Knowledge transfer

There is a Chinese saying: “A house having an elderly person is a house with with a treasure.” The meaning of this saying is that the elderly in generally have acquired more day-to-day knowledge from their longer lifelong experiences, which can benefit greatly the current generation. This is probably more appropriate in the days before the internet!?

It just occurred to me that the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next is rather inefficient. Here I am using the term ‘knowledge’ in the broadest sense.

Conventional means of passing on generational knowledge via printed media such as books and newspapers, conveys merely second-hand information. Books which in a more abstract sense consists of words that represent distilled knowledge, or knowledge condensed into a printable form. This is of course due to considerations by the author in removing the extraneous (according to the author) details and not divert reader’s attention from the core ideas. However, this means inevitably many useful, “little” though perhaps not useful to all, information is lost. In fact, ‘experiential’ information is mostly lost in this way because it is the most difficult to express by writing.

For example, a medical doctor may develop some pet technique which involves slight deviations from standard ‘book’ technique. Furthermore, this may need to be adapted from patient to patient. This kind of information cannot be easily passed on in print form. What happens next? The astute student will need to pay his/her due so that he/she can just ‘do it’ from experience or even intuition. In other words, this tidbit of information can only be verbally transmitted, combined with numerous demonstrations and practices.

The experiential nature of much useful knowledge is probably the key difference in the current age, compared to the period since the Industrial Revolution. This to me is the most difficult to transmit successfully, and yet potentially the most valuable.

Weblogs like this or a “wiki” go some way towards interactive and participative reading. This can be likened to that of an online and editable FAQ. It accepts inputs from anyone, and can potentially be as up to date as humanly possible. Furthermore, all changes are logged so that all changes are reversible. This means that at least information, unlike in printed media, is not cast in stone so to speak.

However, this still does not address a large limitation of being a human. Eventually we all run out of time! We need time, both to record and to learn new information. Given the explosion of information and knowledge in recent years, remaining up to date in any field seems a daunting task for anyone.

I wonder: when or will humans ever evolve to the stage where information can be packaged into easily digestible form?

The current medical understanding states that certain information is passed on genetically, albeit mostly concerning genetic defects. Nevertheless, it leads one to speculate whether it is possible to transfer cultural or other experiential knowledge this way? Or, as audience of the Matrix series will be familiar with, will it ever be possible to provide direct channels to the brain whereby knowledge can be most efficiently transferred??

Provided that, of course, mankind does not get ahead of himself and self-destruct before we collectively reach that ultimate stage. The story of the tower of Babel in the Bible, while allegorical in nature, may be an indication of the potential consequences.

Leave a Reply