What We Do Know, Don’t Know, and Need to Know About Knowledge


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

Related Post Roulette

21 Responses

  1. The Dark Ages would have never happened if Western Civilization had embraced Thrasymachus instead of Socrates.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Once upon a time I knew how to use a sextant. Been a long time though, I’d have to RTFM again.Report

  3. Aside from the content I just love that picture.Report

    • Avatar Anne says:

      I love the picture too! but as a museum professional my brain then kicks in….ack they aren’t wearing gloves touching a metal statue, wait! the head is going to hit the crate…what about padding…dude in the back is going to have to climb over the statue.. 😉Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    These questions always seem kind of silly to me. I am not a survivorlist or an apocalypist fetish person. I suppose it is possible for the entirety of modern civilization to collapse but I question how probable it is. I also question whether why I should want it to shutter. A year or so ago, the New Yorker had an article about a former missle silo in the midwest. Some guy bought it and was converting it to luxury condos and/or protected fortresses for the rich when the end of the world happens and we live in Mad Max.

    So maybe I do lack “basic survival skills” that the people of Papua New Guinea have but I don’t live in Papua New Guinea. I live in the Bay Area of California in 2018. I need a whole bunch of different survival skills.

    I really question why we have a fetish on pre-Indusrtrial survival skills. Even if I had them, I wouldn’t want to live in a Mad Max universe.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      I’m with you on this – the reason we lack these basic skills is that we don’t need them in our society – learning other skills like how to use a search engine, how to spot a phishing scam and some basic media literacy are our version of these basic survival skills.

      As for the end of the world scenario, the end of the world is going to kill most of the world’s population, so the most likely answer to “how will you survive the apocalypse?” is that you won’t, so why worry about it?Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Its because lots of people romanticize the mythical person that could do it all. This includes many passionate free marketers even though Adam Smith saw specialization is a necessity for free market prosperity. Robert Heinlein as a quote about how a person should be able to do all bunch of tasks. These include everything from diapering a baby to building a house and beyond.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        i think RAH could do most of that stuff. He did build much of one of his houses, and there’s a story about how he calculated a spaceship trajectory he wanted to get right for a story.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Paper and ink. A librarian friend convinced me a few years back that if you want your journal to be the source material historians use in a hundred years, pigment-based ink on acid-free paper is the way to go. A great-grandchild with pack rat tendencies who’ll keep great-grandpa’s old trunk of god-knows-what in the attic helps.

    Analog electronic theory. The leading edge of “digital” technology is always being shaped by analog effects.

    In the other direction, if things are going backwards, a couple of years ago I got curious about the history of precision machining and now understand how to get from very crude hand-cut gears and screws to parts accurate to about 0.005 inches (~0.125 mm). The sextant in the picture probably isn’t much better than that.Report

    • I agree with your librarian friend. It’s so much easier to preserve analog paper and ink (preferably on acid-free paper, etc.) than it is to preserve most other formats. That format allows for passive storage in a way that, say, digital files do not.Report

      • Lot has been written and speculated on how “digital rot” is losing much information for those very reasons.Report

        • If I were emperor of the archiving world, I would make a big push for putting as much as possible onto microforms/microfilm as a precursor to digitization, so that what’s on the microfilm could be digitized if needed.

          To be clear, I’m looking at this from the perspective of an archivist interested primarily in preserving historical records, most of which (so far) aren’t born digital. When we get into born digital preservation, my microform/microfilm idea has a lot of faults, and I’m not sure how even to begin addressing that problem.Report

          • To me as a (very) amateur history person, I see the merit to that. I wonder something that we take as trival, say all the day to day pictures being taken, will be viewed far into the future and how much of that is really being preserved. With the rise of cameras on phones and almost everything being on pictures or videos, how much of that just disappears into the ether. Granted a lot of it has no value, but to trained eyes many years from now how valuable would some of that be to seeing “real life” in a by-gone age.

            Just me talking out loud, but I find how all this digital media will be interpreted to be fascinating. Until very recent times almost all photographs out of necessity were staged or posed for. It was something historians had to take into account. How the selfie generation is viewed, which we will never know ourselves, would be interesting to see.Report

  6. Avatar Damon says:

    There;s all kinds of useful knowledge.

    I know how to change a tire. I can change a tire. Sadly most cars no longer come with a spare, requiring you to wait for a tow or maybe use the “doughnut”–if your car came with it. I know how to do math on paper. It comes in handy since I can look at a excel and know I created the formula wrong. I wonder how many people will just “believe” what the machine says forgetting that there was human input there. They already walk into pools and doors while on their phone and drive off cliffs following GPS.Report

  7. Avatar pillsy says:

    In the not-so-far future, people won’t know all kinds of things we now think essential to being “educated”: how to write in cursive, how to multiply and divide on paper, or how to spell most English words. Reading a paper map may seem as antiquated as celestial navigation.

    Emphasis mine. A couple months ago the GPS crapped out on my phone, and I’ve had to learn how to figure out how to get places with just my brain again. This means remembering to look up the directions beforehand, spending a minute memorizing them, and occasionally checking the compass to make sure I’m going the direction I thought I was going.

    None of this is that hard, but I was rusty.

    Anyway, I’m not too worried about artificial intelligence. But if they ever perfect artificial stupidity, humanity will truly be obsolete.Report

  8. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    My take is a bit different.
    For every locksmith, there is a lockpick racing behind him.

    The Internet of Things and general interconnectivity has created a vast number of locks to be picked.

    If a naval warship’s reliance on a satellite GPS system is one more fortress of war that can be breached, what is the backup plan, that doesn’t rely on yet another hackable system?Report

  9. Kind of off topic, but the part of this quote that I’ve bolded is something with which I have a pedantic quibble:

    In the not-so-far future, people won’t know all kinds of things we now think essential to being “educated”: how to write in cursive, how to multiply and divide on paper, or how to spell most English words. Reading a paper map may seem as antiquated as celestial navigation. And the forgetting of skills is only going to continue as technology advances and incorporates artificial intelligence.

    It’s not that people will no longer know how to spell “most” (or even “many”) English words. It’s that the spelling of those words will change, or there will be formal contexts in which traditional “correct” spellings will be required and there will be informal contexts in which new, but still conventionally agreed upon, spellings will be accepted. In standard speling, “thru” is “incorrect.” But on twitter, on Facebook, and probably even in blog comments (not to mention good old fashioned handwritten notes), “thru” is usually considered acceptable.Report

    • Avatar pillsy says:

      There’s more to it, though, because with spell checkers and autocorrect, a lot of the process (and knowledge) of spelling is put in the computer’s metaphorical hands. Just futz with it until the red squiggle goes away.Report

      • I hadn’t thought of spell check, to be honest. I’ll admit that in my own case, it sometimes affects what I write. For example, at this site, the word “commenter” is red-lined while “commentator” is not. So I often use “commentator” because I hate having red lines, even though I believe “commenter” should be a correct word.Report

  10. (Lucky for us, some of Socrates’ followers wrote down some of his ideas.)

    I’m not sure they did. I think what we got was Plato, Xenophon, et al writing their own ideas and putting them into Socrates’ mouth. Maybe I’m wrong, though. One very interesting work I read about Plato’s early dialogues* suggests there’s an evolution about how Socrates is portrayed, which might suggest Plato was trying (at least in his early dialogues) to faithfully recreate what that horrible man supposedly taught him.

    *John Beversluis, Cross-Examining Scorates: A Defense of the Interlocutors in Plato’s Early Dialogues (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. (Disclosure: I’ve read most, but not all, of this book.)Report