Okay, I had to post this, as I found it to be … weirdly fascinating. Google has a tool that allows you to search for terms and see how they have trended over time based on global search volume. The service is called Google Trends, check it out.
Here is the result for the term “epistemology”:
Apparently interest for the term “epistemology” follows a strong yearly cycle, with two maximum values in October and Feb/March and one strong minimum in July.
Interestingly, the same basic pattern applies to the closely related term “ontology” (“close” if you are in philosophy, that is):
This of course prompts further research, for example, comparing searches for “chemistry”, “physics”, “biology”, “philosophy” and “ethics”:
This suggests that all of these terms, which are largely academic in nature, may follow the yearly pattern of research in academic institutions.
The same basic pattern of double peaks in October-ish and February-ish, with strong minima in July (summer break!), repeats for many “academic” words.
What is troubling/interesting is the clear decline from 2004 (the first year data is available) through the late 2000′s of ALL of these searches… except for “epistemology”, which seems pretty steady.
- Why two distinct peaks at these times? Is this when all the papers are due?
- How do these results square with the fact that the data here is global? Are the academic calendars worldwide similar?
- Looking at the countries with the highest number of results for these terms shows that it is largely driven by searches in the US, India, Australia, east African countries and specifically Nigeria. Europe is prominently not prominent. What to make of this interesting spread?
- The downward trend in all the search terms has leveled off around 2008; but why did it decline in the first place and why has it been steady for the past 4 years?
Your thoughts on these mysteries are welcome!
Gregory Bateson (1991) famously said that we “cannot claim to have no epistemology. Those who so claim have nothing but a bad epistemology” (p. 178). Bateson is calling for self-reflection in our epistemology. He wants it to be recursive, so that in our production of knowledge we do not delude ourselves into thinking that the means of production is independent of what is produced. The consequences of lacking a self-reflexive epistemology are dire, leading to real practical and ethical dilemmas. The structure of the sequence often goes something like this:
- Knowledge is produced on the basis of a non-reflexive epistemology (Bateson’s “bad” epistemology).
- The knowledge produced is thus assumed to be “objective” and “true” (i.e. independent of the means of its production; ignorant of its genesis).
- This tends to have a psychologically limiting effect with respect to alternative knowledge and especially alternative modes of knowledge production. One’s viewpoint becomes ossified.
- The unreflective assumption of the “truth” of the knowledge becomes justification for its projection, often forcefully, onto other people and processes in the environments surrounding the knower. A sense of conviction that the world is “like this” leads to inflexible protocols in our institutions and in our modes of interaction with others. In other words, outer processes are also ossified; they become sclerotic.
Calibration and Self-Calibration.
But what does it mean to have a self-reflexive epistemology? The difference between the two types of epistemologies, non-self-relfexive and self-reflexive, can be described by the first and second order difference. A non-self-reflexive epistemology is a first-order epistemology, a process of creating knowledge that operates in a linear fashion. The knowledge it generates is not explicitly connected to the process of its generation, and thus does not act as a potential corrective to its mode of production. Epistemology is a tool for knowing; but with a non-self-reflexive epistemology, the tool’s operation does not change the tool, so that no matter what job it is called to do, it re-instances any new creations in the manner and style of its past processes—regardless of what might be new in the situation it encounters. The kind of newness that comes from a linear epistemology is [click to continue…]