[lit-ideas] Re: When do we know enough?

  • From: Eric Yost <eyost1132@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2005 03:23:19 -0500

"At what point do I have enough to say that I have made a significant
addition to understanding whatever it is that I have chosen to study?"



John makes a quick segue from the type of factual knowledge held in an understanding of a subway system to the kind of "knowledge" that Turner may have held in completing a watercolor. It made me uneasy so I have to pick at his idea a bit.


The subway knowledge is analytical and process oriented. We learn the components and extend that knowledge outward, e.g., subway car interior--->function of subway car seating--->ergonomics of subway car seats--->material design of subway car seats. The subway car interior arrow ---> could have gone to car lighting or to hand-rungs or to any other components of the subway car because the knowledge is analysis of a process based on current knowledge of material physics.

The Turner knowledge is synthetic (if it is knowledge). We learn to see and learn to paint what we can see, so we can learn to see and again paint what we see. Painting a sunrise over a harbor, Turner finishes when he best captures what he has seen and has been able to paint. If there were a process arrow ---> here, it would spiral in and out of the acts of seeing and painting.

The learning never stops, agreed, but it's not the same kind of learning. Though one innovation in subway cars might trigger other innovations in other aspects of the subway cars and influence changes in the entire subway system, the synthesis would occur in bits and pieces, the work of many people, and be governed by material physics advances rather than a way of seeing.

Put another way, I learn more and more about the subway. Soon I become knowledgeable about the subway. Turner, however, was as knowledgeable about his first painting as he was about his fiftieth painting. Why? Because the knowledge (if it is knowledge) of that first painting is not the same knowledge as the knowledge of the fiftieth painting.

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