Knowledge – by Juan-Ramón Capella

This post is also available in: Spanish

You started talking about the determinacies of consciousness. How is it defined? Or, if you prefer, how can we guarantee knowledge is objective, that there is a clear distinction between the self and the others?

Between the self and the others there’s a clear frontier: what you determine and what the others determine. That is clear. Somewhat related to this, I would escape the question saying something like this: what is the surest way we have of knowing things? Without a doubt, sciences. We know what they are, how they’re built, how they move forward. We have a great instrument of knowledge, with one particularity. Sciences do not deal with reality, but with abstractions of reality. We could call them models. Ultimately, abstract ideas of reality, but not reality itself. Every scientific branch is very powerful, but there are diverse scientific branches. Thus, for example, thanks to science one may build great nuclear plants which, from the Physics point of view, work very well. They have been built using technologies inspired in science. What happens with those plants? They are immerse in a world in which, from the economist’s point of view, they may be profitable or not (they are, most definitely, not profitable in the long run, since the residues will last for hundreds of years). Probably they are dangerous from the social psyche’s point of view. To what extent the existence of dangerous technologies influences our everyday terrors hasn’t been studied. What am I trying to say? That sciences are useful, but they are partial knowledge. And the world is specific and total. The aspiration to relate the results in the different sciences, which is sometimes called Systems Theory -an expression that seems ugly to me- and that in the 19th century was called dialectics: trying to be aware that the results of a science aren’t everything, that one has to see the relationships between the different sciences and the spaces between them. That aspiration is the one that produces a knowledge that trusts sciences less, not because they are epistemologically bad, but because they may be dangerous ontologically. For me, the problem of knowledge lies there: in knowing where the limits of science are, the consequences it has. That cannot solved with more science. It can be solved with a philosophical attitude of cautiousness, of analysis, of exploration.

This possibility of a global vision is denied by a great fraction of current thought.

I’m not trying to talk about a global construction, but about a less partial construction than that of each branch of science. There are branches of science that laypeople cannot follow at all. For example, astrophysics or the basic biological nucleus. The cell in its deeper research. There, all that can be done is establish mathematical theories: this one’s better for explaining certain phenomena, this one’s worse.

Actually, we were considering how to know what we know is valid.

Trial and error. When we make a mistake, we say “sorry” and we back up.

There are neurologists that claim one learns more from mistakes than from good decisions.

Yes. I think we advance negatively. By eliminating false claims, more than discovering truth. My epistemological position as a scientist is that science moves forward by eliminating false claims. It says something is false and, when doing it, it implicitly says something else is true. But that which is stated implicitly can be rejected by someone else, because of such and such reasons. We move forward by eliminating false claims. And in our own personal life, we have moved forward by eliminating false claims. One after the other. We have become older by eliminating the notions that were transmitted by generations which learned in a historical context which was completely different to ours.

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