substantial historical evidence and knowledge, allowing us to be more certain about King Richard's death.

With this new found knowledge, we can further understand more about the king, such as his anthropometrics and other previously unknown details. This is a prime example of how more knowledge can actually lead to more certainty which counteracts Goethe’s statement.To conclude, I still remain unchanged in my belief that with more knowledge, subsequently comes more doubt, based on real life examples explored in this essay. Including how the release of more ‘factual’ statements, makes other statements and itself, less likely to be deemed true, creating doubt within the public eye. As well as fundamental facts being disproved, causing the breakdown of syllogism reliant models such as The Standard Model, reducing our certainty in all over aspects of that model. However the extent to which this happens, depends on the certainty of the knowledge outside of the key knowledge used, for example disproving facts with unreliable knowledge doesn't really create a good disproof, allowing us to remain certain of the original, key piece of knowledge.

Still, I disagree with the use of ‘only’, from Goethe’s claim that “We know with confidence only when we know little’, as I am confident that there are sufficient examples of exceptions to this idea.

Updated: Feb 20, 2024
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We Know With Confidence Only When We Know Little; With Knowledge Doubt Increases. (2024, Feb 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/we-know-with-confidence-only-when-we-know-little-with-knowledge-doubt-increases-essay

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