Tag: knowledge (page 1 of 3)

Towards an epistemology of the humanities

Lorraine Daston highlights the lack of a systematic approach to knowledge (epistemology) in the humanities, unlike in the sciences. This gap affects the perception and value of the humanities in education and society. Daston suggests the emerging field of the history of the humanities could lead to exploring this area, stressing the importance of developing an epistemology of the humanities to validate its methods and significance.

Sadly, it’s this perceived lack of ‘rigour’ which means that humanities departments, whose alumni are needed more than ever in the world of technology, tend to be cut and defunded compared to more ‘scientific’ faculty areas.

DALL-E 3 image: An abstract representation of the concept of epistemology in the humanities and sciences.

In the past decade a new field called the history of the humanities has been assembled out of pieces previously belonging to the history of learning, disciplinary histories, the history of science, and intellectual history. The new specialty tends to be more widely cultivated in languages that had never narrowed their vernacular cognates of the Latin scientia to refer only to the natural sciences, such as those of Dutch and German. So far, its practitioners have not been particularly interested in questions of epistemology. But just as the history of science has long served as a stimulus and sparring partner to the philosophy of science, perhaps the history of the humanities will eventually engender a philosophical counterpart. Even if it did, though, the question would remain: What would be the point? Just as many scientists query the need for an epistemology of science, many humanists may find an epistemology of the humanities superfluous: we know how to do what we do, and we’ll just get on with it, thank you very much.

I’m not so sure we really know how we know what we know. And even if we did, a great number of intelligent, well-educated people, our ideal readers and potential students, even our colleagues in other departments, wonder why what we teach and write counts as knowledge. The first step in justifying our ways of knowing to these doubters would be to justify them to ourselves.

Source: How We Know What We Know | In the Moment

Image: DALL-E 3

Indigenous knowledge, sustainable design, and long-term thinking

This is a perfect example of the kind of sustainable design and long-term thinking we lose when we ignore indigenous knowledge.

In Western Australia, Marri trees, known as Gnaama Boorna in the Menang language, have been pruned by Aboriginal people for generations to collect and store rainwater. The ancient practice involves shaping the trees into a bowl-like structure, making them vital water sources in areas where water is scarce, and they are often found in ceremonial areas or high hills.

Gnaama, meaning hole for water, and Boorna, meaning tree or timber.


By pruning and trimming parts of specific trees as they grow, traditional owners encourage them to take on a unique, bowl-like shape — helping collect and store rain water.

Source: Specially pruned for centuries in WA, marri trees provide a vital source of water for traditional owners | ABC News

Saying “I don’t know” is a privilege

Paul Graham is a smart guy. He’s a venture capitalist, and here he’s in conversation with Tyler Cowen, an economist. Both men are further to the right, politically, than me — so I winced a little at their references to the ‘far left’.

That being said, it’s an interesting episode and Cowen’s rapid-fire questioning is a useful tactic for getting guests to be more candid than they would otherwise be. What I found fascinating about Graham’s responses was that he would often say “I don’t know” instead of the prosaic “that’s a great question”. I guess once you’ve got the standing he has, there’s no need for him to pretend otherwise.

Tyler and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham sat down at his home in the English countryside to discuss what areas of talent judgment his co-founder and wife Jessica Livingston is better at, whether young founders have gotten rarer, whether he still takes a dim view of solo founders, how to 2x ambition in the developed world, on the minute past which a Y Combinator interviewer is unlikely to change their mind, what YC learned after rejecting companies, how he got over his fear of flying, Florentine history, why almost all good artists are underrated, what’s gone wrong in art, why new homes and neighborhoods are ugly, why he wants to visit the Dark Ages, why he’s optimistic about Britain and San Fransisco, the challenges of regulating AI, whether we’re underinvesting in high-cost interruption activities, walking, soundproofing, fame, and more.

Source: Paul Graham on Ambition, Art, and Evaluating Talent (Ep. 186) | Conversations with Tyler