Scientific vs. Nonscientific Approaches to Knowledge

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  • 0:00 Approaches to Knowledge
  • 0:25 Non-Scientific Approaches
  • 2:58 Problems with…
  • 4:16 Scientific Approaches
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

How do you obtain knowledge? Did you know there is more than one way to know? Learn about the scientific and nonscientific approaches to knowledge, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Approaches to Knowledge

What do you know? How do you know what you know? This lesson is about knowledge, or more specifically, the way we approach gaining knowledge. There are two general ways. We can approach it scientifically, and we can approach it non-scientifically.

I've entrusted the help of my pal little Timmy for this lesson to demonstrate how knowledge can be approached.

Non-Scientific Approaches to Knowledge

Little Timmy thinks this lesson is just a bunch of common sense anyways. But common sense isn't always common knowledge! Common sense is ordinary good judgment independent of any specialized knowledge. For example, it's common sense that Timmy doesn't just jump out of a plane if he wants to live another day.

Timmy knows that much, and he also knows not to touch a hot stove. That's common sense, right? But how did he obtain this knowledge in the first place? He thinks back to when he was about two years old, when his mother, a figure of authority, warned him not to. Sometimes, we gain our knowledge from authority figures, like parents, bosses, and famous individuals we may have never even met. That is to say, we give importance to a powerful source of information and take it as truth that what they say is really true without questioning it.

Other times we gain our knowledge through experience, personal encounters and observations. For example, even though Timmy's mother told him the stove was hot, he touched it anyway, and guess what? That's right - he got a lesson there, from experience.

Timmy's mother is also a firm believer in experience. She's experienced many times that if she leaves for work any later than 7:00 in the morning, she'll get into some really bad traffic.

But Timmy also relies on other ways to gain knowledge. For example, every now and then, he gets a gut feeling, or an intuition, about something going down on the school playground, like a fight about to happen. Intuition is actually an insight into something without any reasoning process.

Another way of figuring things out is to use logic, the application of reasoning to reach a conclusion using a set of premises. Let's say Timmy's at the zoo, and he's watching the bears in their enclosure behind a glass wall. Suddenly, he sees one of the bears turn around and begin to charge right towards him at the glass wall. He might feel scared, and his gut feeling might be to run away, but logically, he knows the bear won't get through the thick protective glass. He reasons that the glass wall was built by people who know about bears, and that they've probably tested it to make sure it won't break. He feels reasonably safe that the bear won't get him.

There are plenty of other ways of gaining knowledge non-scientifically, like tradition. Tradition comprises our inherited ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting. Timmy's Aunt Betty swears by rose petal oil. It apparently helps cure everything from arthritis to blindness, even though she can barely walk or see.

Problems with Non-Scientific Approaches

But all the methods of non-scientific knowledge have their problems. Tradition is almost dogmatic in its approach to knowledge. Sometimes there are good solid reasons for traditions, while other times following them can cause more harm than good. Take the rose petal oil example: not only has rose petal oil never been proven to cure arthritis nor blindness, but Timmy's aunt hurts herself by foregoing proven medical treatment for her arthritis and relying instead on unproven traditional methods.

Authority figures can lie. Have you heard of politicians?

Knowledge gained from experience can lead us astray when circumstances change. Traffic patterns may change due to construction, so Timmy's mom's past experience will lead her astray if she relies solely on this.

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