Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Knowledge is most often described using the oldest philosophical reasoning by Plato as “Justified true belief”. It is a fact that has been acquired through an experience whether theoretical or practical about a particular subject, of which one has evidence of and can be certain of to be true. General knowledge also has to be broadly agreed upon. But how can a person be certain of what they have experienced considering what we call reality, might be an illusion or just a dream? Also how can certain things turn into general knowledge if only you can experience it, such as pain? One can never know, but one of many ways to justify something to be of true belief is following the “Plato’s definition”. However, when it comes to know how knowledge is produced, it is a longer process for it to become justified true belief.
Produced knowledge starts from an idea or thought to reason why or how something is the way it is as a way to make it understandable for the human mind. It is a complex as well as a time consuming process. Doing research on the idea whether through active experimentation or passive observation, both of which we can acquire through experience and in turn produce knowledge. Passive learning is when one learns from the knowledge in the surroundings with no control over it and it is an already produced knowledge. Active experimentation is when one questions the surroundings and seeks an explanation, which has not yet been proven.
This essay will focus on the Natural Sciences as an area of knowledge to discuss this knowledge question. A real life situation to justify the ability to passively observe, is a scientific theory known as “The theory of evolution” from Darwin. He got this theoretical idea during an expedition, where he observed the process of natural selection, and how the animals best suited for the environment are most likely to survive and pass on their genes and characteristics to their offspring. Thus the race also manages to survive, whilst the weaker die out. This concludes how Darwin used his brain and the power of reason to produce knowledge, that was later justified true belief. The Scientific Method is an example of actively experimenting, in which a hypothesis is tested, which tends to go beyond the momentary evidence until approved/disapproved to be true. To contrast it to passive observation, it is a process that is closely observed or even monitored and not researched on as active experiments do. An example and real life situation of a scientific breakthrough is in 1920’s by the Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming, who was growing a certain bacteria in some Petri dishes. When he was going to finish his work and clean them up, he saw that one of the dishes had become contaminated by mould, but around it there was a circle formed, free from bacterial growth.
This observation, led him to build a hypothesis and further investigate this creation, which in turn resulted in the invention of Penicillin that is used even today to treat bacterial infections. As mentioned, the Scientific method requires a hypothesis, which can be seen as a conclusion that goes beyond the evidence. Just as the Charles Darwin theory, many other theories exist that go beyond the evidence or the knowledge of today. In today's modern world, many scientific experiments have hypotheses and aimed results that also go beyond the evidence. This curiosity of imagining these impossible possibilities is what has reached today's civilization to be filled with immense knowledge. Ways of knowing to justify this, is imagination as well as intuition. Imagination is a way of developing knowledge without the help of our senses, considering it gives our minds the capability to be creative, resourceful and to make a person to take action in forming new ideas (hypotheses) to what goes beyond the evidence in order to investigate. Beginning with what a human observes on a daily basis and the complex mind, one begins to imagine what if or could this be, which in turn builds theories.
Many theories, such as Einstein's theory of relativity were essentially Gedanken-experiments that were only based on ideas and could not be performed experimentally during that time. Without imagination, no such theories beyond the evidence would be made, and in turn humans would have never had such a development and growth over time. To mini-conclude, knowledge in general without imagination is barren, in other words not producible. As Albert Einstein famously put it “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. The sciences were tend to not be much appreciated during the end of 20th century, considering we have all the equations for the different building blocks and the mathematical characteristics but we are not so good at solving them. Even today there are certain gaps between equations and theories and even though the equations are worked on to gain elegance and beauty, they are not as beautiful as they can get, because it science has shown us through history that it is always possible to make things better. To find out other ways to better solve equations, a lot of imagination is required, because imagination takes you to a different world where things behave differently from our world. Things that may seem impossible become possible. To find out a way to better understand things, solve equations and find out about the world we live in, we need to get experience playing around without ideas and imagine how things might behave in different circumstances.
An example would be quantum physics, which is a field where the focus is on particles and technology has not developed enough to have the machinery acquired to understand the behaviour of them. Thus imagination is key to play around with ideas in different perspectives to find out what could work and why particles behave the way they do. Not all the imaginative ideas can work, but it always requires trial and error until one can achieve a goal. Intuition is defined as the instinctive understanding of things, without the need of conscious reasoning. Considering intuition does not require reason to make something understanding, one could assume it to go against the rational activity of science. In fact, it seems through experience that if we stick with rational thoughts alone, we end up limiting ourselves to experiences that are conscious, thus it seems logical that if we add intuition to reason in science, the unconscious thoughts and feelings could in fact give a complete insight and understanding of a given hypothesis. It could also however blur things out as well, which should be kept in mind, but in reality too much of anything can be bad which is why all the ways of knowing are known as being double-edged.
To conclude, the sciences are centered around reason, intuition comes in and helps to understand a phenomena in many ways. An example would be how intuition helps with inductive analysis. Considering science is has recently become mostly deductive as well as hypothesis oriented, scientists often encounter situations where they need to make a theory and it needs a rational argument to be defensible. The theory needs to agree collectively with multiple other theories and phenomena to be accepted broadly. Another example would be that intuition helps navigate conflicting opinions that occurs in science with all the disagreements between people in regards to certain scientific theory. Such disagreements are known to get quite personal sometimes and thus our intuition helps us make sense of and control personal beliefs and with real life.
Thus, one can say that rational arguments are in fact essential to the Scientific method, but intuition is definitely beneficial to use. Thoughts in the head might not always be constructive, but they can still be arguably useful to try to make sense of things when reaching difficulties during the scientific method. To summarize this essay, in the natural sciences, scientists often find themselves reaching beyond the evidence and questioning the not yet proven situations which is exactly what has improved our world scientifically and technologically. Two of the many breakthroughs in time being the industrial revolution and the enlightenment. The more we ask, the more we use our imagination and intuition to search for things we might not even be able to perform practically such as why and how did the Big Bang occur? Or do Higgs Boson particles in fact exist? We might not find the answer of our question from time to time, but maybe along the way find out about something else and grow our branch of knowledge in the natural science field and understand our world better. Without these ways of knowing, one could argue that humanity would never strive beyond the evidence and thus limit ourselves to only what we can see on a daily.
If we would have done so, we would have never found out about atoms, subatomic particles, cells, eukaryotes, prokaryotes, viruses as a few examples. All of these things began with a theory, a scientist reaching beyond the evidence and thus with the help of imagination bacterias were discovered leading to antibiotic production and healing many diseases. Atoms and subatomic particles helped us find out the physical and chemical characteristics of materials leading to inventions and productions of e.g. machineries to make our daily life more comfortable and safe. Coming up with ideas beyond the evidence and writing them down as hypotheses before an investigation also gives us an aim to focus on and helps the research to be reliable and scientific.