23 June 2022

How much do we know about something we didn’t experience?

Short title: knowledge from no experience


How much do we know about something we didn’t experience?

Topic by Malik

Essay by Lawrence



This question can easily be summed up as the empirical vs rational debate in epistemology. How do we know what a number is given that numbers are not like oranges and apples? In other words, how much can we know about something we can never experience?


But the topic question is not asking how much we can know about something that cannot be experienced, but rather how much can we know about something others have experienced but not us.


This means that the real question is how reliable are reports from others about something we have not experienced. Of course, one of the main issues here is that it is unlikely that the experience others have of an event will be the same experience we would have had, had we been at the event ourselves. Our character, personality and personal history would determine what kind of experience we would have whether we were present at the event or not.


The nature of the “experience” also influences the kind of knowledge that is available about the event. Someone reporting how they were abducted by the aliens is not the same as how enjoyable a football match was. We have various means to verify what more or less happened at the football match.


Hence, as far as our question is concerned, the epistemic value we might have of an event depends on 1) the efficacy of the information we have of the event, and 2) how much knowledge can possibly be extracted from an event. A televised football match probably has a huge amount of verifiable extracts of knowledge. As for the aliens, unless they left some strange marks or something our knowledge about the event is practically zero. The thing about knowledge is not that it is true, but that it can be verified.


Another problem is whether our language (natural or not, eg mathematics) can cope with our experience, meaning is our language robust enough to describe our experience. Sometimes, we cannot describe a new experience because we don’t have the language to report the experience and sometimes very few people have the knowledge of the language to report what they experience. So although our knowledge about an event might be limited because we did not experience the event, the real question is: do we have the means to understand the reports of an event experienced by others?


In effect, just because we don’t experience an event, it does not mean that we cannot have enough knowledge about the event. The value of that knowledge, however, depends on the robustness of the reports (information/data) we have about the event. Speaking the same language is a good start to have a good amount of knowledge about an event.


Best and take care






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