Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Learning Requires Percepts

I'm starting to question the effectiveness of doing scientific learning without the aid of pictures, video, or audio. While some people might think of pictures in a textbook as filler content that inappropriately takes the place of text, used properly I think it's absolutely necessary to employ such means if we are to objectively learn and achieve certainty.

In accordance with Objectivist epistemology, sense experience is the given on which human knowledge depends, thereby setting up a hierarchy in which "perceptual concepts" directly represent groupings and contrasts of perceivable things (actions, physical entities, emotions, etc.) and "abstract concepts" represent groupings and contrasts of lower concepts. In order to be certain of the validity of an abstract concept that's high up in the conceptual hierarchy one must be able to break the concept into its constituent concepts, continuing until one has reached the lowest concepts, the ones that are directly representative of physical reality. (The best illustration I've read is Rand's own about the concept "furniture." Furniture doesn't exist; it's a higher up abstraction to represent objects which do exist: the chairs, tables, and whatnot that constitute the concept furniture.)

Given that, to have objective knowledge, it is required of one to be able to break concepts down into their constituents and ultimately perceivable reality, I think it's necessary to incorporate the appropriate educational methods in order to take into account this fact. I've been thinking, for instance, whether or not I can truly learn everything there is to learn from Good Calories, Bad Calories. Some of the concepts described boil down to perceptuals I have never experienced before, such as cholesterol, and upon flipping through the book I see only but a small handful of pictures, none of which correspond to isolated medical concepts. In order to experience cholesterol with my senses, I would have to see what the substance actually looks like in a vial and how it can be distinguished from other substances in the body, whether right with my unaided eyes or under a microscope or whatever. Since I have no such experience, isn't cholesterol a mere word in my mind?

Unfortunately, given the bad epistemology of our culture I don't think such a problem is going to be remedied any time soon, maybe not even in my lifetime, so I'm going to have to figure out how to alter my studies to counter this problem.

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