What is it that we know? Watch the first 2 minutes of the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Bugs and Thugs” to see the question addressed in a funny way. A gangster is talking to Bugs Bunny, after a bank robbery, and wants to know how much does he know? To which Bugs makes a reply…
The real question is “what is the range of our knowledge?” and “what useful things can we obtain from this knowledge?”
Hegel is known for presenting the idea of various forms of knowledge, the principal ones being religion, art, philosophy and science. We now know that each of these forms of knowledge corresponds to a definite epoch in the history of human species, more concretely, to definite epochs in the development of the productive forces. Thus, if we study ancient societies, we see in ancient India and Egypt societies in which religion was a great progressive force. However, in the epoch of ancient Greece, religion has lost this progressive character, and the mantle of a champion of knowledge was assumed by philosophy.
It has been said that “science” is the ultimate form of knowledge. However, we see that progressive role of science corresponds to the rise and development of the industrial mode of production, which has been characterized by specialization of labor and the rise of machines. For example, Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations”, 1776, discusses the specialization of workmen who produce needles. Karl Marx, in “Capital”, 1866, discusses the influence of machines on the production of capital. All of this corresponds to the rise of “science” in various fields of human activity, from the study of nature (the famous 3 laws of Newton, 17th century) to the study of war (around the time of Napoleonic wars, 19th century).
The idea of a “science” as a progressive form of knowledge has been gradually losing ground. There are several reasons for this. One is that “specialization” leads to scientists losing the overall objective of obtaining knowledge. Scientists get stuck in their very specialized disciplines, and are not able to see light which comes from adjacent disciplines, which would help in making a progress. To make a progress, knowledge of various fields of knowledge is required, as for example we see with the mathematical proof delivered by Grigori Perelman in the beginning of XXI century. The second reason is that “specialization” leads to development of a separate caste of people devoted specifically to management – of people, of various sciences, of different fields of production, etc. Hence, today, this is a step backward towards a class-divided society. But the modern era demands an abolition of classes, and hence men like Che Guevara, who would be able to work both with their minds and their bodies. A symbol of such a man was created by the sculptor Rodin in his famous “Philosopher” statue, which has the body of an athlete.
It has been noticed that during transitional epochs – epochs in which there is a transition from one paradigm to another, from one form of knowledge to another, from one form of organization of society to another – we notice attempts at formulating new methods of knowledge. These are immature forms of the future paradigm. For example, Francis Bacon’s “New Organon”, 1645, was a criticism of the existing in his time scholastic approach to knowledge, and an attempt to formulate precepts, according to which more realistic, truthful and useful form of knowledge may enter. These formulations took form either of aphorisms on knowledge in general and prescriptions in how to go about isolating the causes of things.
In XX century we have noticed an international movement towards unification of sciences under the name of “systems theory”. The movement tentatively started in 1920’s, with publication of works such as Alexander Bogdanov’s “Tectology”, a study of organization in general, and culminated in 1960’s, with publications such as Ludwig Bertalanffy’s “General Systems Theory”, 1966, and Alexander Fetisov’s “Systems Theory”, 1966. There was work done in the field after these dates by physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, philosophers, industry managers, etc. (Stafford Beer, Ilya Prigogine, Murray Gell-Mann, Sergey Fedosin, and others), and even a good movie popularizing the “systems theory” approach to life (“Mind Walk”, 1990). These attempts tell us that: 1) there exist certain isomorphisms of laws in different branches of sciences. 2) These isomorphisms of laws may be due to fractal structure of the Universe, where parts repeat the structure of the whole, but on a smaller scale (this is known as “fractal cosmology”).
In the era of personal computers and Internet, since late 1990’s, a new approach to unification of knowledge becomes popular. We see this first in the rise of various electronic encyclopedias, such as Microsoft Encarta, in early 2000’s, and later the Wikipedia, in late 2000’s. Problem with these approaches is that while they proclaim to be “objective” and “value-neutral”, they are really the approaches of capitalist party to knowledge, i.e. dominated by capitalist classes and their representatives in ideology.
Hence, what must be done, in form, is an encyclopedic approach towards unification of knowledge, in content proclaiming itself to be “value-slanted”, i.e. anti-capitalist, revolutionary in nature. This would be a modern equivalent of “The Great Encyclopedia” of the French bourgeoisie on the eve of the French revolution, and “Granat Encyclopedic Dictionary”, put out by liberal and socialist forces in the course of the Russian revolution.
An objection can be made that putting out such an encyclopedia will lead on to a course of collision with powers that be. Diderot was put in jail. Several founders of a modern Russian-language encyclopedia “Lurkmore”, which is geared against status quo in general, and specifically against the Putin government, were forced to emigrate from Russia. The site today cannot be reached directly, only mirrors of it are available (for example this, 4 December, 2017). Repression can take even worse forms, such as "disappearing persons", i.e. murders and extortions carried out by security agencies of the state. We need to be prepared for that too.