Only Seeing General Patterns Can Give Us Knowledge Philosophy Essay

“There are wholes, the behavior of which is not determined by that of their individual elements, but where the part-processes are themselves determined by the intrinsic nature of the whole. It is the hope of Gestalt theory to determine the nature of such wholes” -Max Heimer (1924).

Max Heimer, founder of the Gestalt theory, is well known for its concept of insight learning (how their principles make us solve a problem), and productive thinking. Gestalt, in psychology, is often interpreted as “pattern” or “configuration.” Its essential point is that in perception the whole is different from the sum of its parts. This theory highlights how we perceive things by putting individual elements together. A melody is an example on how important a whole is compared to its parts. You may change the notes to some keys, but you will always recognize the melody, because it is the relationship between the notes that give us the whole. By comprehending the notes, and seeing the notes in particular shows us how it forms the melody, therefore, leads us to understand the whole melody and how it forms, besides only knowing the melody as a whole, and learn how to recognize it. Gestalt psychologists [1] were particularly interested in learning. They noticed that we often learn the relations between things, not the literal things in front of us (the general patterns).

Humans are rational; we have the capacity to reason, therefore, to connect items of information, to learn from sense experience, and draw new conclusions from there, as to extend our knowledge and understanding. A general concept pertains to all persons or things belonging to a group or category. While specific means something, as qualities, characteristics, effects, or elements which are peculiar or proper to somebody. An analysis key function is the separation of any material or abstract entity (the general) its constituent elements (the specific); we decompose the general into factors and then unite them one by one to present the conclusion or answer. These factors are the peculiar examples which lead us to understanding.

Logic is the study of correct reasoning; it is used to describe the analysis of what is involved in making correct inferences, and the identification of standards, and patterns, therefore, extending our knowledge. The general is usually the basis to study the specific; for example, in methodology of education, the teachers normally use a structure which usually begins from the general information and then to the specific. An example: if you want to explain a child “what is a plant?” a teacher would start from their importance to the environment and more. Then, he would go to the specificity which is studying the root, stem, leaf, which are special to the plant.

The concept shown in the topic question would be better explained as deduction. Deduction involves inferences from the universal to the particular, or from the more general to the less general. However, there may exist some concepts which may seem to contradict this method. Generalization is one of these methods, and it involves an inference from the particular to the general; it is technically known as induction. Induction is a form of argument based on generalization, from the particular to the general, or from the less general to the more general, but with consequences that the premises are inadequate conclusively to support the conclusion. This idea may seem to totally contradict the concept stated in the question, showing that by using this method we can know more from the general, but it does not mean we understand more. The peculiar allows us to comprehend why the general exists, by knowing more of the general does not answer why it exists or how does it form. Besides, induction is likely to be overthrown by a single idea that contradicts its consistency, therefore, not completely reliable.

The acquisition, storage, and transmission of knowledge is a collective pursuit. However, knowledge consists not merely in collecting information, but in the skills involved in critical, independent thinking, and in the understanding that comes from such thinking. An educated person is one who has acquired the skills necessary for evaluating evidence and arguments, for making sound judgments about them, and placing them to show a wider perspective so as to contribute towards understanding.

Since the word “knowledge” is so wide, philosophers take out of the word three different types of knowledge which are acquaintance, information and skills. Information involves having facts of what you know, while in acquaintance and skills involves the ability to use knowledge to actually accomplish something or to know something of this object or person, but not necessarily know all the information about it. Therefore, information, which is the source containing facts, must go with any of the other, for example, the performance of a skill involves having some acquaintance or information with whatever it is you are performing. Information is the general pattern, while the skills and acquaintance are the peculiar examples which lead us to better understand the information.

In order to comprehend the source of information, we must see how each part of the information complements with each other and forms the whole that transmits the whole concept. When we get the general idea, and run the analysis on it, and try to understand its source or purpose it is better not to comprehend as a whole, but to separate the general concept in parts. Firstly, we need to know some facts (general) about the goal which we are aiming for, and we need to study what is necessary (specific) to perform the skill. This means that knowing the specific information contributes to the understanding and achievement of how the process works to obtain the goal.

Medical studies are another example that shows how general patterns give us knowledge and how peculiar examples give us understanding. You may see that in this career the students who are undertaking it, during the first years they will study the general concepts, and after studying all the general information, they can start to study their specialization. When they start there specialization, they can start to observe how the body works in a more profound way, meaning that they understand the general concept, and not only know it as a fact.

Another important concept is that we sometimes can make predictions from a large population through their general patterns, and they may be accurate, however, these are based on trends, therefore, we should be careful not to confuse a correlation with a casual connection. Take for an instance science; such as physics, based in a number of laws that explain a wide variety of phenomena in terms of a small number of underlying laws. This concept is based on reductionism, which consists on underlying, and understanding other principles or ideas from a main one, therefore, the main concept gives us the knowledge to understand more deeply the rest of the terms.

However, when we try to explain complex things in simpler terms, there is danger to commit a common fallacy which is the ‘reductive fallacy’. This fallacy says that if A is composed of B, it follows that it must be nothing but B. For example, we know that human beings are composed of chemicals just as dogs or plants, we are acquainted with the ingredients that make up a human being, but at the same time, we are so far away from understanding the formula. It has also been pointed out that from combining simple things that belong to the same group, the results are not always what we expect, for example, we know hydrogen and oxygen are both dry, but when we combine them it results a wet substance.

An idea which is completely against to what the question suggests is holism. It is said that we fail to understand things when we divide them into parts. Holism suggests that we can only make sense of some things by looking at them as a whole, and the properties that the whole contains cannot be discovered through running an analysis on its parts. Therefore, its central claim is ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. For example, we cannot see and feel the atmosphere of a class by observing, and analyzing each individual, because one by one are not equal to the whole.

Finally, I agree with the quote presented in the question. In my opinion, I agree with it because I believe general concepts lead to understanding when we divide them into parts, run them through our own analysis, and finally unite them to form a conclusion. Knowledge is different from understanding, since it is based on fact, but when we learn how to practice our knowledge, and comprehend how it works, this is where application, skills and understanding come into place. As a final result, seeing both perspectives, we must conclude that there is no way to say which comes first, the whole or the parts, but it is true to say that both perspectives are correct. The conclusion I can attain to is that both the whole and the parts are dependent of each other, and one could not exist without the other. We may not know which gives us understanding at first glance, but at the end, it is our own decision to know which one to follow.

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