Knowledge (a brief explanation)

From Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, ep. 11, Knowledge or Certainty

What infinite pools do you wish to build a life within?
What puddles of joy do you wish to play in?

Knowledge is a type of information that people create by solving problems, not just within a laboratory or in some crucial experiment, but within the lives of you, me, and every other person. This is a creative process that brings us closer to understanding reality and making progress. The structure of knowledge follows a pattern not only similar to Charles Darwin's biological evolution but is itself a fundamental part of the modern idea of evolution, aka neo-Darwinism(post Dawkins evolutionary theory).

This new idea of evolution contains both memes and genes. The idea of a meme was first described by the biologist Richard Dawkins in the book The Selfish Gene in 1976. He was the first to clearly explain that memes and genes both evolve through variation and selection. The structure of the evolution of memes–of ideas, and the evolution of genes both create knowledge. This idea was later connected to a larger framework in David Deutsch's book The Fabric of Reality (1996), where he connected the ideas of the evolution of memes and genes to the critical rationalist problem-solving process of how science and reason in general work.

This frame of evolution and knowledge explains that life itself as we experience it in our minds, and how we see in biology is best characterized as a process of problem-solving. Memes evolve faster because they exist in minds and therefore can change at the speed of thought – unlike genes. It is why we see the progress we experience now in our science and technology. We have gone far beyond the bacteria and every other non-human animal!

We have solved hard problems that have allowed us to travel to space, create health for billions, and invent new forms of art. We now are on the brink of solving extraordinary problems that will showcase the capacity of the mind. In the grand scheme of it all our culture is still only in its childhood stages, and even though we have solved many great problems we still have many more problems to play with.


The Problem of Induction

Karl Popper created a new philosophy of science that was based around the idea that we can never have an ultimate form of knowledge. Popper's groundbreaking achievement said that we can never justify knowledge with any process of induction, because knowledge always has errors and is only justified by beating out it's rival explanations.

Does objective truth exist?

See David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality for the clearest explanation or Karl Popper’s Realism and the Aim of Science


Moral problems within philosophy

We need more answers to the problem of what to do next, or as Deutsch in The Beginning of Infinity has said, “moral philosophy Addresses the problem of what sort of life to want.”

Problems within Aesthetics

Creating new explanations of why something is beautiful.

Theory of mind


What is the explanation behind the subjective aspect of sensations?

How can we create artificial general intelligence?

How does creativity and free will work at the level of the mind?


A person's Toolkit, their theory of knowledge or epistemology, is fundamental and determines how they think about their place in the world, and therefore how fast they can grow.

There is no limit to the growth of any person’s toolkit, which is composed of better and better error-correction ideas.

Having the better toolkit, one that can outcompete its rivals, based in a fallibilist framework is optimal to understand how to make good choices.

We can gain the knowledge of different modes of explaining some phenomenon, which can allow us to connect different theories into simpler, more elegant ones.

Within physics we can think of the possibility of unifying general relativity with quantum mechanics, just as how electricity and magnetism has been unified.

Everyone should read these

David Deutsch’s article in Nautilus on fallibilism (~20 min read), on why being able to be wrong lets us access an unbroken chain of infinite progress.

He describes why the nature of knowledge will give us ever better problems to play with, and why this is a great fact about how the world works.

There is a startling explanation that is undervalued here: we can solve a problem at any scale within our lives and then we can birth ever more beautiful and attractive problems. And with that, with the embodiment of a childlike curiosity, we can rid us of our current assumptions and errors; which leads a person to a life of unending flourishing,

David Deutsch's book The Beginning of Infinity takes these ideas of knowledge and explains why we have been able to make so much progress since the enlightenment.

The Beginning of Infinity was inspired by Jacob Bronowski's epic BBC series The Ascent of Man (DVD series amazon affiliate link) or watch on YouTube below:

More things to read

The root of the problem of how a person can attain knowledge can also be seen in the work of Karl Popper. I highly recommend reading this essay (~15 min read PDF link) from his landmark book [[conjecture]]s and Refutations, which could also be thought of as ‘Guesswork and Criticism,’ but that doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

His focus on the theory of knowledge started when he was trying to separate where the line between science is, and where nonscience or pseudoscience is.

His masterpiece is Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge and is available as a free audiobook read by Elyse Hargreaves: YouTube here.

The best for last

The physicist Richard Feynman followed this theme and often encapsulated these fallibilist ideas. He would say things like, “science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves.”

Listen to Feynman’s audiobook Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!. It captures fundamental aspects of what a life in pursuit of knowledge looks like.

We need to keep fighting for a world where his essay Cargo Cult Science isn’t as relevant today as it was when it was written 44 years ago, because there is so much fun to be had, there are so many ideas to toy around with, there are spacecraft to fly, cities to build, art to create, and bongos to be played...

Notes and acknowledgments

Thank you to Scott Hamilton for helping in version 1.2

To Elyse Hargreaves for at the time of writing, producing Karl Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations audiobook.

hey Zoe McCarthy, thanks for reading

Dustin Cox for the countless conversations.

David Deutsch for being The Spark.

I have not loved much as I have loved my errors

Version 1.1 here

Version 1.2 here

Jesse Ray Nichols

Jesse Ray Nichols