The Tree of Knowledge It is important for society to find a reliable source of knowledge, as it is a powerful factor which helps society to attain success. As a good example of the significance of knowledge for society, the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden represents, not just a source of absolute knowledge, but how desperately human nature seeks that perfect source. However, the Tree of Knowledge does not exist in the real world.
Thus, society is facing a problem of finding the most effective way to produce accurate knowledge because mistaken knowledge has no value. In his essay “The Hive,” historian and writer Marshall Poe points out two sources for knowledge: social consensus and experts. In the past, it was hard to gather knowledge efficiently due to equivocation, and experts were considered to be the most reliable source of knowledge. But today, the Internet has provided society with the convenient environment for finding and storing information.
In his essay, Poe discusses the phenomenon of the web-site Wikipedia as an example of a successful effort in collaborative knowledge, which is produced during the process of communication and negotiation by society and experts concerning the information regarding an object of study. A professor at Harvard University and author of “Reporting Live from Tomorrow,” Daniel Gilbert suggests relying on the experiences of others, whom he calls “surrogates,” in order to obtain more reliable knowledge. Collaborative knowledge is based on society’s collective experiences.
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It is meant to accumulate and constantly update information from society. On the other hand, experts are a key for progress in society as they perform deeper research about a subject. Therefore, in order to produce reliable knowledge, society must consult with experts, while experts should consider the experiences of other people when conducting their research. It might seem at the first sight that the only reliable source of knowledge are experts, as they have more intense and prolonged experiences through practice and education in a particular field.
Therefore, it is a common belief that in order to obtain true knowledge, society has to rely on the competence of experts. In his essay, Poe says that one of the criticisms of Wikipedia in its early stage was the point that “unless experts were writing and vetting the material, the articles were inevitably going to be inaccurate” (Poe 275). However, human history provides evidence that refutes this statement by proving that what once was considered as absolute knowledge was later questioned.
For example, in the 18th century, Isaac Newton’s laws of motion became a revolution in a scientific world and for the next 200 years they remained incontestable until Albert Einstein introduced his ideas that revealed shortcomings of Newton’s theory. Thus, society cannot blindly rely on the conclusions of experts because, at their core, they are like all other people who “pass along [their] beliefs in an effort to create people whose minds think like [theirs]” (Gilbert 171).
According to Gilbert, “almost any time we tell anyone anything, we are attempting to change the way their brains operate – attempting to change the way they see the world so that their view of it more closely resembles our own” (Gilbert 171). Experts attempt to do same thing, but their reputation in society gives their ideas an advantage to be successfully transmitted and accepted as knowledge. Still, accuracy of this knowledge might be questionable in the future. In order to understand how society decides if a certain idea or belief can become knowledge, it is important to look at the process of producing knowledge.
Individuals generate personal beliefs from their own views. However, these views are based on already existing socio-cultural knowledge. Afterwards, using shared language, individuals bring their ideas and beliefs to society by making public statements. Further, these beliefs may become knowledge through social interaction, communication, discussion, clarification, and negotiation. According to Gilbert, “any belief … that increases communication has a good chance of being transmitted over and over again” (Gilbert 173). Therefore, social interaction is a medium that allows ideas to become a part of collaborative knowledge.
However, in his essay, Gilbert points out that while “accurate beliefs give [society] power, which makes it easier to understand why they are so readily transmitted from one mind to another,” false beliefs have a great chance to be propagated if they “happen to promote stable societies … because people who hold these beliefs tend to live in stable societies, which provide the means by which false beliefs propagate” (Gilbert 173). Thus, even false ideas may become knowledge if society decides so. Such decisions might lead to absurd conclusions that have no value for society.
According to Poe, “the community decides that two plus two equals four the same way it decides what apple is: by consensus … [but] if the community changes its mind and decides that two plus two equals five, then two plus two does equal five” (Poe 275). In other words, society has an ability to make judgments of truth and falsehood, and knowledge produced by social consensus can be misleading and inaccurate. Nevertheless, inaccurate knowledge, sooner or later, will be revealed and questioned by society because the primary purpose of knowledge is to serve the needs of society and help it to improve and grow.
Individuals, as well as the whole society, can only attain success and progress if they have a reliable source of knowledge. It is a strong incentive that makes people search for truth. In his essay, Poe points out that people who contribute into Wikipedia have “no interest other then truth in doing all this work” (Poe 277). Today, the vast interconnectedness of the Internet makes it possible for individuals from all over the world to share their experiences and ideas on the global level.
Thereby, collaborative knowledge can be constantly negotiated, updated, and renegotiated, and its quality may improve just like “the quality on articles [in Wikipedia] generally increases with the number of eyeballs” (Poe 276). As the process of producing collaborative knowledge improves its reliability, efficiency, and fecundity with the new era of Internet technologies, it creates a very valuable database for experts, who can use collaborative knowledge as a resource of information and experiences collected by society for expertise.
According to Gilbert, “humanity is a living library of information about what it feels like to do just about anything” (Gilbert 171). Every individual possesses a great deal of unique accumulative knowledge that he or she gained throughout life. That is why experiences of other individuals should be taken into account by experts in order to produce more accurate and objective knowledge. Today, in the Internet environment, it has become much easier to find surrogates with particular experiences.
Experts should consider these experiences during their research and constantly update their data and information based on collaborative knowledge. On the other hand, the fact that the Internet has gained so much popularity in society might make people neglect the role of experts in the process of producing knowledge. Since it has become relatively easy to find surrogates in the virtual environment and ask them directly about their experiences, collaborative knowledge might be sufficient enough to fulfill society’s needs as a dependable source of knowledge. In his essay, Poe points out that given the right technology, large groups of self-interested individuals will unite to create something they could not produce by themselves” (Poe 267). Wikipedia is a good example of this phenomenon. “Instead of relying on experts to write articles according to their expertise, Wikipedia lets anyone write about anything” (Poe 264). Based on a large number of individuals who are constantly working on improving articles and people’s tendencies to strive for truth, Wikipedia could become the end of the search for a reliable source of knowledge. However, it is important not to underestimate the role of experts in society.
In his essay, Gilbert noticed that, if you ask a child what to do when an individual is hesitating about making some decision, the child will say that “[he or she] should ask the teacher” (Gilbert 170). Throughout all human history, experts were called in for advice on their respective subject because of their extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation in a particular area of study. Their knowledge and experiences are already unique, simply because experts spend more time studying the subject than an average person. It explains the fact that most innovations in human society were made by experts.
Moreover, by collecting and systematizing experiences of other individuals, experts serve as surrogates for society as well. Overtime, results of their research projects accepted as knowledge become a part of social consensus. Thereby, expertise is still very important and must be taken into consideration by society as a source of knowledge. In order to be completely reliable, knowledge requires absolute certainty, as opposite to belief or opinion about which there is more doubt. However, as a process of social communication, knowledge is never absolute.
Although its character is to be taken as final truth, knowledge remains as a subject of possible future questioning, reinterpretation, and negotiation. The Tree of Knowledge, as a source of true knowledge, is an unattainable aim for society. Neither expertise nor collaborative knowledge alone can be considered as the best way to produce knowledge. Only their collaboration can bring the most reliable results. Today, the Internet helps to speed up the processes of communication, storage, and negotiation of information that play a significant role in producing collaborative knowledge and positively affecting its quality.
Thus, referring to society’s collaborative experience, experts can produce more objective and reliable knowledge. Works Cited Gilbert, Daniel. “Reporting Live from Tomorrow. ” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Ed. Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 169-189. Print. Poe, Marshall. “The Hive. ” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Ed. Barclay Barrios. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 264-277. Print.
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