Discounting Future Knowledge
What do all of the following concepts have in common, other than being either factually or morally false?
- Progress denial
Empiricism and inductivism claim that knowledge can be ‘derived’ using some preexisting method. If knowledge could be derived, it would already exist. Lamarckism, as the philosopher Karl Popper discovered, is the same mistake as inductivism applied to biological evolution. It is the idea that adaptations (a form of knowledge) can arise through use and disuse during an organisms lifetime, and that the resulting changes can be inherited by the organism’s offspring. Use and disuse of what? Existing knowledge.
Creationism, as David Deutsch explains in The Beginning of Infinity, is really creation denial because it claims that knowledge creation is supernatural. And by placing creation in the supernatural realm, it categorically rules out the possibility of creating new knowledge, at least for us mere mortals.
Pessimism, as Deutsch explains, is the idea that there is some boundary beyond which no progress can be made—beyond which no more knowledge can be created, no matter what one does. Which means that once that boundary is reached, all we can do is execute existing knowledge. New ideas, pessimism says, cannot be created at that point.
Progress denial is one of philosophers’ favorite pastimes. It is the idea that progress either hasn’t been occurring for the past few hundred years, or that at least it isn’t desirable and that we should return to a more ‘sustainable’ lifestyle. Environmentalists are big on the latter view. Taken seriously, progress denial implies that the Western civilization has not been creating new knowledge. But it has. Progress really has been taking place, and it requires the creation of new knowledge. So progress denial, like creationism, is really creation denial.
‘Redistribution’, a euphemism for the forced expropriation of wealth, is a special case of zero-sum games favored by governments and uses existing wealth rather than creating new wealth. In fact, governments actively penalize the creation of new wealth—which requires the creation of new knowledge—through taxation. Taxation is then used to ‘redistribute’ mechanistically. Charity, which is likewise a mechanistic use of existing knowledge, is not penalized by the government. The opposite is the case: government favors charity by allowing donors to write off donations.
What all of these concepts and practices have in common is this: they favor existing knowledge at the expense of new knowledge. They serve to maintain the status quo (even if some of them, like empiricism or the ‘scientific method’, pretend to serve progress). Already-existing ideas have an easier time spreading when it is difficult to even conceive of new ideas. So why not convince a mind that new ideas aren’t favorable? This is the conundrum a static mind finds itself in. The above concepts are all remnants of the kind of thinking rampant in what David Deutsch calls static societies: societies that ruthlessly enforce the status quo.
In light of all this, I guess that, if a theory arbitrarily favors existing knowledge over future knowledge, it is both factually and morally false. Understanding creativity will require a radical departure from all of these concepts.