The knowledge / thinking debate has rumbled on for a while.
My view is that it does, not only can you “think about what you don’t know” but that you have to reify knowledge in order to substantiate the view that you can’t “think about what you don’t know”.
In other words knowledge becomes a discursive term, which conflates thinking and knowing.
What is thinking?
Central to human cognition is thinking. Thinking is the way we sequence, organise and then manage the relation of things. Thinking is making meaning. Memory, on the other hand, enables us to store our thoughts. It allows us to impose time and space onto reality. Imagine, if you can, a world where we had no concept of time or space? In turn time and space imposes meaning onto causal events. The bat hits the ball and the ball goes over the net. Memory allows the sequencing of causal effects and is, in effect, the mechanism that allows us to distinguish cause from effect.
Memory is a brilliant survival mechanism it enables us to remember the meaning we made of causal events in the past in order that we can better manage them in the future. That is not to say that the meaning we make of them is true Often it is not. It can be evolutionary useful to simply invent reasons for things we cannot explain. It often validates what we can explain. Religion’s power of explanation can give religion power. It is not necessarily based on truths.
So, to sum up, you cannot think without memory but memory is not thinking. In the natural world there are millions of causal events every nano- second. We frame the causal events that are meaningful to us, constrained by perception, and impose time and space onto those causal events.
Memory is not a repository of knowledge but is something entirely different. What is stored in memory cannot be said to be knowledge because knowledge is a philosophical proposition about the relation of things. What is stored is the residue of thought: our beliefs about the world, perception and our imagination. Only some of it can be described as knowledge.
What is knowledge?
Plato famously defined knowledge as “justified true belief“, that is to say, knowledge is the relationship between what we think and something in the external world that can be said to be true. As Wittgenstein stated “he believes it, but it isn’t so,” can be true; “he knows it, but it isn’t so” cannot. So knowledge isn’t thought or thinking but exists as something that is dependent upon some justifiable claim to truth in the world that considers both how we bring something, or other, into being (epistemology) and the nature of that something, or other, in the “real” world (ontology).
In fact, in terms of memory, there is no material difference between what we know and what we don’t know. Our imagination, for example, is really the “meaning of” that which is not true and could not be described as knowledge. We cannot know our imagination. In a material sense, cognitively speaking, other than in its relation to the external world our imagination is the same as our knowledge. it’s just not true.
Knowledge is therefore not what we think about but the objective relations of what we think “about” and something or other in the world that is accepted to be true by whatever means used to define the truth..
Let’s play a thought game
if I teach you that there is such a thing as a “skadoooooosh”, can it be said that you know something? Clearly you don’t as I have previously shown the meaning of something can only be understood in it’s relation to other things whether that be in the natural world or the social world. You can still think about the word “skadoooooosh”. You are probably doing it now. Have I heard that before? Sounds familiar etc etc.
If I was to creep up behind you and shout “skadooooosh” it would invoke some level of thinking and reaction .You can think about something you don’t know about or even know what it is.
if I tell you that a “skadoooosh” is something that certain men in the outer Hebrides call “certain types” of women you would indeed be able to give this some quite serious thought. You would have to think about it before you could know it. You would have to think about it’s relations to other things such as prior knowledge of men, women, gender stereotypes, sexism and mysogyny. You have to place “skadoooosh” within the relation of things before you can “claim” to know it. Even so it isn’t knowledge.
Once I have explained what a “skadoooosh” is, and you have placed it into the relation of things, you still don’t know it. A. Feminist could possibly write a thesis on it but it is not yet knowledge. For a “skadoooosh” to be considered to be knowledge it has to have to be objectively true in some way.
In fact it isn’t true. No one in the outer Hebrides uses that word, or at least not to my knowledge. Nor does it describe the relation of things. It can’t; because it’s not true. I can’t know that the sun is square because it isn’t. I can, think about it. There is a sun and there is a concept of square. Quite simply you can think about things you cannot possibly know.
The reification of knowledge
The thinking / knowledge argument is complicated because quantitative researchers in fields such as cognitive psychology and education do not tend to consider metaphysics.That is not to say all psychologists or educationalists don’t; they do. Rather this tends to be a problem with certain quantitative researchers.
As a consequence they often reify knowledge, that is to say, bring it into being without saying what it is. It simply is, facts about things, a curriculum, a mind set or a complex multi variant issue such as feedback. In effect, a discursive term to describe something or other that hasn’t been properly defined. The thinking / knowledge argument is, in itself, an outworking of our ability to think about that which we don’t know. We can talk about knowledge without particularly defining it. Can you claim to know something you haven’t particularly defined? You can think about it, it can be a thought, but you can’t know it.
The fallibility of cognition creates memes
Therein lies the problem. Once you stop thinking about what you “claim” to know memes start to creep into discourse. We can, if we are not careful, begin to equate thinking with knowledge and stop thinking about the relations that bring knowledge into being. We can start to believe that thinking is knowledge and visa versa.
That is why social research is careful to make truth claims, declare a metaphysical position and define terms adequately. Quantitative researchers in social fields often don’t do that because they can’t. The hypothesis would probably collapse subject to scrutiny and metaphysics.
There is no such thing as knowledge, as a “thing in itself”, rather it is the relations of things. It is self evident that thinking brings knowledge into being, before we can know something we have to think about its relations to other things whether, consciously, or subconsciously. You can think about what you don’t know but you can’t know what you haven’t thought about. Thought precedes knowledge.