Handbook of epistemology

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Aristotle and Plato

First part: The knowledgeable body

  1. Science of the soul or science of matter?
  2. Perception, imagination and reflection
  3. Instinct, learning and memory
  4. Emotions, will and attention
  5. Speech

Second part: The development of reason

  1. Justification and evaluation of knowledge
  2. Research and discovery
  3. What is reason?

Third part: Applications

  1. The pedagogy of autonomy
  2. What is metaphysics?
  3. Logical principles
  4. The incompleteness of mathematical principles
  5. The truth of relativistic principles
  6. Why is entropy real?
  7. Quantum theory of multiple destinies
  8. The origin and evolution of life and spirit
  9. The therapeutic virtues of autonomy


About this book

Epistemology is the knowledge about knowledge. If we understand the concept of science in the most general sense, all forms of knowledge, epistemology is the science of science.

Two criteria are fundamental to define knowledge: truth and proof. Knowledge must be true and proven to be truly knowledge.

In this book epistemology is conceived as a part of psychology, the science of the soul, because knowledge exists when souls discover truths and their proofs.

Knowledge about knowledge is of fundamental importance for the development of all knowledge, because recognizing one's own capacity to acquire knowledge makes one more capable to acquire it.

To have an illusion is to believe that we know when we do not know. Whatever the illusion we may have, we always make at the same time an illusion about ourselves, since we take our own ignorance for knowledge. Illusions about our own ability to acquire and recognize knowledge are therefore at the source of all our illusions. By acquiring knowledge about knowledge, we learn to recognize the fundamental illusions that are at the source of all others, we tackle the problems of illusion, error and ignorance by taking them to the root.


Cognition is the production and use of internal representations that prepare for action. A soul gives itself representations, it is what represents to itself, what perceives and imagines. To seek the soul in the brain is to look for the representations it gives itself.

Imagination is the production of internal representations. Perception is the imagination of the present. To perceive is always to conceive because perception attributes concepts to perceived beings. A concept is determined by the set of detection systems that signal the presence of an object by attributing this concept to it. This definition is general because any information processing unit can be considered as a detection system.

Reflection is the knowledge of oneself as a soul, that is, as a being who perceives, imagines, feels and wants. Where does one find that self which must be perceived? And how does it represent itself? La Gioconda is not only a representation of Mona Lisa, it is also a representation of Leonardo da Vinci. The same goes for all our representations.

Perceptions reveal the truth about matter because the nature of matter is to be perceptible.

We could not learn if we did not have the natural ability to learn. This instinct to learn is based on the ability of nervous systems to take advantage of their experience to guide their development, and thus on the plasticity of neurons and their synapses.

We can define emotions from some general characters: An emotion is triggered by the detection of specific conditions, fear by the detection of danger, sadness by the detection of misfortune, anger by the detection of the unacceptable ... This detection is followed very quickly by reflex reactions and physiological changes that enable the body to adapt to the novelty of its situation. Emotions determine motives, ie desires or aversions. They tell us the goals that deserve to be pursued, and what we must flee or avoid.

The will is explained with a model of a centralized administration without a central administrator. Executive modules enforce decisions made voluntarily. These are neural circuits capable of recording decisions already made, received on their input channels, and then giving the commands that apply them to their output channels. Designer modules make proposals to evaluator modules for decision making. The evaluation modules obey the executive modules and therefore the decisions taken previously, which makes the will autonomous in its evaluations. The designer modules also obey the executive modules, which makes the will autonomous in its execution. This model also explains attention, since it is the selection of the representations used in the evaluation for a voluntary decision, working memory, since it is the memory used to apply decisions, beliefs, since they are representations that we voluntarily approve, and unconscious knowledge and desires, because we can sometimes deny what we have yet perceived or felt. It thus gives an explanation of the cerebral bases of the id, the ego and the superego, and of psychic dissociations.

Ethical knowledge consists of evaluating actions, behaviors and their ends. Silent ethical knowledge is the know-how-to-evaluate that results from the emotions and the will. An ethical knowledge can be defined as the knowledge of an ideal, because an evaluation system determines an ideal. One builds oneself by giving oneself an ideal of the self, a superego, by deciding the criteria of evaluation of our decisions.

If we compare the psychic organization to a human society, the ego is the state, the ideal of the ego is the ideal of the state as it is affirmed in the Constitution and in all the official declarations, the id is the civil society. Executive modules are all agents of the state that enable it to impose its decisions. Designer and evaluator modules are all citizens, whether public servants or not, who participate in the design and evaluation of decisions made on behalf of the state. Information that we are aware of because it holds our attention is information taken into account in the evaluation that leads to state decisions. Unconscious information is that which is ignored by the state in its evaluations. Beliefs are what the state officially declares to be true.

Speech is the voluntary emission of signals to influence the imagination and the will of those who receive them.

Words make sense when they awaken the imagination. When the concepts detected by our perception systems are associated with verbal expressions that name them, we can both describe what we perceive, by naming perceived concepts, and imagine what is described, by simulating the detection of named concepts. To understand words is to know how to use them, and we must imagine what they incite us to imagine.

Silent knowledge is the knowledge that precedes speech and results from perception, imagination, emotion and will. It can be translated into words as soon as the detection systems that it uses are named by verbal expressions. Silent knowledge is fundamental to the development of reason, because talking knowledge begins as a translation of silent knowledge. It can then fly on its own because it can speak about speech, but it needs silent knowledge to take off, because words must awaken the imagination to make sense.

Abstract theoretical knowledge is the talking equivalent of the silent imagination of fictions. For theoretical beings to exist and be known, it is enough to make a theory of them, to give oneself principles and to reason from them. Theoretical beings exist as objects of theory, simply because it is true that we speak of them. Theoretical beings are completely determined by our definitions and by the theories in which we have defined them. Talking ethical knowledge resembles an abstract theory, because it is stated with principles which are admitted as true by definition of an ideal.

Thought is the imagination of speech.

Just as the individual superego unifies a personality, so the rationalist ideal unifies humanity. The individual superego makes one intelligent and powerful when it makes one consistent with oneself and with reality. In the same way, the ideal of reason renders humanity capable of uniting and thus realizing reason.

A statement, or a formula, is a knowledge when it is true and justified. The justification of knowledge is defined by induction: good observations, laws verified by well-controlled experiments and truths admitted by definition of their terms are all considered justified. Any logical consequence of true and justified premises is justified by the reasoning that proves this relation of consequence. This definition implies that justified statements are always true, provided they are truly justified. With this theory, a statement is a knowledge if and only if it is justified.

The justification of knowledge can not be separated from its evaluation. We do not just want proofs, we want good proofs, hence that they be based on good principles. But what is the principle of evaluation of principles? That a good principle must bear fruit.

Reason is to develop universal knowledge in common, honestly seeking truths and evidence, respecting the principle of equivalence of all observers, and more generally by voluntarily submitting to all the rules of critical thinking. We explore the space of possibilities whenever we examine knowledge in order to evaluate it. Critical tests are designed to select promising opportunities. Criticism is therefore a heuristic that helps us to solve the problem of the development of reason.

We do not know the range of skills that reason can give us. To know what reason makes us capable of, the best way, and the only way, is to try.

Epistemological knowledge is of paramount importance for the research and evaluation of the principles of science. Basic research is always a kind of applied epistemological research. The most fundamental principles of logic, mathematics, physics and biology are presented and explained in the third part. As the principles of psychology and epistemology were presented in the first two parts, this book gives an overview of the most basic principles of the most basic sciences.

The applications of epistemology can be very concrete. In all practical areas where the acquisition and use of good knowledge is of crucial importance, so almost always, a solid epistemological knowledge can prove its usefulness. Pedagogy and cognitive therapy are directly relevant, but more generally most issues of importance to humans depend on our ability to collectively acquire and use knowledge: public health, ecology, economics and finance, justice and democracy, truth and lies in the media, reliability and safety of equipment ...

Detailed contents

First part: The knowledgeable body

  1. Science of the soul or science of matter?
    1. The science of the soul
    2. The mystery of the alliance of body and soul
    3. Knowledge of the self as a soul
    4. Cognition
    5. The connection between the sensors and the effectors
  2. Perception, imagination and reflection
    1. Perception is the imagination of the present
    2. Silent inferences
    3. Imagine to simulate other souls
    4. Perception is conceptual
    5. Are concepts concrete beings?
    6. Schemas
    7. Creative imagination
    8. Reflection
    9. The nature of matter and the truth of perception
  3. Instinct, learning and memory
    1. What is learning?
    2. The instinct to learn
    3. Neural plasticity
    4. The development of instincts
    5. Procedural memory
    6. A neural model for episodic memory: the convergence-divergence zones
    7. Learning to perceive
  4. Emotions, will and attention
    1. Brain modules and routine activities
    2. Emotions
    3. Decision making and the autonomy of the will
    4. Problem solving
    5. Innovation
    6. A centralized administration without a central administrator
    7. Attention and consciousness
    8. Beliefs
    9. The universal simulator
    10. Silent ethical knowledge
    11. The id, the ego and the superego
    12. Are we always conscious of what we want?
    13. Unconscious desires
    14. False consciousness and unconscious knowledge
    15. Prisoners of schemas
    16. The divided self
    17. The unity of the living body and the self-protective will
    18. The mastery of oneself
    19. Power of the unconscious of of consciousness?
    20. The mastery of emotions
  5. Speech
    1. What is speech?
      1. Everything speaks
      2. Animal communication
      3. Influence the imagination and the will
    2. Meaning through imagination
    3. Understanding words means knowing how to use them
    4. Theoretical frameworks and the priority of the a priori
    5. Freedom of interpretation
    6. Reasoning
    7. Mathematical truth
    8. Thought

Second part: The development of reason

  1. Justification and evaluation of knowledge
    1. The problem of the recognition of knowledge
    2. The silent recognition of knowledge
    3. Justification of knowledge
      1. Knowledge justifying standards
      2. Justification of observations
      3. Justification of empirical laws by observation
      4. Justification by reasoning
      5. Justification of logic
      6. Justification of principles
    4. Evaluation of knowledge
      1. Evaluation of principles
      2. The ideal of intelligibility
      3. The analysis of complexity
      4. The knowledge of ends
      5. Evaluation of ethical knowledge
    5. Justification and evaluation of the knowledge about knowledge
  2. Research and discovery
    1. The will to know
    2. Theoretical problems
    3. Why do reasonings enable us to acquire knowledge?
    4. Criticism is a heuristic
    5. The discovery of reason
  3. What is reason?
    1. Science of the individual or science of the general?
    2. Similarity and generality
      1. Similarities and concepts
      2. Similarity and typology
      3. Similarity between systems and analogy
      4. Symmetries
    3. The principle of equivalence of all observers and the generosity of truth
    4. Does Nature really obey laws?
    5. Where is the grain to grind?
    6. Good knowledge is the knowledge that makes us competent
    7. The unity of reason
    8. Is reason only a human invention?
    9. What can we hope?
    10. The proof of Anselm

Third part: Applications

  1. The pedagogy of autonomy
    1. The arguments of authority
    2. The authority of reason
    3. The foundationalist error
    4. Becoming a teacher for oneself
  2. Logical principles
    1. The rule of particularization
    2. The rule of generalization
    3. The detachment rule
    4. The rule of hypothesis incorporation
    5. The principle of reduction to absurdity
    6. The rule of double negation suppression
    7. The rule of repetition
    8. The reasonings without hypothesis and the logical laws
    9. The derived rules
  3. The incompleteness of mathematical principles
    1. The first incompleteness theorem of Gödel
    2. The uncountable infinite
    3. Tarski's theorem of the undefinability of truth
    4. How to prove the unprovable?
    5. Consistency proofs
    6. The second incompleteness theorem of Gödel
    7. The science of everything that can be imagined
    8. Zermelo's theory of sets
    9. Russell's paradox
    10. The truth of Peano's axioms
    11. The truth of Zermelo's axioms
    12. The axiom of choice
    13. Are consistency proofs caught in a vicious circle?
    14. The independence of the continuum hypothesis
    15. Theories, software and recursively enumerable sets
    16. Undecidable sets and problems
    17. Universal machines and theories
    18. The undecidability of the halting problem
    19. The undecidability of the set of all logical laws
    20. Universality is the cause of undecidability
  4. The truth of relativistic principles
    1. The principle of general relativity
    2. What is a tensor?
    3. A misunderstanding about the relativity of truth
    4. Newtonian physics and Galileo's principle of relativity
    5. Minkowski space-time
      1. The constancy of the velocity of light
      2. The relativity of simultaneity
      3. Spatio-temporal measurement devices
      4. All lightlike intervals are equal
      5. Minkowski's metric and the tensors of space-time
      6. Why is Newtonian physics nevertheless true?
    6. The curvature of space-time and gravitation
      1. Free fall and the orbits of planets
      2. Einstein's great idea
      3. The equality of inertial and gravitational mass
      4. Special relativity and general relativity
    7. Relativistic principles are confirmed by their fruits
  5. Why is entropy real?
    1. The reality of thermodynamic entropy
    2. The three definitions of statistical entropy
    3. The reality of accessibility entropy
      1. Statistical ensembles, ergodicity and time averages
      2. The principle of polls and the Monte Carlo method
      3. Quantum decoherence
      4. Microscopic entropy
      5. The independence of microscopic constituents
      6. Lack of information, laisser-faire and equilibrium
    4. The difference between thermodynamic entropy and accessibility entropy
    5. Information as fuel
      1. Maxwell's demon
      2. Amount of information and work
    6. Why can not Maxwell's demon reduce total entropy?
    7. The conservation of the subjective entropy of an isolated system
    8. Why can entropy increase?
    9. Do irreversible computations always reduce the thermodynamic entropy of a computer?
    10. Maxwell's demon and the impossibility of a perpetual motion of the second kind
    11. Thermodynamics is a physics of observation
    12. Complements
      1. The perpetual motion of the second kind
      2. Entropy increase and the microcanonical distribution
      3. The reality of entropy increase
      4. Entropy is an extensive quantity when the parts are statistically independent
      5. The Szilard's engine
  6. Quantum theory of multiple destinies
    1. Taking the Schrödinger equation seriously
    2. The existence theorem of multiple destinies is empirically verifiable
    3. One space-time for all parallel worlds
    4. Everett's theory is unified quantum theory
  7. The origin and evolution of life and spirit
    1. Evolution through natural selection
    2. The molecules of heredity
    3. The spontaneous generation of life in the primitive ocean
      1. Autocatalytic networks
      2. Amphiphilic molecules and vesicles
      3. The first living cells
      4. The origin of DNA
      5. How to know if this theory is true?
    4. Life is at home in the universe
    5. Cooperation is more fundamental than competition
    6. The infinite tolerance of life
    7. The origin of spirit
  8. The therapeutic virtues of autonomy
    1. Psychic disorders
    2. To heal oneself
    3. Criticism as a means of healing
    4. Inner peace
    5. Inner reactions
    6. Biographical and autobiographical truth
    7. The therapeutic virtues of narration