Friday, January 30, 2009

Our 'knowing' is shaped by cultural and social forces

A recent exchange on another blog of mine reminded me of a not-so-new, but seemingly still relevent, perspective on the way we might form pre-rational commitments that seem to shape our “knowing.”

Os Guinness and Colin Brown, following Peter Berger, have put it this way (if I can paraphrase correctly):

Five hundred years ago, in practically any major European city, the tallest building was a church.

Today, in my hometown of Raleigh, N.C., as well as in Charlotte, the tallest buildings are banks.

A thousand years ago, humans were still largely agricultural workers who used the sun and the seasons to mark time (rhythms and cycles).

Today, we have time markers attached to our wrists (minutes and seconds).

Just decades ago, walking into even the plainest church sanctuaries could affect an other-wordly sensation, a feeling of humility, a sense of the grandeur of God.

Today, numerous churches look like strip malls and entertainment centers, inside and out!

Surely these things, along with many more historical changes, influence our assumptions and shape our basic approaches to raw data.

It’s not that there was a “golden era” in the past when more things were done better, but rather (1) that we cannot help being formed by social and cultural forces because they become part of our mental furniture throughout our developmental histories, before we even realize what’s happening, and (2) that we operate on assumptions (or pre-rational commitments) shaped by social and cultural forces.

If social and cultural forces change, then won’t the shape of our data-processing change?

Is there such a thing as knowledge that is completely independent and unaffiliated?

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