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TRAINING AND KNOWLEDGE

The world is rational. We have explored the impact this assumption has made on western culture since it was first enunciated in the sixth century before the birth of Christ. As we approach the twenty-first century the west still holds to that assumption. But the world that is emerging out of the collapse of the cold war will include more non-western peoples than western cultures. Will this new world culture hold with the assumption? It may be difficult for anyone who flies in a jet aircraft, or surfs the Internet to believe otherwise. It would be like a jet pilot joining the flat earth society. Twentieth century philosophers have turned away from developing grand philosophical systems. In fact Western Philosophy has become so esoteric to our modern world that it is possible to get a PHD without ever taking a philosophy course. Many schools don't even offer one beyond the basic introductory courses. Will the twenty-first century bring us a new Descartes? Perhaps, but modern philosophers, particularly since Descartes, have been looking for a path to truth through mathematics. The latest developments in psychology and computer science suggest that this may be the wrong direction. I offer the following comments as a possible look into the future. I am probably wrong. But not entirely.

The eye of a frog is without question a marvelous device. It is also an excellent example of the limits of natural selection. It is capable of responding only to small, rapidly moving objects. That, combined with the neural wiring connecting it with the frog's tongue makes it a perfectly adapted machine for snagging flies.

Some years ago I was a technician in a plant producing very large electric motors. Among my responsibilities was the maintenance of two robots called Jack and Jill. These represented the state of the art of robotics for that time. Each robot consisted of a five axis arm that was operated by an artificial intelligence computer system. The programs in the computers simulated the neural networks in a simple brain like those of the frog. Like the frog's eye and tongue each robot had a single task to accomplish. Jack picked up a segment, a piece of metal about three feet long and about a sixteenth of an inch thick curved such that when eight of these were placed end to end they made a circle 8 to 12 feet in diameter. When these were stacked they would make the stator for a large electric motor. Jack would pick up the segment, raise it up into the air where he would make a quick jog so that it would settle into position. Then he would turn around and place it on a jig on the bed of a punch press. The press would then chop out a series of slots that would eventually carry the stator wires. Then Jill, standing on the opposite side of the machine would bend down and pick up the finished piece and place it on an empty pallet.

The interesting part of this operation was that both pallets, the one that Jack picked up his piece from and the one that Jill placed hers on, contained two piles of segments. Everyone who watched these two robots in action was surprised because they expected that the robots would alternately use one pile and then the other. But this was not the case. They would use one pile for what seemed like a random number of times and then switch for an indefinite period.

What has this to do with frogs? The eye-tongue system of the frog was trained by thousands of years of natural selection. The frog knew nothing about either flies or tongues. We can't even say there was any knowledge at all involved in the life of a frog. Jack and Jill too knew nothing about punch presses, segments, or piles on pallets. Being neural systems like the frog, their operations were not programmed. They were trained. The operator used a control pedestal to put the robots through an approximation of the sequence required to pick up a segment from one place and put it on the other including the routes to both of the piles on the pallets. However, a five axis robot is a highly complex machine and the task of determining the most efficient path between the pallet and the machine requires a level of mathematics beyond the capabilities of most mathematicians, much less a machinist. The path that the operator would put the robot through would only be an approximation of the most efficient path. Once Jack and Jill were put into operation they, without the assistance of the operator, would find their most efficient paths. The thousands of years of natural selection required to produce the magnificent fly catching mechanism of the frog has been reduced to a few practice movements for jack and Jill. But the point is that the evolutionary method that produced both systems were developed by practice and training, and not through knowledge and understanding.

There are two philosophical problems that modern philosophers have attempted to solve. The first is the problem of assumptions. Assumptions made without recourse to direct experience are considered too metaphysical, in the sense that it is not possible to prove them true or false. But, the only assumption we are concerned with here is the assumption that the world is rational, and it is an assumption they can in no way question. To question this assumption would be to question the very possibility of reasoning. The second problem they have been trying to solve is dualism, that there are two entities involved in human existence. The best known example is Descartes' two substances, spirit, or soul which is incorporeal, and body which is corporeal. But before we reject dualism out of hand we should examine the history of it.

We can begin with a review of the description of Parmenides poem that was developed by Heidegger. As you may recall he developed his view through a phenomenological exegesis. This phenomenological language brought out new facts concerning the meaning behind Parmenides words. "The path," Heidegger said, "now indicated is that of doxa in the sense of appearance." Sliding back and forth from one opinion to another, men lose themselves entirely. But, the poem also made it necessary to know this path "...in order", as Heidegger said, " that being may disclose itself in appearance and against appearance." While all three paths are necessary for a complete understanding of truth, each by itself has its own shortcoming. Heidegger thus concludes that;

A truly sapient man is therefore not one who blindly pursues the truth, but only one who is always cognizant of all three paths, that of being, that of nonbeing, and that of appearance. Superior knowledge--and all knowledge is superiority--is given only to the man who has known the buoyant storm on the path of being, who has known the dread of the second path to the abyss of nothing, but who has taken upon himself the third way, the arduous path of appearance.

The Eleatic dualism was between what is and cannot not be and what is not and cannot even be talked of. The world of coming to be and of passing away never is, yet in order to become cognizant of what is, of the unchanging, one must first acquaint himself of the sensual world of coming to be. This world is the world of experience, of the physical. The world of the unchanging is not physical, it can only be known through reasoning. Plato's dualism included the Eleatic what is and cannot not be in the unchanging world of the ideal forms. These, because they were unchanging could be and could not not be. The world of the senses were constantly coming to be and therefore could never be. But he too saw the problem of Parmenides, that to understand the unchanging one must come to terms with the changing. If we examine Plato's theories of knowledge more closely we find that like Parmenides he too saw that knowledge of the unchanging was only possible through the world of the coming to be. Remember, the mechanism responsible for gaining knowledge of the unchanging was recollection, or being reminded of the unchanging forms by experiencing things in the sensual world. Thus, even in this pure idealistic approach to dualism, learning can only be from experience. But it is the body that experiences, and the body exists only in the world of the coming to be. It is the soul that recollects, because it is the soul that had its origination in the world of the pure forms. Of course Plato's language doesn't always reflect this attitude. But consider this statement from the Republic.

When its gaze is fixed upon an object irradiated by truth and reality, the soul gains understanding and knowledge and is manifestly in possession of intelligence. But when it looks towards that twilight world of things that come into existence and pass away, its sight is dim and it has only opinions and beliefs which shift to and fro, and now it seems like a thing that has no intelligence.

It would seem, then, that experience far from being the source of all learning is an insurmountable barrier. And it would be, if it were not possible to train the mind to see the sense of the unchanging as recollections from the changing. Much of Plato's Republic was involved in the procedures required to develop ideal guardians therefore he was forced to face the problem of training. In the allegory of the cave Plato said that the escapee had to be forced to look into the fire and to experience for himself the real objects that had caused the shadows he had taken for real. When he returned to the cave and attempted to convince his fellows there they castigated him and would not listen to what he was saying. Their minds had not been trained to see the reality behind the shadows.

In Book VI of the Republic Plato described four stages of cognition each stage having a higher degree of reality. The term he used for the lowest form was eikasia. Cornford felt that the term "imagining" was the closest translation. It is the "wholly unenlightened state of mind which takes sensible appearances and current moral notions at their face value." It is the condition of the prisoners in the cave who have experienced only the shadows.

The second stage pistis or belief, is the stage of belief in the reality of visible and tangible things. Also the stage of correct moral beliefs without knowledge. This would be the stage at the beginning of the training of the guardians because at this point they would be trained to hold true beliefs which were sufficient as guides to action but were not secure since they were not based on real knowledge.

By training the intellects of the guardians first in mathematics and then in moral philosophy, they would be brought to the level of dianoia or thinking. In this stage the mind has arrived at a level of understanding but falls short of perfect knowledge. The highest stage is called episteme, or knowledge. This stage is reached only through dialectic, which for Plato means a "technique of philosophical conversation (dialogue) carried on by question and answer and seeking to render or to receive from a respondent and account (logos) of some ideal Form. This would usually be a moral Form, in the republic it was justice." Once the mind has risen to this stage then it has the ability to descend through deduction to confirm the entire structure of moral and mathematical knowledge. So you see that in Plato's theory of knowledge, the mind first must be trained to the point that it can assimilate the unchanging that lies behind the changing. Once in that state knowledge is possible and not before.

Plato's most mature thought on the subject came in his seventh epistle, written in the last years of his life.

For every real being, there are three things that are necessary if knowledge of it is to be acquired; first, the name; second, the definition; third, the image; knowledge comes fourth, and in the fifth place we must put the object itself, the knowable and truly real being. To understand what this means, take a particular example, and think of all other objects as analogous to it. There is something called a circle, and its name is this very word we have just used. Second, there is its definition, composed of nouns and verbs. "The figure whose extremities are everywhere equally distant from its center" is the definition of precisely that to which the names "round," circumference," and "circle" apply. Third is what we draw or rub out, what is turned or destroyed; but the circle itself to which they all refer remains unaffected, because it is different from them. In the fourth place are knowledge, reason, and right opinion (which are in our minds, not in words or bodily shapes, and therefore must be taken together as something distinct both from the circle itself and from the three things previously mentioned); of these, reason is the nearest the fifth in kinship and likeness, while the others are further away. The same thing is true of the straight-lined as well as the circular figures; of color; of the good, the beautiful, the just; of body in general whether artificial or natural; of fire, water, and all the elements; of all living beings and qualities of souls; of all actions and affections. for in each case, whoever does not somehow grasp the four things mentioned will never fully attain knowledge of the fifth.

This letter was written partly to explain why he was not successful in converting Dionysus, the tyrant of Syracuse, and partly to explain why the book on philosophy written by the tyrant could not possibly be philosophical. Dionysus had only engaged Plato in a single philosophical dialogue. There was no possibility that his mind could be trained to the level where he could understand the highest level of knowledge in a single conversation. Thus you can see that training, that is the direction of the actions of the mind, is a separate sphere from learning, or the cognition of pure Forms. The former relates to the development of a special kind of interaction between the mind and the images produced by imagination of the sensual world. It is related to the kind of activities that made the frog's tongue and eye coordination so well adapted to snagging flies, and Jack and Jill so well adapted to feeding a punch press. The second relates to the cognition of the pure and necessary knowledge of the forms. Though the senses may create the raw material for recollection, cognition takes it a step beyond into the world of the unchanging.