Monday, March 6, 2017

Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are

"Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are." To what extent is this true in the human sciences and one other area of knowledge?


In order to answer this question, it is important to first agree upon some terms from the quote. When considering "knowledge", we have the option of viewing the question through personal knowledge and/or shared knowledge. As human sciences lend themselves to shared knowledge, as well as personal knowledge, both of these systems as well as the places where they intersect are important. Alongside this, "us" is the next word to unpack in the question. Would "us" mean those in academia? All of humankind? To attempt to figure out what is exactly intended would prove fruitless, so a safe bet would be to assume that "us" would mean learners. Key ways of knowing for this include emotion, reason, and memory. This is because all three are integral to personal knowledge, and yet can all be impacted by shared knowledge. Additionally, all people are just aggregates of their experiences and their genetics, so the memory that shapes emotion and reason is key to the formation of a person and their self-image. Lastly, the title looks for comparisons between human sciences and one other area of knowledge. I suggest that this other area of knowledge be ethics, as this relates to the aforementioned ways of knowing while also lending itself to the play between personal and shared knowledge. With those concepts in mind, the prompt can now be addressed.

Knowledge most definitely gives us a sense of who we are, and this is especially true in the human sciences and ethics. The human sciences are geared almost solely for this, as they study the behavior and actions of humans and the systems they create. Psychology allows for a learner to get a better sense of who they are on a personal level: what behaviors they are hardwired to do, what makes them feel depressed or anxious, and how they can cope with this. Emotions are fully ingrained into this discipline, and memory and reason can be affected as a result. Take, for instance, people with schizophrenia. These people have emotions, memories, and reason that deeply affect who they are. However, their emotions, memory, and reasoning are all filtered through the lens of their schizophrenia. Sociology is similar, except that it deals more with the way groups work, and how they affect the individual. The existence of privilege is something that has been personally eye opening. Learning about and acknowledging the privileges that I have has helped me see how the groups I belong to have put others down. This has helped cultivate my desire for social justice, giving me a better sense of who I am by showing me what I am.

From here, the questions of knowledge and ethics arise. In knowing about my privilege, my ethics were challenged, and later changed. With this change in ethics, I started to feel a more full emotional response to issues concerning privilege and social justice. Ethical changes can come from any number of revelations and the increase of knowledge. Learning about psychology and depression can change one's ethical beliefs on suicide, while learning about geography can make one more empathetic to those in countries one has only heard about. I experienced this when Dr. Neema Noori came into our class and spoke about his time in Uzbekistan. Putting a face with a name, so to speak, allowed me to bridge a gap between myself and the Uzbek people that I hadn't even realized was there. I realized how wrong I had been to completely ignore all of those people, lumping their culture into the image I held of what their culture was. Similarly, what I viewed as ethical in terms of foreign policy changed after I met a Palestinian refugee and heard her experience firsthand. Knowledge is able to change our ethics because of how knowledge can expand our worldview, allowing us to better empathize with others and briefly move outside ourselves. This touches the parts of us that had previously been uncultivated, making us grow and change into the fullest versions of ourselves.

Knowledge always carries an ethical question of what to do with it. Like in Plato's Allegory of the Cave, knowledge can be painful to experience. All knowledge we acquire shifts our worldview, alters our perspective, and this course-correction can be difficult to handle. Even with this, we cannot abdicate our responsibility as learners to constantly expand our perspective, and help do our best to expand the worldviews of others. I used to be a bit of a hoarder, gathering knowledge for myself, but not doing anything to share that knowledge or use it for the betterment of humankind. Now, I've learned that knowledge must be shared to benefit those around me and give all learners a better, more full sense of who they are. Knowledge activates parts of ourselves that have been long dormant, making each of us the richest versions of ourselves we can be.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really well-put-together response! Your structure is coherent and this is really doing you the favor of helping one idea buttress and support the previous/following ideas. I love the movement from Human Sciences to Ethics, and I think you are right in your declaration that any question of the "uses" or "importance" of knowledge will lead us inevitably to a question of ethics and/or morals. (You could have just as easily begun with Natural Sciences or History, and ended up in a similar place.)

    The RLS's that you used in the ethics section are right on the money, and I'd like to see you do more like that in the HS section. Your general explanations of psychology and sociology are good, but the schizophrenia example feels week or muddled.

    You could also more fully integrate the personal vs. shared knowledge question that you introduce in the beginning. You are mostly living in personal knowledge territory in your good RLS's right now. To better illuminate both this tension AND the work the the HS's do, you might consider the question of CONSTRUCTING KNOWLEDGE vs. ATTAINING KNOWLEDGE. When you are learning something that already is known (when you listen to our guest speaker), you are personally brought into a new relationship with Shared Systems of Knowledge. But the actual DOING of the SOCIOLOGY (interviews, observations, data analysis, etc.) is a constructing of NEW KNOWLEDGE that may have ripples in the opposite direction.

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