Knowledge is something every living organism needs in order to survive. It requires knowledge of the environment and the living conditions in order to find food, to stay away from danger and to overcome danger. Life itself contains knowledge in the sense that each living organism is equipped with an innate, instinctive, knowledge that will hand it the basic skills the specific species needs. On top of that, the very specific conditions it finds itself in and the specific knowledge that is required about those specific conditions the organism learns from peers that have the experience. Experienced knowledge is passed on to advance the intuitive knowledge of the species within those environmental surroundings. This is known as the learned knowledge.
We define knowledge as ‘facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject’. So to expand your knowledge of a certain subject, to add the learned knowledge, we use education. We learn from people who are said to know more about the subject than we do. Society tells us that we can find such experts on a great variety of subjects in schools, an organized system where we can enhance our knowledge. We can take what these experts teach us and go and experience that knowledge for ourselves in our own environment, in our own life. Or we can take that knowledge at face value. It is our choice.
Ultimately, knowledge only becomes true individual knowledge through our own experience of the subject matter. Education is a fast-track system whereby we take a shortcut by accepting what others have learned. It is, however, a mistake to accept their knowledge as absolute as it emerges from their own personal experience, which might be different from your own, and from their acceptance of what they have learned from others. The knowledge handed to us by others should always be confirmed by our own experience, but this turns out to be a problem in certain areas of our lives. Humans have gained knowledge about things we can’t see ourselves or, even worse, things we have no way of evaluating or directly experiencing ourselves. Now we are coerced into accepting this kind of knowledge as absolute because we have no other option. Or so it seems.
There is, however, another way. One that has been devalued over time in our modern society, and that is common sense. Common sense is the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions. Hence, in spite of what experts tell us we should still think for ourselves and make up our own mind about what is reasonable and what is not. This is not an exercise in absolute truth. This is an exercise in what is useful and ‘right’ for me as an individual at this moment in my life. It is an exercise in what makes sense to me. This means that we will be evaluating, for ourselves, not the truth about something we can’t experience ourselves, but the way others present this possible truth. So we will be evaluating how much sense their statements make to us.
Of course it is very difficult to make sense of something you can’t observe yourselves but you should not discard your ability to think about it independently. To do so when you do not possess the detailed information knowledge and skills can be quite tricky but a general rule of thumb is to stick to the overall outline of what you are being told. Follow the main lines of thinking and see if that possibly makes sense to you. Let me give you an example from my own education and how common sense has helped me to make up my own mind about how true the teachings of experts have been for me. Let me enlighten you on the virus story and its impact on my understanding of the infectious disease process. This is what I was told at school. Allow me to enlarge the picture so you can ‘see’ what they are actually talking about.
I was shown a picture of a particular shape and the teacher told me it was a coconut. It consists of an outer shell with fluid inside that contains some magical elements. It was not something he, or anybody else, had ever seen in real life, because it is an invisible object, but it was a picture taken at the end of a long technical procedure that allowed them to make visual what was not normally visible. Apparently other people had predicted this ‘thing’ had to exist in the unseen world, a world too small for any of us to observe directly. They had described the shape of it, what it was made out of and what it contained, and they had even named it a coconut, long before the picture of it was ever taken. Nevertheless the picture now proved the existence of it and the coconut had now emerged from the realm of supposition into the reality of life, because someone named the shape in the picture as ‘a coconut’. They were proved to be right as the object has now been made visible, albeit under special laboratory procedures resulting in the picture the world was shown now. The link was made between the theoretical object and something real, or as real as they could make it.
Why was this such a meaningful event? Because long before the picture appeared people with expert knowledge of the still unidentified coconut had been instructing everybody on what this thing was capable of. Even though nobody had ever been able to observe this object in its natural environment, they had made up their minds about how it lives and how it behaves. The picture turned all their stories and their knowledge into reality. A still picture, so it seems, brought to life all the stories they had been telling us with regards to this object. Here is the story of the coconut, the object that cannot be observed, and its importance to each and every one of us.
A coconut, said to originate from Indonesia, has unnoticed – how could it be noticed if it is invisible and undetectable? – made its way onto a woodland area in Great Britain, filled with elm trees. Mysteriously it appears amongst those native trees. Maybe it isn’t alone. Maybe there are more Indonesian coconuts arriving. Who knows? Nobody does, but the proof, so it is claimed, lies in the final outcome of the story as nobody can see nor demonstrate what is to follow. So stay with me and follow it through.
Now pay attention to the story as told to me by the experts. This coconut, from a faraway place, lying on the ground beneath this elm tree, knows how to penetrate the bark of the tree. It will crawl inside the tree, even though it does not appear to have any means to move going by the description of the shell of the coconut. How does it achieve this? Nobody knows, as nobody can see it doing it. But it does, so my teacher tells me. Inside the tree trunk it releases the juice with the magic ingredients. This juice now only has one thing in mind, or so it appears, and that is to make its way right up to the flower of the tree, where the seed for the reproduction of the tree is located. Here the magic ingredients of the coconut juice infiltrate the seed of the elm tree. The result of this infiltration is a complete takeover of the entire reproductive system of the elm, which now, instead of producing samaras, the fruit of the elm tree, only produces coconuts. A massive amount of coconuts are produced by the infected elm tree. These remain floating around inside the tree until their sheer presence blocks the normal vital functions of the tree. This leads to the demise of the elm tree itself. The tree dies and spills all the coconuts out over the surrounding land.
The ground is now covered with coconuts and these find their way into nearby elm trees where the entire process is being repeated. Soon all the elm trees in the area have disappeared. They have been killed by ‘the infection’ of the coconuts, which forced them to produce coconuts instead of samaras. One can imagine the entire region now being covered by coconuts scattered over a large area, an area devoid of elm trees. However, my teacher tells me that this is not the case, or at least not for very long. No more coconuts can be found in such a region. They have all disappeared, vanished, just as the elm trees have. He tells me this is because there are no more elm trees to be infected, which results in the demise of the coconuts. When the coconuts have no elm trees to invade they simply disappear. He never explained why the coconuts survived the entire journey from Indonesia to Great Britain without an elm tree in sight. He simply informed me that the experts were still investigating this part, but that it is certainly a fact that the coconuts make the journey to accomplish their evil deed.
What makes this story a true story? What is this expertise built upon? It gathers its proof from the end stage of the story. When one observes elm trees dying and during this process some expert people say they have found in the surrounding area elements that they believe originate from a coconut shell, as well as some specks of a fluid that they assume was contained inside what they say is a coconut shell, then the coconuts must be responsible for the diseased elm trees. There is your proof! That these bits could possibly originate from a different structure is, to them, not an option. And remember that nobody has ever observed these coconuts at work and that nobody has ever discovered an entire coconut containing all the elements it should have, according to the experts. Furthermore, experiments by the same experts to scatter coconuts around elm trees have never resulted in any tree becoming ill. Even experts efforts to place coconuts inside elm trees never made the trees ill. But they keep on trying, because they know they are right. Hence, it is simply a matter of time for someone to achieve what they know should be happening but isn’t happening. To date, their fragments of what they have called a coconut are useless in turning their knowledge into the reality of an infection.
And then the same story is told about coconuts originating from Mexico, from Bangladesh, from China, and many other faraway places, affecting a whole array of trees such as beech, hazel, maple, oak, and so on. And every time the proof that the story must be true lies in the observation that a certain type of tree is ill, combined with bits of what is assumed to be coming from a shell and elements that could be part of a juice are said to be found near and in the sick tree. You have no way of knowing how they got those bits as these are ‘discovered’ in locked facilities called laboratories. If these bits are present during the illness then they must be put together in a form that is acceptable to the experts, so that the computer designed form can then be blamed for the disease.
Let me add that later on, from other experts in the field, I was told that nobody had actually found a coconut, of any sort. It was made clear that the idea of the coconut was a collage of some fragments of what could be joined up as a possible shell and some elements that could be contained within a liquid inside a possible container, which they then called a coconut. The coconut in the story had been manufactured from fragments found by researchers and manipulated by complex procedures. These researches tried to make sense of the bits they were left with at the end of a dark dive into a world where no direct observation is possible. It may make sense to them but it no longer makes sense to me.
Common sense begins by asking pertinent questions surrounding any knowledge that is presented to you.
- How did you get this information?
- What are the circumstances in which you come across this information?
- What were you looking for when you obtained this knowledge?
- How do you confirm your findings and conclusions?
Besides trying to find more information about how the knowledge was obtained it is also essential that you remain aware of the fact this may be someone’s knowledge but there may be other ideas just as worthy about the specific subject. Never accept any knowledge as an absolute truth. Knowledge has only one real purpose and that is to enhance your own personal life. Hence, what you experience as truth in your own life is the knowledge you need in your own life. All knowledge you come across, be it unsolicited or as a result of your personal search, must remain open to questioning. It may suit your understanding of things. It may not. For as long as it does, you are free to consider it to be knowledge, but it would be wise to remain open to the possibility that one day you may have to review your understanding of the subject, your knowledge, and adopt a new point of view.
Knowledge is a point of view. It is a conviction that is meant to support your understanding of your life. Such a point of view is useful to you for as long as it is not obstructing or destroying your life.
Education can only be a useful form of increasing knowledge if we allow this knowledge to be evaluated by each individual, rather than trying to imply that one bit of knowledge is worth more than another in terms of truth. Truth is what knowledge brings to your personal life. Truth is what knowledge adds to your life in terms of increasing your survival chances. Humanity knows far too little of life to make any claims about truth at all. A virus called coconut taught me that.