Tuesday, September 18, 2018

8th Class: The Pursuit of Objective Knowledge

With our last class, we made reference to the inability of educators to create any legitimacy for the teaching of critical thinking. We discussed subjectivity, making the point that while it was an important part of a human being's nature, subjective awareness of things is not knowledge.  Knowledge, we said, is objective.

From the above, however, we should conclude that no one has the ability to tell another person, "think objectivity," which is substantially no different from asking someone to think critically.  How, then, do we follow through on my promise with our last class to discuss ways in which Novices can adjust their games in an objective manner?

To understand this, let's look more closely at the conventions we discussed in our 5th class.  A convention is a set of agreed upon standards that have developed over time as a shared value upon which a large number of persons agree.  Shared values occur because a particular viewpoint, the origin of which may be obscure, tends to make sense to a large enough group of persons that it becomes strongly suggested as a guideline that most, or all other people should follow.  Depending on the context, we might refer to such conventions as "common sense" or "tradition."

Conventions come in many forms
Notions gain the support of a large number of persons also share a relative objective status.  A convention comes about from no single person's subjectivity.  Repeated observation and acceptance of the convention by multiple persons suggests that it has a validity that goes beyond what can be perceived, felt or imagined by any one person.  Therefore, we might argue that following conventions is good practice ~ and many people argue exactly that.

However, while we might argue that convention bears consideration and may be a pathway to facts and truths, the mere fact that many people believe a thing does not make it so.  Human beings are of a kind in many aspects; and being like creatures, with like hormonal natures and like experiences as they age from children to become adults, can easily come to the same consistently wrong conclusions about a thing than arriving at the right ones.  Conventions about most things are almost always exploded in any subject material where experimentation and scientific method can be applied.  The history of human progress has left thousands of previously held conventions in ditches on the side of the road as knowledge has been expanded.  Of course, as human groups, we're always ready to make new ones.

That said, where conventions exist, it is good that any novice be aware of them.  The conventions in RPGs persist because new DMs who are picking up the mantle of the game are pleased to adopt standards that will, initially, simplify their games.  Our role-playing Novice will do better to follow in that practice in order to swim and not sink when beginning to run.  So our Novice rolls characters as expected, encourages story-making, buys modules, watches Critical-Role on the internet for ideas and functions as we would expect most DMs to function.  This is perfectly normal behaviour.

Just as conventions are created from many sources, we prepare
ourselves by investigating a wide range of conventions
Because we cannot trust conventions, however, our Novice will do well to seek another objective means of determining truths from falsehoods.  We discussed one alternative in our first week of classes.  Through various forms of preparation, particularly research and resources, our Novice can personally investigate each convention through the eyes of multiple persons and sources, both inside and outside the RPG community.  For example, ideas like "alignment" or "combat" can be explored at length in psychology or military history textbooks, and through personal interactions and experimentation well out of the RPG arena, in a vast number of ways.  By physically and personally exploring the use of weapons, say through the Society for Creative Anachronism, our Novice can gain insight into different points of views and conventions, which can then be compared with those conventions that exist in role-playing games.  Gaining a choice of which set of precepts to believe, coupled with subjective experience, our Novice can decide which ideas and philosophies seem most effective where applied to game-play.

This still does not amount to an objective experience, however.  The decision is still largely a subjective one.  Our novice can easily be enamoured by what's new, rather than what's best.  We will often sacrifice old ideas because something fresh is exciting and compelling.  We can't be completely certain that any decision being made is, in fact, objective.

As well, our Novice has a limited amount of time and capacity to personally investigate every convention that exists, in order for such a choice to be made.  Very much time can be spent trying to research or examine things, only to come up empty, which can be particularly frustrating for our Novice, who has little background in what to search for or where.  So while preparation is potentially a great addition to the process of objective thinking, it brings its own problems.  The writer of a book can easily be subjectively or conventionally wrong about whatever is being written.  It is hard for a novice to tell.

With so many conventions and possibilities, we need people
who have been there to help us find the right path.
To empower our Novice, we need a 3rd entity: a mentor of some kind.  A mentor has already been where the Novice is.  A mentor has navigated the various conventions and attempts at alternative points of view that our Novice wishes to have ~ and so a mentor can point our Novice in the right directions, to read the right books, to understand where conventions fail to hold up in the long run and to see which conventions will likely maintain their validity over time.

Like conventions and forms of preparation, however, mentors also have their drawbacks.  A mentor may very well be prejudiced against certain ideas, or resistant against some facts, or simply motivated by some human quality to spread misinformation or ignorance. Not every self-proclaimed mentor deserves recognition as such, but for our Novice, again, it can be hard to tell one mentor from another.  Where it comes to knowing what to believe, or how to play, or how to prepare for that play, our Novice can easily reach out to any voice willing to hold our Novice's attention long enough to inculcate a misguided or self-serving agenda.

Therefore, while a mentor might offer an objective viewpoint, we can never be sure which mentor is true and which is false.

How, then, are we to pursue an objective viewpoint?  There seems no way to remove ourselves from the pitfalls of someone's subjectivity, no matter what we do.  Take heart, however, in the knowledge that this is how it has always been ... and that the solution is simple.

Diligently check each source of potential discovery against every other source, and see if it measures up.  We have four subjective sources: personal experience, convention, mentorship and preparedness (through research, resources and other means).  Whatever any of these sources might suggest ~ including, most of all, personal experience! ~ do not trust it until you have confirmation from all three of the other sources.  And even then, hold that knowledge in reserve.  It might still be wrong, as you haven't yet found the proof that explodes it.

What this means for our Novice is this: the pursuit of knowledge requires that we presume, all the time, that we are probably wrong about everything we believe.  We must not believe things because we are certain these things are right ~ but rather, because these things we believe are the best we have, right now.  Give us evidence, provide the right proof, demonstrate in defacto manner that we have reason to believe that we've been wrong, and we'll admit it.

Until then, whatever you tell us, we're going to turn it sideways and look at it from every angle, comparing it to everything we've learned thus far, then decide for ourselves what is the best thing to believe.

This does not come easily.  Most persons cannot bear a condition that acknowledges the possibility of error in perpetuity.  There is great comfort in being right; even when rightness is impossible, and must be steadfastly taken on faith and faith alone in order to make it so.  It is a peculiar person who can resist the appeal of certainty, even if all certainty is a lie.

Yet, for our Novice, it is best to gain good habits early.  The best habit for our Novice is to question everything.  Why is this a convention?  Why do these things I've discovered not agree with things others say?  Why is this mentor telling me something different?

Our Novice has to keep asking until the answers become consistent, whatever the source.


Robin Irwin said...

"Knowledge is good." -Emil Faber

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yeah, I get that. Animal House. But if the goal is to establish principles upon which advancements in comprehension are to be made, we have to establish why mentors on the internet who make statements such as, "Role-playing IS storytelling," are spreading misinformation about the game and about the importance of subjective belief.

Knowledge is, in fact, good.