Chapter 3.c

April 1, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

THE VALUE OF KNOWLEDGE

Any human activity, such as playing cards, read a newspaper, driving a car, requires some specific knowledge; every activity requires, then, its own special forms of knowledge, that is why knowledge is another value indispensable and ubiquitous in our lives, whose benefits are priceless. This simple view may seem too trivial and obvious, but often happens that we do not give due weight to it and not take it into account in everyday life. Knowledge has the fundamental function of presenting a model of the world where we live and to make available all other values that guide us every day; a lacking or distorted knowledge can provoke enormous damage, so it is appropriate to stop and reflect on those concepts. 

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3.c.1 – Why man learns in many different ways?

April 2, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Why man learns in many different ways?

With knowledge we mean learning, i.e. all the notions acquired by a single human being, from a community or the entire humanity. We said that this heritage preserved in memory is shared, interpreted, organized in our mental map. We already know that the ability to learn from experiences, accumulating them in form of knowledge, is a typical capacity of the animal world, one of the most successful strategies of survival; the experiences we do are re-utilized through all our lives: for instance, when we are children, we learn to walk and to recognize the foods by their flavor, activities that we will not ever leave. It is interesting to note that what is learned by non social animals, usually is not only acquired by humans too, but also through the same process: the direct experience; everything concerning the movement of our bodies, personal tastes, relationships with our own kin, all the non social animals do, falls within this category. The accumulation of experience can overcome the limits of instinct making us enormously more adaptable to the environment where we live.
This ability has been greatly enhanced in social animals through the development of culture, which is knowledge transmitted among humans; this way, the experience of an individual becomes a common heritage. Again the process of human learning seems to stick to our evolutionary history, a large number of social behaviors are in fact unconsciously learned by imitation, exactly as in the animal world.
In the human being there have subsequently been new developments with the appearance of the word, the use of which is acquired by imitation like the other forms of animal communication, but that gives access to new forms of learning, like listening to the narration of stories from other men; these latter did not narrate only of events happened, but their thoughts and their generalizations too, thus transmitting some abstract concepts that far exceed the capabilities of simple imitation as they directly transfer the thought. The connection between speech and thought is very close, listening to our kin, we instinctively tend to imitate their way of thinking, we store their mental paths as we do with the roads for coming back home, and insert them in our mental map as possible alternatives of thought from which alternative choices of behavior will derive. This form of learning is virtually impossible with the simple imitation, the language has made us animals of a cultural level never seen before. The evolution of learning, namely that of cultural transmission, however did not stop here; the development of writing and then the press have opened new frontiers: a single message can then remain unchanged for millennia and be distributed to millions of individuals; finally with the emergence of the internet, this operation is becoming affordable for all, today we have possibilities of learning and cultural evolution much higher than twenty years ago. Since knowledge, the wealth we accumulate in our mental archives, may have origin from sources much more numerous and richer than before, perhaps it would be good to take advantage from it.

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3.c.2 – It is important to make our own experiences?

April 3, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

It is important to make our own experiences?

There are things which by their own nature must be learned by experience, as walking, managing our friendships etc.., others instead are learnt by the experiences of others, such as math, history, geography etc. . In fact, the distinction is not so clear: there is almost always a component of direct experience and a cultural component; for instance, math is based much on teaching, but to be well understood long hours of exercises are needed, it is therefore essential also to make direct experience.
To say that everyone, especially young people, must do their own experiences, is just obvious, but we must be very careful regarding the true extent of that assertion because otherwise it may degenerate up to illogically justify any misconduct. For example, the experience of others, summarized in accurate scientific data, shows that smoking is harmful and sometimes lethal: is it then logical to assume that is normal for teenagers to smoke because they “must make their own experiences”?
We know that cultural transmission is a survival strategy of nature, which saves much time compared to learning by direct experience, but not all experiences are good for cultural transmission. In some cases it is therefore convenient to repeat the experience at every generation, maybe with a small cultural integration. Children must explore directly the world around them, but being controlled, protected and lovingly advised by parents, who always make sure no evil happens to them.
It is not always easy to determine whether it is better to follow and control the children, risking to be oppressive, or let them free, subjected to unnecessary risks; instinctively parents tend to follow their personal history, often feeling it is right to do certain experiences and follow a certain path because this is what they made. This point of view is based on two assumptions:
– the education received and experience made by parents is the best possible or at least of a good level;
– experiences of parents do not represent a major risks for children.
It is easily demonstrated that these assumptions are not always true: not everyone had good parents, some have been neglected, some others parents have been too oppressive, so if the children follow their example, they would also be bad parents; learning to drive a motorcycle requires a significant component of direct experience, but at the time of our grandparents, when very few cars were circulating, it did not present the same risk of today in a big city oppressed by traffic. We cannot therefore solely rely on instinct, but also on a rational assessment of risks in today’s world.

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3.c.3 – What is important to know?

April 4, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

What is important to know?

Being able to determine which knowledge has more value compared to the others is very difficult; human curiosity is based on the following principle: we are curious of everything since everything could be useful, even if we do not know when; it is certainly a valid principle, but sometimes it is necessary to make a selection. All of us know well that in front of a wide variety of alternatives we can have difficulties, due to the number of options, as it often happens when we search something on the Internet; due to the width of available culture, it is therefore necessary to find some selection criteria that highlight what is best learning, what is more urgent or more important and what are the most reliable sources. Considering the importance and the sensitivity of these criteria, we should follow our  personal opinions but we should also make them available to the other people, just like we should do with all our values. Once again it is important the comparison with the others, to weigh more our own reflections that can be then useful to the community, but as usual, it depends on us to take the first step.
From our personal point of view, the biological function of knowledge for survival purposes can be of help to define our criteria: culture and knowledge help to live, therefore the same appear more important when are more useful. The problem then moves on how to evaluate the usefulness of what we know: for this purpose, each of us is already using, even at the same time, several methods: a concept is more useful than another if:
– it is used in a more important activity
– its applications outnumber the others
– it is used by a larger number of people
– it is used more often.
In selecting the necessary knowledge on the basis of these criteria, the cultural elements that concern the cooperation between individuals (for example the language) and the values associated with it as friendship, respect, solidarity and work, are exploited to maximum; we can in fact note that this culture of collaboration is widely used in each human activity, including those most critical to survival: thanks to collaboration we get food, we can keep us warm, dress us, protect us from various hazards, such as illness, bad weather and enemies, etc… The culture of collaboration then appears to be the most important according to each criterion because:
– it is used in the most important activities for survival
– its applications are endless
– it is used by everyone
– it is continuously used every day.
Similarly it is valued what is usually called basic culture i.e. the set of knowledge on which all other specialized knowledge is based: the basic culture is indeed the common heritage, it is used by everyone in every activity and we must then recognize that it is rightly sought to match It with school teachings.
In various degrees, a great importance is recognized to specialized knowledge as well, as it is often used in activities important to the community, but from the point of view of the individual it makes him able to make his work and then becomes crucial to the human survival: knowing the law is useful to everyone, but for a lawyer is essential.
At this point, it is necessary to note that not always our cultural interests are led by the importance of their applications, this seems to be even the exception and not the rule. The interest is driven by subconscious, non rational, mechanisms; each of us feels a sort of attraction, generally known as passion, for a particular discipline, a special topic etc.. Cultural interests are not a conscious choice but the result of an unconscious programming, perhaps innate or dating back to childhood; the above mentioned evaluation criteria should be then considered as a supplement to our natural inclination. If this tilt depends on childhood experiences, we should think of an education tailored to a healthy development of these trends, that does not inhibit but encourages and properly addresses them, giving the opportunity to exploring new possibilities and protect them from prohibitions, obstacles or developments already tested as negative.

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3.c.4 – Is it better a wide or a specialized culture?

April 5, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Is it better a wide or a specialized culture?

We judge it is dangerous and misguiding the belief that schools should teach what is needed to learn a trade, because it would be highly simplistic: knowledge is needed to live and not only to work, the scholastic basic culture is also needed to countless and fundamental activities non related to work, as understanding the society we live in, understanding the technology that surrounds us, knowing what specialists we should call for a particular problem and understanding their suggestions.
The logic of studying only to work leads to see as positive a division of educational courses according to the future work, but it is a very dangerous trend that could lead to the formation of masses of ignorant specialists, depending on the others and easy to be manipulated: how many doctors and engineers know the difference between a real democracy and an apparent one? How many biologists and architects know the fundamental rights envisaged by the constitution? How many accountants and lawyers know the difference between a scientific theory and a superstition?A highly specialized knowledge also reduces the number of possible uses, making us little adaptable to labor market; how many people have a job other than the one planned at the school days? The possibility of being able to chose an alternative or, perhaps, better activity depends on a basic culture that allows us to acquire a different specialization. The school must therefore focus primarily on the vastness of the basic culture in the view of future specializations, which will gradually outline over time. Obviously the situation changes at the university level and is fully reversed once entered in the world of work; a more specialized training therefore must be concentrated in universities and in professional training courses and not in school.
Once understood the importance of the basic culture, it is important to have clear ideas on this concept. The basic culture is a set of fundamental notions necessary to orientation in the daily life, but we have also seen that the points of reference for our behavior are represented by human values; it is assumed that reading, writing and arithmetic are basic notions, it is equally obvious that it is useful to refine these studies with knowledge of diction, literature, grammar and mathematics, but how many, among parents, teachers and institutions, are aware of the importance of knowledge and practice of human values? How many are aware that the basic culture must also adapt to increasingly rapid changes of the environment we live in? The basic culture, to be effective, must acquire the basic knowledge on human nature from both a biological and cultural a point of view, must make us used to reflect on human values and their adaptation to the present world, must teach a method for identifying, limit and resolve the problems. How many of us can boast of having an adequate basic culture?

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3.c.5 – Must we know the truth?

April 6, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Must we know the truth?

Since we are children, we are used to think that we need to know the truth of the facts, situations and the laws of nature to have an advantageous behavior, while to follow false beliefs is always harmful or, at best, useless; examining instead how the human mind builds the famous mental map, we saw that in fact the false beliefs are a fundamental and indispensable part in our view of the world. Hypotheses and suppositions, also very imaginative, fill enormous gaps in our knowledge about the truths on the world around us; we must remember that none of us has a magic crystal ball that shows the truth that we would like to know: we can only imagine it on the basis of what we perceive with our senses; our feelings are actually the only truth we have, their interpretation and everything that follows is the result of imagination and reason, meant as the ability to verify the consistency between the sensations received and our fantasies. Most of truth is outside our reach and this emptiness is filled with our beliefs, which later will prove to be more or less close to reality.
Centuries of experimental science and millennia of philosophy have shown us that beliefs very far from the truth have proven to be very useful since led to behaviors which were however correct; in the absence of truth, we can then be satisfied with a good forgery. Between reality and a very good illusion, there is anyway a difference that makes reality always preferable, but such a discrepancy not always clearly appears, thus making in fact the two situations equivalent. Based on this view, the concept dating back to the ancient Greece of a truth never completely knowable, but to which we can get close, is still valid and widely applied by science, whose theories are seen as approximations, generally very precise, of reality.
The truth therefore, in principle, is not a value we have, but a value to be searched although it is often an unattainable goal, a valuable asset that will never be completely ours. If instead we consider the truth as an asset to protect, then owned, this almost certainly means that we are protecting a good falsehood as truth, inevitably slipping into dogmatism.
When we say that a false but effective belief is equivalent to truth and therefore it is a good surrogate of it, we are underestimating its advantages; very often a false belief is undoubtedly better than the truth because it is very often easier to understand and use.
Therefore, if we can say that the search for truth is the first value, the most important linked to knowledge, the second is the ability to invent good falseness. This ability depends, as we said, on two valuable abilities of our mind: imagination and rationality, to which correspond two equally important values to cultivate: the creativity and consistency with the evidence of facts. The creativity should be protected from the fear of new things, that can stifle it, while the consistency needs above all to be exercised with the practice because it is a difficult and challenging art. 

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3.c.6 – How to recognize bad falsehoods?

April 7, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

How to recognize bad falsehoods?

The fact that our knowledge is normally based on false beliefs must not lead us to underestimate the dangers of negative falsehood, i.e. of those falsehoods based on totally wrong and misleading concepts, because in those cases, to follow the false trail will always lead to a damage. For example, if today we persist in believing in ancient superstitions according to which diseases depend from the stars or on the guilt of an individual, we would certainly prevent to save many thousands of lives every year; the same way, if we continue to believe that the people should be governed by an aristocracy of nobles, it means to promote a long list of social injustices.
When our system of beliefs loses its effectiveness, we pass from a functional knowledge, although approximate, to a dangerous superstition, a pollution whose psychological effects are always negative and sometimes can be even disastrous. How can we recognize the harmful beliefs, then? An accurate examination of facts, such as that provided by the scientific method, allows to identify the limits of our knowledge: when it no longer reflects the objective evidence of the facts, it means that we have digressed in a context where our knowledge is no longer valid.
As centuries of absurd beliefs have shown, to recognize the evidence of facts is not always a simple thing; so much so that in science were created stringent procedures for this purpose: the observations must be independent from the person who observes and should be repeated by various individuals, in order to eliminate individual errors; unfortunately, in some cases, even this hasn’t been sufficient and after many years we have had to admit the mistake; this is the case of the studies in support of the superiority of white over black, or of the ancient physiognomy that stated that it is possible to deduct the psychological characteristics of an individual by the features of his face.
While the scientific method is based on observations, our system of individual beliefs, formed in large part on culture, is based on information. The analogy between scientific and personal research is that the observations can be seen as the means to obtain information from nature: as more observations will be strict and accurate, the more information obtained by them will be reliable. Following this analogy, we must also assess very carefully the information that we receive and then build our image of the world.
Information is the fundamental building block of culture, to be interpreted, organized and stored to be used in the future. Not all the pieces of information, however, contribute to the formation of culture: if someone tells us what time is, we certainly obtain an information, but do not enrich our cultural heritage; culture also is not a simple accumulation of information, because these are interpreted by our personal re-processing, in turn influenced by the existing culture. Anyway our world view and our culture in general are based on the information that our mind is receiving either by direct experience or from our fellow men; if we receive the wrong information, it is inevitable that the effectiveness of our mental map is undermined.
Assessing the reliability of the information is therefore a key priority for protecting the value of knowledge; every argument is based on the assumptions made: if these are not true or are incomplete, the conclusions that we reach are unreliable and sometimes absurd; even our interpretations of the information must be consistent with the objective evidence of the facts of our daily lives; when we face conclusions at odds with reality, like the one in which women cannot compete with men at school, we must have the courage to do self-criticism and review our beliefs.
When the facts observed are incompatible with our beliefs, we must doubt to be victims of a psychological pollution that can be caused by an error in the information or in the interpretation and sometimes in both of them.

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3.c.7 – How to assess the reliability of information?

April 8, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

How to assess the reliability of information?

Considered the importance of information in the culture shaping and the importance of culture for survival, natural selection has provided us of innate biological mechanisms, then culturally reinforced, to assess the reliability of the information. Always remembering that we are social animals, we normally rely on two criteria:
– confidence in the hierarchy, which varies according to the complexity of community and to the role we cover in it; in the different cases we’ll consider reliable the information obtained by the head of the family, of the village, by the priest, the teacher, the elderly etc..
– confidence in widespread behavior, which tends to believe reliable any information received or confirmed by several people; it is clear that if these people are also authorities in various sectors, reliability reaches its maximum degree.
On the other hand, an old person is considered reliable for his experience, a chief for his ability, a teacher for his knowledge, why an authority should not be reliable? Is it possible that a multitude of people that confirm us the same information are all mistaken? Once again we must remember how for millions of years we have evolved in tribes made of a few dozens of members and it is in this context that such conduct would be valid for evaluating the reliability of information. Let’s have a look around us: the experience of the older person and the preparation of the teacher can be overcome by a world quickly changing; in a community of millions of people, it is difficult to know the rulers and often there is no guarantee on their ability; we do not know nor even frequent most of the other members of the community with whom maybe we share the condominium, the subway or the hairdresser.
But the instinct of respecting the authority and of the comparison with the other is still there; it is so strong to lead us to respect not only the authority, but also the representation of the same, and to follow the behavior of others even if perfectly unknown. A producer of decaffeinated beverages can boast the virtues of his own products compared to the cardiac consequences, having them advertised by an actor who for many years has interpreted the role of a doctor in a television series, and obtain good sales; the public will respect the authority of the doctor even being aware that the information is received by an actor. Similarly, after having met occasionally many unknown people in many bars and having heard praising the properties of sweeteners for coffee, we might decide to eliminate sugar.
Here then raises the question of fake reliability due to subconscious mechanisms of evaluation; the more the social structure becomes complex and quickly changes, the more psychological pollution due to unreliable information will increase; at the same time a population increasingly specialized needs a larger and larger number of data.
In this context:
– we tend to give confidence to everyone that speaks to us with authority, and who is more authoritative than someone who speaks to us on television?
– it is known that information repeated several times at the end is deemed to be genuine, and who incessantly repeats the same information more than television?
– we usually organize our days in such a repetitive way to give a real ritual value also to the simplest gestures, and which source of information gives us appointment at the same time more than the news?
Advertisers know this well and this is why they heavily use the TV means, but also politicians are aware of it, as they make the election propaganda in the salons of best conductors of the most influential televisions. When television declares to be public, but in fact is in the hands of the politicians, when politicians are influenced by the great entrepreneurs, when the great entrepreneurs have private TV stations, we can imagine the reliability of information from television. The circle closes when the big entrepreneurs control all the private TV stations and directly cover a political leading role; it should be clearer for everyone, the reliability of the information should be considered minimal, if any, instead exactly the opposite happens; who is most authoritative of a person with great economic power and great politics power that speaks to us from several large televisions we have at home? The information he provides are continually confirmed by authoritative journalists, conductors, opinion leaders and politicians, all strangers, but all validated by the authoritative and reliable television totem. How could not be reliable people we welcome every day in our homes and that perhaps we listen to during meals, when the family meets?
The reliability of information cannot leave aside the reliability of its sources, and to judge these sources we cannot avoid to be aware of our psychological fragility.

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3.c.8 – Can we distinguish facts from opinions?

April 9, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Can we distinguish facts from opinions?

The basic information, that are the objective facts, even if not coming by experience, are processed by our minds to become subjective opinions. If the information source is reliable, the facts that it communicates and its personal views will also be so; why should we work hard to build our own subjective opinion based on the raw material of the facts when we can enjoy prepackaged views? In this case, the problem does not stop at the reliability of the source, but also concerns the terminological difference of terms.
If such distinction is not clear, if it confuses opinion with the fact, the consequences for our knowledge and our freedom will be very serious. Make ours the opinion of others is a natural process, but it means to share the development of reasoning on facts that remain objective. How can we not share an opinion, if we do not know the facts on which it is based? The view for example that a government must resign because it has not kept the election promises is certainly acceptable, but requires knowledge of these promises and data on the work of the government
At this point it is obvious that if someone has an interest in manipulating the information, he would need to cover the facts with a wide range of views, giving a sense of pluralism as being contrasting, giving a sense of true opposition raising the tones of interlocutors, giving a sense of authority because broadcasted on television, but always strictly detached from objective facts; we get to absurd debates that are discussed with differing opinions on facts also different; it frequently happens in fact to see discussions between politicians who claim to have governed well because, for example, have decreased the rate of unemployment while others accuse them of having badly governed as they raised the unemployment rate. Aren’t these two opinions both sharable? Does it make sense to follow such a debate without news on slippage in the unemployment rate, on the criteria of comparison of the differences and on the methodologies used to make the calculation?
Another very common method to cover the facts is simply to talk of other issues and it is no coincidence that the TV news, that is our more used source of information, give ample space to sports news, to curiosity about the life of celebrities, events occurring in distant countries, up to live connections with the show that will follow in few minutes.
It can be concluded that not only the information on the facts is necessary, but also the awareness of the need to have these information.

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3.c.9 – It is necessary that the opinions are widely spread?

April 10, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

It is necessary that the opinions are widely spread?  

Having understood the importance of finding reliable information, it is legitimate to wonder why we do not normally worry much of evaluating our sources. The answer can be found in the need of members of a community to remain cohesive, to be able to live together and reap the benefits that such cohabitation offers; for a peaceful and useful coexistence, it is necessary that the views are widely shared and disseminated and clearly this works better if the individuals do not insist to deepen and reprocess any news. Religions have played an important role to this end, preserving for centuries beliefs and opinions that have been homogeneously disseminated in the population.
The need to rely on the opinions of others has also become even more pronounced with the specialization of social roles, in fact, today we would not have neither the time nor the competence for investigating any information; our superficiality that we daily demonstrate against the information is then the price we pay for a more united and more specialized society; then we can say that in a community is more important to have information and opinions widely disseminated and shared rather than real.
All this must not make us think that today there isn’t the problem of misinformation, because we must stress that these allegations remain valid in a real community. We have already had occasion to clarify that today we do not live in a community, but in systems dominated by monarchies and dictatorships or political parties and economic powers; in this context, the trend to remain superficial turns against us, as it becomes a powerful tool in the hands of the ruling class to maintain its privileges; for example, it is frequently heard extolling the importance of a community and the sacrifices that must be addressed in its name, when it does not exist any community.
Our natural inclination to superficiality affects us all: we consider good the information given by unknown people on the television, we follow the family history of sports figures and entertainers etc.. but in a world that changes, we must necessarily adapt to new threats and develop antidotes to new dangers.

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3.c.10 – Do rumors have an important role?

April 11, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Do rumors have an important role?

The gossip is often confused with the backbiting; in reality it becomes so only when reporting lies and slander: in other cases, its natural function is not to destroy the reputation of a person through distorted facts, but to reveal the true moral identity or to report facts having public interest.
The gossip has the goal of transferring information within the community about the personality of its members and, although often not very respectful of privacy, has an obvious usefulness because the facts concerning the behavior of people we live and interact with inevitably affect us too: they are facts to be known in our interest.
 This is therefore the primary source of information, always been used in communities, and that is why we are so tied to it; as we have seen for superstitions, also rumors have not only negative aspects and have an important social function. But we must emphasize that this function remains valid in a real community and against members of the same; unfortunately, the increasing psychological pollution leads us to identify as members of our community celebrities presented by the mass media, even when they are people who live in distant states, with which we will never have any direct relation and which we hear talking through the voice of a dubber or an interpreter. That is why we are so much interested in the infidelity of a married actress or in the drugs addition problems of a sport champion: in practice we activate our natural attitude to gossip without realizing that in these cases it is of no use, indeed it may be harmful when it takes space away from some important information we really need.
In a community, the gossip is made by each member against all others, but in a population that includes millions of members, professionals gossip tellers are needed, who are called journalists. What is the function of journalists but to make public the facts of common interest? This is a function so fundamental as delicate because, being carried out by professionals, automatically acquires a greater authority and thus is able to influence the opinion of the rest of the population. 

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3.c.11 – Do we interpret the information?

April 12, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Do we interpret the information?

We said that the starting point of our knowledge is the sensations that we receive from the environment, while the rest is given by our imagination, which anyway does not produce arbitrary fantasies, but rational, or consistent with the experiences that we accumulate. Imagination and reason are instruments with which our mind processes the information it receives, but we also know that our psyche has other needs in addition to consistency: for purposes of survival, we must find solutions to our problems and we must do it quickly, we must also be concerned about maintaining stable our system of beliefs; it may happen then that consistency with the objective facts becomes less important compared to those needs.
We must remember that even having real information, they can be misunderstood or poorly managed for various reasons, for example:
– the right way to connect and interpret the information in our possession may be difficult to guess because of seemingly similar cases that deceive us; if for example we see a person lying on a bench, is easier to infer that it is a beggar or a drunk rather than a person who fainted
– the information is interpreted on the basis of culture already in our possession, including in culture also our usual way of thinking; because the latter is based on the already cited mental pathways that we store listening to the other, if we do not have the right culture, we could not well interpret the facts. This is a very common phenomenon; we all know that superstitions reinforce in the mind of a person because he continues to mechanically interpret the facts wrongly; for example, who relies on a lucky charm tends to associate every positive event to the possession of his amulet and will be increasingly convinced of the powers of the same
– the information can be altered, ignored and associated in an absurd way for psychological needs of various kinds, as assert their superiority extolling or inventing the defects of the others; it is the case of slanders who, in good faith, tend to denigrate other people as much as they are more virtuous, to ease their sense of inferiority.
We are also accustomed to thinking that the veracity of the information is sufficient to ensure their validity, but an element that must never be missing is the completeness of the same compared to the end we are pursuing. If we think of any theorem of geometry studied at school, probably we do not remember the details, but we remind that it was supported by a demonstration that started from the premises and that, after several steps, with an overwhelming logic, ended in a conclusion. Step after step all the assumptions were used and all were necessary; if only one was missing, the demonstration would have been stopped or would have led to an absurd result. To understand the world around us, therefore, it is not enough that the information we have is true, but it must also be complete, i.e. sufficient to give a right opinion; as a confirmation of it, we just have to remember how easy it is to overturn a speech suitably cutting some parts of it: missing some information, the interpretation thereof will be completely undermined or even lead to opposite results.
If we want to avoid, or at least reduce, this kind of problems, we must again calling upon direct experience; if our ideas are wrong, sooner or later they will prove to be in contrast with reality and, at this point, we should be able to doubt of our convictions. In some cases, however, despite our vision of the world is in contrast with the evidence of the facts, our mind unconsciously refuses to be aware of it: in other words we want to make mistakes even if we do not know it.
In these circumstances, we must leave it to others to make us see the above discrepancies and then have the strength and humility to listen to their criticism; in this context, then, humility is a value that we must learn to appreciate; to review our positions, is not an easy thing, often it involves an enormous effort, but it is necessary not to remain closed in a narrow dogmatism.
The fundamental principles of scientific method therefore can be used in other areas and integrate our natural aptitude for knowledge, increasing our ability to move closer to the truth.

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3.c.12 – History is an important form of knowledge?

April 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

History is an important form of knowledge? 

Our knowledge, and experience on which the same is based, must be preserved so that they can be used: memory has precisely this function: we find in it all the important events of our lives, i.e. it is our personal history. What we are today depends on our past and thus our ability to face the future depends on it.
We know well that, thanks to culture, we can use even the experience of others, we can learn not only from our mistakes, but also by those of others and then, alongside our personal history, it takes a fundamental importance also our collective history, which can be understood as history of the whole humanity, of our people or our family, as appropriate.
What deserves to be remembered as a historic event? We can follow two schools of thought: the first argues that it should be passed as much as possible because something that today seems insignificant, in the future could be very important; the other says that it is good to focus more on events that help us to reconstruct the past and its changes, particularly in some key aspects as politics, economy and technology, factors both closely related to one another and to life of man.
History is a valuable tool for understanding the present and learn from the mistakes of the past, his goal is to help us is to live in today’s world and to better address the future thanks to centuries of experience. From this point of view, history must be considered as a teaching with also practical applications that, as with any other source of knowledge, are difficult to predict; not being able to know in advance the real significance of historical events, it seems proper to try to pass indiscriminately as many as possible; as we have seen, it is the same basic principle of human curiosity: we are curious almost to everything because everything could later prove to be useful. This approach is certainly right from the point of view of a researcher, a professional historian and especially of the community in general, which must try not to lose any of its historical heritage, as a child must make the most of his experiences to prepare his future life. By an individual, not a historian, point of view, this method is not feasible, however, because too demanding or because a large mass of events, which will prove then to have no importance for the individual, would take the space to those really useful for him, and the experience of the past would become unusable; similarly to what we have already seen for culture, a selection of historical events is needed.
The individual user must learn from history a useful teaching, so it is logical to focus on events whose usefulness is already known; the most important concepts of history are then those who most help us to understand the present and to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past or, at least, those we today believe such. The study of history should then start from present more than from the distant past, through the selection of subjects in some way current.
Unfortunately, we all can see that in school curricula of all eras, selection and presentation of the arguments is not intended so much to understand the present but to justify it from a political point of view, to pay a tribute to the ruling class and to educate students to do the same; other times it is simply maintained the choice made centuries before by educators of the past.
History therefore is a very valuable discipline, but very badly managed, so that it is miseducative in extreme cases; this is for example what happens when long dynasties of kings and their wars of conquest are enhanced, or when the western colonial expansion is celebrated as a progress of civilization against the barbarity of the savages etc…
History has much to teach to the common man of today and must be part of the basic culture of everybody; if it is repeated even in errors, it is because people did not understand the lesson, has not drawn the right teaching. It is to be remembered that by the genetic point of view, there is no substantial difference between the brains of people today and that of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians and the Romans; the difference is purely cultural and if culture, throughout history, does not help us to avoid the mistakes (and horrors) of the past, it is obvious that these will be repeated, as indeed has already happened many times.
History, among other things, teaches us that the cultural achievements cannot be considered acquired forever, although widely used and written for future memory. The Western Middle Ages for example, like all historical eras, have also had positive aspects, but it is remembered as a dark age, of cultural, economic, civil and moral regression; it is no coincidence that precisely in this period it has been lost a considerable part of historical memory of previous eras; this was not the cause of regression, but certainly helped to make it stable and thus increase the difficulties for overcoming it.
Numerous ancient texts were lost or forgotten and with them millennia of experience, not only technological, accumulated by the succession of civilization (Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman); during the Renaissance much has been recovered, but a major portion remained in oblivion. This is a loss of which even today we suffer the consequences because it reduces the number of models of behavior to which we can inspire, facilitating the acceptance of false beliefs very little valid, for lack of alternatives.
In the era of space conquests, of mass consumerism and universal suffrage, it is not easy to be persuaded that we live, in certain respects, still in the Middle Ages and even less that we can regress to the worst moments of that. What happened in the worst moments of that age we consider overcome? Let’s try to remember it together:
– we fought for years in the Crusades in the Middle East; atrocious and repeated conflicts very similar to the 2 gulf wars – the religious power was absolute and led the masses to uniform conduct; a widespread mental plagiarism very reminiscent of that of advertising or of political propaganda
the ruling class oppressed the people with all kinds of taxes; a continuous dripping that still renews itself at every economic political maneuver
– the population had an attitude of subservience than the dominant class, letting be piloted by demagoguery and accepting a role of subordination, a situation still widespread
– the population was socially fragmented into individual family nuclei, without a social structure that would allow a higher form of direct political organization; just like today, was therefore necessary that people were governed from above
– it was imposed celibacy for the clergy; a rule against nature and as such punctually rejected, but still in force
– it was widespread the nepotism, a selection among the protected rather than that between the deserving, that still now seems not to be forgotten
– it was easy to die for hunger, disease and violent death, such events were rightly accepted as inevitable; in the same way today are accepted deaths in road traffic accidents, accidents at work and crime even if they are absolutely not inevitable, thus demonstrating an awareness lower than that of Middle Ages
– the ruling class could exercise a right of veto over decisions by collegiate authorities; a little democratic prerogative, but still present also into the United Nations Organization.
Apart from these considerations, the greatest danger of regression of present days is not represented by the loss of cultural knowledge, but from the loss of values, a loss not less serious, that can undermine social harmony. So the value of knowledge, with regard to awareness about the nature and role of human values, assumes today a primary importance.

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3.c.13 – What is the new challenge in education?

April 14, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

What is the new challenge in education?

Knowledge obviously must not be only remembered, but also handed down; a value inseparable from it is therefore that of education meant as teaching, as training in the broadest sense. Previously we said that cultural interests are not rationally established, they have developed according to natural tendencies that, as such, cannot be eliminated, but at the same time can always be integrated by an adequate  and rational education.
The curricula and teaching techniques do not consider too much the natural tendencies and prefer to rely on tradition, sometimes antiquated, that therefore can and must be eliminated.
The cultural evolution never stops and in a world that quickly changes, the problem of a constant updating becomes increasingly important. Once parents were growing and living in a world very similar to that of their children and the teaching received by the grandparents could be totally passed on to grandchildren, without major changes. As we know, today the situation has changed: children are growing up in a world very different from the one where the parents are grown and profoundly different from that of their grandparents, so that grandparents today are seeking the advice of grandchildren, and not vice versa. The trend has become so rapid that the same individual lives his childhood in an era different from that in which he will grow old and already in adulthood he could see significant changes.
Fortunately for us, humans always survive thanks to a creative genius obtained from prolongation to adulthood of the lively intelligence of children, from an intellectual point of view, indeed we remain always considerably younger than our body; this allows us to continue to learn with some ease, an option that has always been helpful, but that today we are forced to use much more intensely.
The jobs that provide regular upgrading courses become more and more numerous and it is establishing the idea that in adult life is necessary a continual training to support the normal activities.
The challenge of the present and the immediate future seems to be an education for adults in a continuous upgrading, a work which has considerable difficulties: once adults taught to children who, once reached maturity, learned mainly from direct experience; the youth was the time dedicated to learning and maturity that dedicated to the work, applying what was learnt; today the period of apprenticeship continues until the old age and it is right to wonder who is going to teach to adults. Surely, children are unable to do so and the same goes for the elderly, because no one has prepared them for this, so the adults must do it by themselves, producing new knowledge. Such activities of self-training is in fact natural for humans, but to a limited individual extent; complex knowledge require much time to build up and spread, sometimes requires more than a generation, proceeding step by step through the contribution of many different individuals.
At present, the number of people engaged in technological innovation is much higher than in the past and, in order to exploit the collaboration of many individuals, new models of organization have also developed; all this has led to a significant technological acceleration and this success led to the extension of the same principles to business management, with particular reference to the training of employees.
A key component of adult education is an organization that allows to gather new ideas that arise in a large number of individuals, select and redistribute them to everyone. This is a new way to apply the old strategy of the group, to produce new knowledge that will enable us to address the new problems presented by our evolution.

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3.c.14 – School has still an educational role?

April 15, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

School has still an educational role?

By the studies on the training of employees, it has been found that teaching to adults is not exactly the same thing to teach children; there are significant psychological differences, profoundly influencing the ability to learn and then some methods work better with adults, while others with children.
It is strange to note that in ancient times, for example in philosophical schools of the Greek-Roman world, teaching to adults was quite common and it was done in a different way than teaching to children; it seems that in this field they were more advanced compared to almost all educational institutions of the twentieth century, structured according to the typical model of teaching to children. Teaching to adults is an art fallen into disuse since the Middle Ages and, like many other cultural traditions, was not recovered anymore, however, it has been tried to rebuild it from scratch on scientific basis and today, although rare, there are new models of teaching, alternative to the traditional.
One of the most important achievements is to have understood that the methods of learning of an individual varies with the degree of maturity and then even teaching methods should do the same for obtaining the maximum effectiveness. Children must therefore be followed in their development in school, that will gradually pass from a primary school approach to that of a training for adults.
This change certainly involves also the role of the teacher, who has always been important, but now must be enhanced even more, both because it is become more complicated and difficult, having to change strategies depending on the type of students, and because its importance to society has increased: who more than teachers must be updated to prepare young people to a world in perpetual change? The value of a service must be approved by the customer, that is, by the students and, in the case of children, by the family that must educate the children to the value of knowledge, starting by the respect they must have for the teacher; this figure should be, after their parents, the most important educational landmark and, just like their parents, must follow the students in their development by helping them to become more mature and independent, until they are adult students and, within the limits of their possibilities, producers of new knowledge. The school must maintain its educational role even more than its instructive feature because education will also continue for adults, while for preparing a new generation to follow a path of permanent training, it is required from the start an education based on the value of knowledge, research, innovation and continuous updating.

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