Judging by How You Know

This is a follow up to the previous blogpost.

First, I want to think about how we know things in general. Are there things that we know instinctually? We certainly know we have to breathe, and we have “fear and flight” responses. I’m not certain that we can include this type of knowledge in the package of gained knowledge.

In general, I’m thinking about knowledge that exists outside our body, and gets into our cortex through our senses. Once that happens we mess with it and sometimes we act upon it.

The five senses; we see, we hear, we smell, we touch, and we taste.

Smell is clearly the worst used sense, and taste follows pretty closely. Although I would consider licking the Mona Lisa.

See, touch, and hear. Does it matter how we construct how that happens. One could be entirely natural experiential. We naturally observe the world around us, then come to some conclusions.

This takes us only so far. The next level is to change the environment for the purpose of knowing more. We drop a feather and a cannon ball to measure the effect of gravity and resistance. We take apart a clock to see how it works. We develop tools like microscopes, or telescopes, to see further than our natural abilities.

None of these things imply an issue with ethics. Although in some cases just doing something different crossed some sort of social norm. People were burned at the stake for different thoughts…

Fast forward a few years to WWII. The Nazis murdered millions. They also experimented upon hundreds of thousands. They wrote it all down. How much cold can humans stand? Removing organs has what effect? What are the limits to medicines?

When the notes to these experiments were found, there was a debate on whether they should be used. Some said it honored those who died, some said it doesn’t matter, knowledge is knowledge. And finally, some said it mattered to the culture how we obtained knowledge.

I supposed the question becomes “At what cost?” If we ignore facts that could save millions, is that more ethical than to use hideous knowledge?”

Considering the Polish sculptor that cut apart his dead father to learn anatomy. Could Szukalski have learned anatomy from another source? Other artists did. Was Szukalski set in a path from that experience which made him less a balanced human?

That’s a tough one. There are lots of manufactured learning experiences that change people forever. Most of them have ethical issues.

Let’s say that a scientist/researcher has an idea that he/she could solve the serial mass murder problems. All that has to be done is get the subject through some intense scanning and bloodwork. Oh yeah, he/she also has to become a serial mass murderer for a time.

It would be phenomenal to finally solve this for Mankind. Literally millions of lives could be saved, and tens of millions would never go through that pain.

Umm.

A moral choice is never based upon results or consequences. It is for the value itself.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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