The Changing Nature of Knowledge

The Changing Nature of Knowledge

It is pleasant to have things stay more or less stable. We can plan and bring our plans to fruition. But that is not the real nature of the world. The world’s knowledge does not merely increase the way an icicle grows. It is moving, expanding and contracting here and there, like a living thing. A part dies out, another part is absorbed by its neighbor, a firm belief is undermined by new knowledge, competition brings out differences, and one or the other of competing forces succeeds or subsides. The constantly changing nature of knowledge is sometimes depressing, but it can actually be exciting.

Even in fields which seem stable and unchangeable, new theories (explanations with more or less evidence to support them) spring up and old ones are modified or even discarded. Always new bits of evidence, as sense data, come forward to be fitted to the previous assumptions. If these data fit, they strengthen the assumption, but if they do not they cannot all be ignored, and the theory therefore has to be altered to suit.

The Changing Nature of Knowledge

Very likely, this state of affairs will be discouraging to you, especially if you expected education to be a process of merely adding many facts and opinions to your store of information, like money deposited in the bank. Rather than be upset by the constant uncertainties and the frequent changes of direction during your academic career, as you proceed from one course to another, you should become better trained in seeing man’s true setting: Man is in a setting never constant for a minute, full of vibrant energy, continually on the mow. Aggressively seeking new and better ideas for a fuller life, not only for contemporary man but for future generations.

Equipped with a realization of the place of change in our lives, we can adjust with less discomfort, actually, than if we try unduly to preserve the status quo. But part of our society does strive to maintain the status quo for the simple reason that there are dangers in making changes too swiftly. We are dependent upon both forces, then: The force of change and the force of stability. Maintaining law and order by statutes and by religious and social codes is our method of combining both these forces, so that life can move in a fairly predictable direction while still allowing for inevitable change. Freedom to allow for gradual change, while standing firmly on principle, is our nation’s philosophy.