In one of the most intriguing crimes scandals of Delhi is included the murder of a young girl named Arushi Talwar aged 13. On first note it was speculated that her servant, who absconded after the crime with the booty, had murdered her. Next day when the body of the servant was also discovered from the same building, the crime scene came to square one. The speculations failed and police started looking at the possible suspects.Soon it was declared that the accomplices were the friends of the servants, who in their greed killed him as well. The investigations came to a halt and the public was satisfied. As time passed there appeared some loopholes in the investigations, and the case was handed over to the CBI. The CBI officials investigated the crime scene forensically and claimed that the murderers were none other than the parents of the girl! Today we believe that the parents are the real culprits, but since the case is being fought in the Supreme Court, we must be ready to anticipate another breath taking judgment.
We try to acquire knowledge through the ways of knowing, and since the ways of knowing differ from person to person, gaining knowledge is becomes a difficult task. Knowledge starts with experience, observation and imagination, but the claim is doubted again and again from every angle until it is empirically tested. And yet it is the irony of human kind that what we know today is discarded tomorrow.
One theory is replaced by the other, and on and on, and sometimes it becomes really hard to differentiate what is right and what is wrong. This human endeavor to gain correct knowledge gives rise to a knowledge issue: to what extent can I believe if the knowledge claim offered tomorrow will be discarded tomorrow or not? How do I know that the knowledge I have today is complete in itself? I want to explore the answers to these questions in the light of knowledge areas such as natural sciences and human sciences.Not long ago it was believed that life could be generated from dead matter. Scientists who believed in the theory of spontaneous generation gave many evidences, such as the growth of maggots in the decaying matter.
We believed as it was proved scientifically. But these claims changed soon with the arrival of Louis Pasteur who scientifically proved that only life could give birth to life. His germ theory comes with proofs that cannot be contradicted today. He tested his claims on the basis of his observations and experiments and also gave empirical evidence in support of his claims.His germ theory of disease helped us discard the earlier knowledge that many diseases such s cholera, chlamydia or the Black Death were caused by a miasma, a noxious form of “bad air”. His theory changed the way we believed how life began. In every branch of natural sciences there are innumerable examples wherein one knowledge claim was discarded by the other. And since the traditional ways of knowing such as reason, emotions and perceptions vary from person to person it is very difficult to know if our knowledge is flawless.
But on the contrary there have been knowledge claims that still persist from time immemorial. The value of Pi, the Euclidean axioms have survived the test of time, and are still considered true. It is not that they have no been viewed skeptically by the scientists-it is only that their claims are not substantial enough to challenge the long existing theories.
But any moment of time we should be ready to find alternate explanation by the scientists who have been working to disprove of them.Before the entry of Sigmund Freud in the field of psychoanalysis, it was generally believed that dreams are just had by the dreamers, and they do not have any scientific relevance. Some dreams even came true, and it was dismissed as chance. But thanks to the observations of Freud that this theory has been discarded, and today we know that dreams come from our subconscious state of mind. Dreams are a part of our character, and they are conducive to expanding our awareness. Freud who certainly changed our perspective about dreams discarded the early theory about the dreams. But since psychoanalysis is an area of knowledge that has much to do with observations and not experiments, we can never be sure if the knowledge of dreams as postulated by Freud is right!Economics is another area of knowledge wherein theories and hypotheses are changed with the passage of time. At one time economists all over the world believed in the Malthusian catastrophe.
They paid great heed to his prediction that at one point of time population growth would outpace agricultural production, thereby leading to mass starvation of public. His prediction on oil depletion was commendable in that it can be seen that the rising population of the world is using oil reserves at such an alarming rate that the oil reserves wont last more than 20 years. But the knowledge Malthus gave us was rendered redundant by the industrial revolution, which empowered the modern world to break out of the Malthusian model.
It can be said that the knowledge Malthus gave us was soon discarded and today we know that there is no dearth of food production for humanity. there is even surplus production every year that can be distributed among the drought stricken countries in Africa.Prior to the 20th century the scientists believed that earth was a compact form existing in the universe, and all the seven continents were immovable but Alfred Wegener’s observations in early 20th century turned the tables and presented a new theory- the continental drift theory. He elucidated how the continents are drifting perpetually, and gave evidence in support of the tectonic plates in the belly of the earth.
There are umpteen number of knowledge claim we believe in; for example the speed of light, the Big Bang, the beginning of life, the findings of the Hubble telescope and so on. But since the results have been arrived at by different scientists of the different eras, we still do not know if these theories are right or wrong. No doubt tomorrow we can have better claim that will discard the earlier ones.One of the very best things about science is that the discipline is self-correcting. A scientist makes a set of observations about nature, and then devises a theory to fit those observations. One knowledge claim is superseded by the other, but it is also knowledge for us-as it tells us how we have been progressing in this infinite universe. Scientists test an existing theory, and if it withstands scrutiny it becomes widely accepted.
At any point in the future, if contravening evidence emerges, the original theory is discarded. This is how science works. Every thing ids changeable and so are the knowledge claims.There is no gainsaying that the pervious knowledge concepts that have been discarded did not come to us in vain. They too helped the coming generation to work on them and get better results based on the old ones. Old order changes giving place to the new one, and so do the knowledge claims!!! To answer the knowledge issue, I can certainly say that knowledge can never be absolute as it is endless.
Today’s claim may be changed tomorrow very easily in all areas of knowledge as knowledge is acquired by human endeavor. Knowledge does not come lying in a platter ready to be served. It has to be acquired by our ways of knowing, and there is no doubt that our knowledge will be more furnished and polished tomorrow.