History shaped the world today. In a way, it has also shaped the world of education. We all see that the longer period that something was studied, the better we’ll get at understanding it. The title wants us to think that the level of understanding, how much we grasp a certain subject, depends on how long have that subject existed. At the same time, it wants us to question the validity to this statement.
If we want dissect the statement, we can come up with two knowledge question. One of the possible question is, how do we judge and determine the quality of a certain knowledge? Another possible question is we can come up with is to what extent does the quality of knowledge improves over time? It is possible to connect two different academic disciplines residing in two different areas of knowledge. The first discipline being economics, and the second discipline being mathematics from human sciences. So, is quality always proportional to time?
First, we need to question quality itself. How can we determine quality? Isn’t quality itself is relative? Isn’t our perception of quality is influenced by our emotions and others? .We can claim that the measure in the quality of knowledge is biased depending on each person. Biases happened due to a number of different factors. Opinion differs depending on gender, geographical locations, the culture, language, and even expertise or profession. Different people would also have different emotions, memories, and reasons for actions.
As an example, I will use a thought that I had about one particular painting1. Not long ago, I was shocked to watch a video about how an all-white painting (just a blank white paint on a canvas) sold for over $20.6 million on an auction. Surely, I thought that it’s ridiculous to pay a huge sum for something that resembles a blank canvas (I admit I am not a fan of these kinds of painting). But later in the video, an art appraiser explained that it’s ‘not just a blank canvas’. They reasoned that ‘there are different kinds of white paints’, ‘there is a lot going on like lines and textures’, ‘there are more subtle intricacies that made it more than just a white canvas’.
What I am trying to say from the example above, is that my view and that art appraiser’s view on how to judge a painting’s worth is different. I might say that painting a canvas white is a low quality art, but that art appraiser might disagree. Well, it should be different because we have different interest, expertise, or culture. We view it differently because we have our own reasons; we have different view on how an art should be.
Let’s relate this back to historical development and how people judge quality. Let us see from the perspective from a relatively new discipline, economics. Economics had only gotten popular in the 18th century when a Scottish man named Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, a fundamental work in classical economics2. The new economic theory has revolutionized countries to undergone a reawakening of the nation’s productions capabilities, eventually leading to the industrial revolution. Even though some would think that our knowledge in economics is quite profound, others would tend to disagree.
I would like to delve deeper into economics because there is one loophole of economics, and that loophole is the assumption known as Ceteris Paribus3. The phrase translates to “all other things being equal” in Latin. Ceteris Paribus is when keep one variable constant while we changes the other variable. This assumption can be related to the imagination ways of knowing, because we don’t actually see it in reality.
In reality however, this was rarely the case. Real life economics is very dynamic, everything changes every time. For example, in economics it’s safe to assume that the increase in demand will cause for a higher price as long as we keep supply constant. In real life however, supply is not constant, and this will give us a more complicated view of what is actually happening. We cannot always be certain then that price will always be higher when demand increased. What if due to some unforeseen circumstances the supply increase or even exceeds the quantity of demand itself?
Biases itself are also present in economics, and it results in the creation in different Schools of Thoughts. The two prominent schools of thought are the Classical and the Keynesian4. John Maynard Keynes, founder of the Keynesian economics, developed his school of thought because he found that the classical economics is not working during his time (the great depression). He observed that countries favoring a free market policy (which classical always advocated for) is terrible at solving the recession which was caused by the great depression. Keynes argued that favoring government intervention (which Keynesian advocated for) is better. So we can see here, that differing opinions resulted from the differing situations that people were presented to, they have different reasons for differing opinions.
Some might argue that assumptions and imaginations are the proof that we didn’t spent enough time on the field of economics. The presence of Ceteris Paribus which made sense only in theory, can be said as the indicator of low quality knowledge due to short historical development. The disagreement between many schools of economics can also be argued as the result of short development. Economics is relatively new, and if we would’ve been given more time to learn, understand, and develop the subject, then perhaps we can get a higher quality of knowledge.
I’ll go back the claim before where quality is biased. There will always be a counterclaim that quality of knowledge is not biased, it has little to do with subjectivity. Perhaps, we can only judge the quality of knowledge the same way with other people, only to simple concepts which are easily understood and have been supported with evidences or proof. Everyone may agree that our understanding of gravity on Earth to be well enough, because its something we experience everyday and our classrooms often taught us these concepts. We all experienced it, we have memories about it. It is much easier for people to agree on a certain things which they all have experienced on a regular and have memories about.
Knowledge is not only biased to an individual; it is influenced collectively to everyone who is ever exposed to the knowledge in the first place. For us, it is really hard to not be biased because in most times we never realize that our own biases exist. It is always better for us to say yes in something that sounds better and make sense in our brain, even though any other people might say no to that thing.
Opinions do play a part on how we perceive quality. But further than that, does the opinion of people on the quality of knowledge gets better as time goes by?
In this section, we will assume that quality is objective; it is simply a metric to our level of understanding. To investigate the proportionality between quality and time, we shall use the mathematics as a topic for our investigation. Mathematics has existed for a long period of time. It has been around since the periods of the Egyptian and Babylonian in 3000 B.C5, and our understanding in Mathematics has come a long way. Mathematics itself has branched out to many smaller and more specialized disciplines like algebra, trigonometry, or calculus.
When we see the sprout of many of new fields of Mathematics, we notice that these new discoveries happened as years developed. So if we see the case from the perspective of mathematics, then it should be true that quality is directly proportional to time right? Should our knowledge in it be perfect today?
Mathematics is not perfect. When we think about it, we still have many concepts which are questionable. One of the concepts that intrigued me is infinity. Without much reasoning, we have to imagine that infinity is there, we never know how much is it or if it is a number. We cannot know how we can count past it. There is another problem about the knowledge question. If the quality of knowledge always increases, does that mean there will be no limit to what we can understand? We can’t be certain whether knowledge is limitless or we continually invent them.
To conclude, measuring a quality of knowledge is complicated because everyone is different. We prefer to believe in something that sounds good to us. Only simple things which are experienced by everyone on a regular can be devoid of bias. Quality of knowledge itself in academic discipline improves over time. It’s natural that the more time we spend working, the better we get at it. However, we can’t say that these improvements are perfect. We can’t ‘100%’ a knowledge because we don’t know whether the amount of knowledge itself is specific and achievable.
1 (Vox, 2017)
2 (Blenman, 2016)
3 (Pettinger, 2017)
4 (Simpson, 2017)
5 (Eves, 1990)