Monday, September 21, 2009

Knowledge from Knowledge from Knowledge ….
Aristotle and Aquinas would agree that all human knowledge of real things starts with sense perception. Observing the learning process of a child demonstrates that this is so. But while it begins there, it does not end there. As Bri observed, there is something else there. The child is not only a receiver of sensory input, but has the uniquely human ability to make sense of it all through the intellect. The external reality is what is perceived, but the human mind can identify things, make connections, classify things (remember Bowker: “To classify is human”.). The human mind can then make judgments about the connections between things. The judgments may be true, if the result conforms to external reality, e.g. if I think that a creature I see at a distance is a dog when it in fact is a dog. But on the other hand my judgment may be false; I believe it is a dog, but on closer examination, I find that it is in fact a fox. This is the basis of Aquinas’s famous definition of truth, that it is the conformance of the understanding to the external reality. In practice, most humans operate this way most of the time. They perceive things and make judgments about their reality, “Seeing is believing.” But there is yet another power of the intellect that goes even further. We can reflect on our knowledge, and even on our own abilities to think and reason. By thinking about thinking, we can imagine possible connections among all kinds of things, and go well beyond what we have already experienced. One thought that occurred to me while writing this, is that this could be a factor in what we call creativity. The imagining of things that never were, leading to an idea of what could be, and culminating in the design of something new.