Good Example Of Way Of Production Of Knowledge Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Education, Knowledge, Observation, Experimentation, Experiment, Albert Einstein, Art, Theory

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/14

"There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment." To what extent do you agree with this statement?
In order to verify the validity of the claim, it is important for us to know what passive observation and active experimentation are.
Passive observation can be defined as not taking part in an event or creation and not taking into account your own opinions and emotions about the event. You gain knowledge through passive observation by observing an event from afar without being the actual part of the phenomenon you are observing. Whatever you learn from this process about the phenomenon or the subjects involved would be from passive observations (Cooper, 1978).
Now, if we talk about producing knowledge through passive observation, one can argue that observation can hardly be ever neutral. There are many biases even unknown to the observer that cloud their perception and hence, affect their process of producing knowledge from a neutral point of view. The use “active” and “passive” quantifiers make this statement incorrect. The observer never truly just observes; they interpret their observations and that is where observation does not remain a purely passive affair. The observations done in order to produce knowledge are dependent on inference and, more often than not, the observer is not aware of the probability of the inferences they hold. Thus, the interpretation of the evidence collected through observation is done by treating the inference as accurate. These interpretations are often loaded with Availability Heuristic Bias. So, one can argue that there is a degree of activity in the whole observation process. For example, if the observation was truly passive, two different art critics watching a painting and drawing conclusions about the painting’s quality and having the same criteria to judge the painting would reach to the same conclusion about the painting, but this is not the case. They usually reach to different conclusions and deductions. This shows that there is something independent of outside factors that are affecting their judgement. So, in a way, their observation is not passive, but very much active (Boumans, 2010).
Active experimentation, however, is the act of direct participation in an event or experiment. The knowledge we gain through active experimentation is as the result of deducing results from the experiments you conducted in order to know certain facts about a certain thing (Faloutsos and Kuzmanovic, 2014). Active experimentation is an important way of producing knowledge. The word experiment refers towards logical testing. Hypotheses are tested in both the context of scientific claims and the historical ones. How the hypothesis is tested in a certain frame of reference or area of knowledge is specific to each area (Lemos, 2007).
It can be said that observation (whether passive or active) and experimentation are, at time, connected. For example, one must use previous knowledge in order to begin experimenting. In order to completely answer the question, one must first gain knowledge through observation about the subject being studied. Only then, can they begin experimentation. So, in a way, experiment is somewhat reliant on observation (Pollock, 1986).
Coming back to the main question, are passive observation and active experimentation the only ways of knowledge? I disagree with the statement. First of all, as discussed earlier, passive observation, debatably, is a hard way of producing knowledge as it is difficult to be passive. Secondly, there are other ways in which one can produce knowledge. There are certain ways of knowledge that do not fall into the above category. For example, it can be argued, that mathematical knowledge is derived neither from observing anything nor from experimentation. It is derived from the process of induction. Mathematics can be termed as epistemology that is inductive in nature. It is neither represented physically, nor observed. Another sound example of this claim is how the theory of relativity was proposed. When the Special theory of relativity was first proposed, it wasn’t proven at that time. It was only inductively developed by Einstein. It was only later that it was proven with the help of observation of light around the sun during an eclipse and the confirmation of the claims made by the theory. Those predictions were made completely in Einstein’s mind. A later illustration of inductive learning is the Higgs boson and the affirmation of its presence in the Hadron Collider. We are yet to actually see a Higgs boson particle, yet by affirming what had been to that point, completely theoretical, we know something extraordinarily elemental about the way of the universe.
It can be argued here that the observation of eclipse was the phenomenon that produced knowledge. However, countless eclipses had been observed up to that point and no one had ever reached the conclusions Einstein did without even using eclipses as arguments or observing them for this purpose. He was the one who produced knowledge about Special Relativity; observation of eclipses only confirmed what he had already discovered .
In addition to this, there are many other things also that are neither learned from experimentation nor from observation. There are some things that are known to human beings without learning through experimentation or observation. For example, learning how to breathe, think etc are not something that you learn through experiments. Infants do not observe someone breathing before they can breathe themselves. They know naturally how to breathe. The main statement implies that knowledge is only the facts that can be documented and recited. This is a narrow definition that leaves out many significant experiences of human beings.
Deductive reasoning does not need experimentation to produce new knowledge. It can find out truths without needing verification on experimental grounds. A prime example of this is String theory in physics that has no experimental result, yet we do have knowledge about it.
Another important way of knowledge that does not require passive observation and active experimentation is the production of knowledge in the minds of audience of art. For example, music produces knowledge in the minds of its listeners without requiring experimentation or observation. Again, this depends upon the definition of knowledge more than anything else.
Furthermore, there is also another way of producing knowledge that is independent of experimentation or passive observation: inner reflection. Confucius says that we can “learn wisdom” by three methods: inner reflection, imitation, and experience.
In the end, the argument against the claim that knowledge can only be produced by experimentation or observation is refuted by the use of technology in order to produce knowledge. Technology assisted production of knowledge is not done by observation. Computers and other machines perform calculations to an accuracy our brain is incapable of achieving, but humans trust their calculations and use them in our studies. The knowledge produced this way doesn’t involve observation. It is also possible for such studies to not have experiment. Knowledge would still be produced in this case, even if there was no experiment.
In conclusion, the statement that "There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment” is untrue because observation can never be passive and there are numerous other ways of producing knowledge that do not involve experimentation or observations. Mathematical knowledge deduced by inductive reasoning is one of the best examples of how knowledge can be produced without having to rely on observation and experimentation. Special theory of relativity is the example of such knowledge. It was proposed by using just deduction. Furthermore, the knowledge created by art in the minds of its audience is another important example of knowledge produced without experimentation or observation. The use of technology to perform calculations one cannot perform themselves does not include observing or experimenting.
Apart from that, this statement is also untrue because of its use of the phrase“passive observation”. There is no such thing as passive observation as observation can never be free of interpretation. Simple observation does not exist. There is always a purpose behind observation and some background information and there is always interpretation and inferences that are attached to the observation. Everyone interprets information they differently due to their biases, their knowledge or lack thereof. So, all in all, it can said that there are at least few ways other than passive observation and active experimentation through which one can make produce knowledge.


Boumans, M. (2010). The Problem of Passive Observation. History of Political Economy, 42(1), pp.75-110.
Cooper, W. (1978). Foundations of logico-linguistics. Dordrecht [u.a.]: Reidel.
Faloutsos, M. and Kuzmanovic, A. (2014). Passive and active measurement.
Lemos, N. (2007). An introduction to the theory of knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Pollock, J. (1986). Contemporary theories of knowledge. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield.

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