- Strive for clarity and distinctness.
- Ask “What do you mean, and how do you know?”
Notes from the Golden Orange
EppsNet Archive: Knowledge
What does it mean to say that you “know” something is true?
According to traditional philosophical thinking, you can be said to know that some proposition P is true if and only if:
- P is true.
- You believe that P is true.
- You are justified in believing that P is true.
These three conditions jointly form the concept of justified true belief (JTB).
As an example, let’s examine my claim that I know Paris is the capital of France. Unless an edict to the contrary has come down in the last few minutes, Paris is the capital of France, I believe that Paris is the capital of France, and I’m justified in believing that based on available evidence. So according to the concept of justified true belief, I know that Paris is the capital of France.
Here’s a thought experiment: Let’s say I wake up in the morning, look at the clock (let’s make it an old-fashioned analog clock), and it shows the time as 7:30. And let’s say that the time is in fact 7:30, but that, unknown to me, the clock has stopped. Do I “know” that the time is 7:30? My belief that the time is 7:30 is correct, but is it knowledge — or is it more of a lucky guess?
Another thought experiment: Given the following scenario, do I “know” that my wife is in the house? I come home from work and see my wife in the kitchen. As it happens though, what I see in the kitchen is actually a perfectly rendered hologram. My wife is in the house though, but she’s upstairs where I can’t see her. Again, the three JTB conditions are true, but my justification for belief has nothing to do with the truth of the matter.
These types of thought experiments are called Gettier problems, named for Edmund Gettier, who in 1963 published a paper called “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”
everything is permitted
absolute freedom of movement
that is, without leaving the cage
2+2 doesn’t make 4:
once it made 4 but
today nothing is known in this regard
Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding.
If you act as if something is true, you will shortly find out whether it is or isn’t. Any reduction of effort or increase of abundance you enjoy as a consequence of your new belief is the best measure of its truth.
It is essential not to profess to know, or seem to know, or accept that someone else knows, that which is unknown. Almost without exception, the things that end up coming back to haunt you are things you pretended to understand but didn’t early on. At virtually every stage of even the most successful software projects, there are large numbers of very important things that are unknown. It is acceptable, even mandatory, to clearly articulate your ignorance, so that no one misunderstands the corporate state of unknowingness. If you do not disseminate this “lucid ignorance,” disaster will surely befall you.
Human nature is such that we dislike not knowing things that are important to our well being. Since there is so much we don’t know in a software project, the nearly universal tendency among developers and their managers is to gloss over or even deny altogether the extent of their ignorance. You should reward and treasure those who consistently make themselves aware of the list of relevant things that are currently unknown. It requires mental and psychological strength to resist the normal human cravings for certainty and order. It especially difficult to believe in uncertainty when things have a veneer of orderliness, which is often the case. Pseudo-order is a maladapted defense against uncertainty.
The organization surrounding you will undoubtedly abhor uncertainty, would infinitely prefer pseudo-order and will make countless attempts to magically convert your ignorance to knowledge. Your job is to make uncertainty an unshakable fact, and to coerce the reshaping of the surrounding organization to cope with the uncertain situation. The organization must learn to thrive in an uncertain environment for its own well being.
You should expend a great deal of effort making sure that all the people on the project are aware of their ignorance rather than naively converting it to falsehoods. Bear down on them until they realize they haven’t comprehensively assessed the unknowns. In the successful project, this is much easier in the early stages, or during times of change. This is no time for niceties. People ultimately prefer success even if disillusionment is a prerequisite.
One of the hardest things to convey to students is how often the answer to a question is, “I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody does know.”