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Knowledge is the measure of all things that matter
We are made of knowledge.
We start with a knowledge endowment.
We live our lives gathering knowledge.
Some of that knowledge is incorporated in our bodies. Some we store outside our bodies.
It’s reasonable to say that we are the sum of all our knowledge.
Take all our knowledge away, and there’s not much left of us.
In the end, we lose all the knowledge our bodies once contained.
My definition of knowledge is the one I learned from David Deutsch and wrote about here
?Information is something with the following properties:
It requires a physical substrate. There is no way to have information without embedding it in a physical medium.
It is substrate independent. The same information can in any medium. It can be written on paper, encoded in magnetic domains, transformed into sound waves, resident in a human brain.
It is not observable. There’s no way to see information directly. You can see the medium or substrate. You can extract the information from the attributes of the substrate. But you cannot see the information itself.
Yet, information exists.
Knowledge is a particular kind of information: it’s information that an environment tends to preserve.
Knowledge can exist without a knower.
It took a long time before the universe accumulated enough knowledge to give rise to beings that could know.
It took longer to give rise to beings who could know that they could know.
It took 13.8 billion years, approximately, for the universe to produce this blog post.
Good job, universe. Worth waiting for.
Our initial endowment of knowledge
Once we were infants.
We were born with a priceless endowment of knowledge.
Our initial endowment was in our DNA. It was knowledge that our forebears’ environment had caused to persist and accumulate.
Half your knowledge endowment came from the sperm and half from the egg that united to become the zygote that ultimately became your infant self.
Starting from just about nothing, it took about 4 billion years for the environment to collect the knowledge required to create a human being.
As we changed from zygote to infant the knowledge inscribed in our DNA was transformed and incorporated in the structure of our bodies.
Our bodies became the new substrate for our knowledge endowment.
We would have died if we had not been born with the knowledge we needed to survive.
Our bodies knew when they needed food. They knew how to manipulate the body to get food when it was offered.
Our rooting reflex was the knowledge that we used to turn our heads toward possible food sources.
Our sucking reflex was the knowledge we used so we could suck when presented with a suckable food source.
Our bodies were equipped with the knowledge we needed to digest food and to use that food to extract energy and complete the construction of an adult body.
Our immersion in an ocean of knowledge
As infants, we were born into environments that were filled with knowledge that had been accumulated by the culture in which we were raised.
That culture included knowledge accumulated by pre-cultural humans and by our pre-human ancestors.
Our infant bodies were the only substrates we had for collecting the knowledge that we needed to have readily available.
Knowledge in the environment was available but not useful until we’d begun to incorporate it in or bodies.
All the knowledge to speak English is present in an English-speaking environment—but useless until a baby begins to gain the knowledge needed to make the sounds of English.
That knowledge provides a reward that encourages the baby to incorporate the basic vocabulary of English and approximate rules of grammar in its nervous systems.
Something does not have to be true to qualify as knowledge. It just needs to be preserved.
Knowledge can contain errors and often does.
The knowledge embedded in our DNA produces brains that we now understand have inbuilt biases, defects, and deficiencies.
We’ve generated knowledge about these systematic errors. We can acquire that knowledge and correct those errors—or at least reduce their impact.
The difference is knowledge
The principal difference between an infant and a baby, a baby and a child, a child and an adult is the knowledge that it has acquired and the errors that it’s able to correct.
Most of that knowledge is incorporated in the brain and body.
But as we mature, we store some of our acquired knowledge outside our bodies. Babies can’t do this, but adults can. We live in a sea of knowledge and preserve the bits we find most useful in whatever substrate best suits the knowledge and our needs.
In the early parts of our lives, we gain more knowledge than we lose. At some point, the balance shifts. We lose the knowledge that we have incorporated in our bodies as skills deteriorate, and memories fade. And when we die, all the knowledge we have incorporated in our bodies is lost, and only the knowledge we have moved to other substrates, like this blog, remains.
Remove the knowledge we have been endowed with and the knowledge we have accumulated and the knowledge that we’ve given rise to in others, and there’s nothing left.
Knowledge is the measure of all things that matter.