Monday, February 25, 2008

The epistemological foundation of radical uncertainty (amv)

In respect to his concepts, man is born as tabula rasa. Equipped with means of cognition, he has to discover existence by himself. He has to start with the most basic concepts and enhance his understanding by further refinements. In contrast to Kant’s apriorism, knowledge cannot precede understanding. In other words, no effect can precede its cause. Omniscience, however, implies that man can have perfect knowledge of the entirety of the moment-in-being. In addition, since this moment epitomises change, omniscience means to know all causal relations between all existents. This, however, would presume that a single mind could have accompanied the entirety of reality from the outset. Yet, man is not God and, therefore, omniscience a non-existent. The very nature of novelty forbids omniscience. There are always causal chains at work, which escape our radar. It is unimaginable that the solitary present does not offer any surprise to the expectations of man. The future is incurably uncertain.

Further, (un-)knowledge is dispersed. This means that everybody has to understand reality from an individual perspective. Of course, man could rise to his present only by discovering means of communication. To learn from each other and to gain from other people’s experience is indispensable for human progress. Hayek, in his second career as a social philosopher, even declares that the standard of civilisation is given by the knowledge a man can resort to without himself having any experience of the underlying glimpse of existence. The Division of Knowledge supersedes the Division of Labour as the ultimate source of wealth.

Thus, man’s ability to conserve experience by the means of institutions (i.e. repetitive patterns of thought and action) and, thus, to learn from history is the condition sine qua non for our survival. He cannot live his life and the life of somebody else as well. The knowledge he accumulates is, as a whole, unique. However, if knowledge is dispersed among man, then ‘un-knowledge,’ i.e. the inescapable lack of knowledge of some causal chains, is dispersed too. It is, therefore, impossible that all men arrive at the same conclusions on all subjects imaginable. For any given moment-in-being, social knowledge is contradictory. This contradiction of human knowledge originates subjectivity. Subjectivity marks the impossibility to unify dispersed knowledge into a consistent whole. It claims that a general convergence of experience is illusory.

Uncertainty is simply an aspect of novelity and surprise due to the given limitation of knowledge and insight. If action is inconsistent on a social level, some expectations will always be disappointed. This also includes expected probability distributions. My knowledgable colleague fg would make use of the term "unkown unkowns."