Value of Knowledge Produced with Difficulty
Value of Knowledge Produced with Difficulty : It is only knowledge produced with difficulty that we truly value.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
Value of Knowledge Produced with Difficulty
Across different knowledge areas, from the natural sciences to the arts, defining knowledge produced with difficulty is difficult. Â Truly, interpretations are subject specific. In the sciences, rigorously following the scientific method and developing a sophisticated, valid theory or model requires a high level of reasoning and experimentation, which is arguably always a difficult process. In the arts, it is far more challenging to define knowledge as being produced easily or with difficulty.
In this essay, knowledge in the arts is specified to its production. Determining the degree of difficulty involved is subjective, and largely depends on which aspects of knowledge are involved in the production of the visual arts: does the production of the work involve technical skill, procedural, and conceptual knowledge? To what extent are reason, emotion, and sense perception involved?
In this essay, I aim to show that knowledge produced with difficulty is valued to a lesser extent in the natural sciences. In the arts, it is both knowledge produced with ease and difficulty which is accepted by consensus and valued. Hence, one cannot state that only knowledge produced with difficulty is valued.
To what extent is knowledge produced with difficulty valued in the natural sciences?
Knowledge produced with a lack of difficulty is valued in the scientific community. There is no greater supporter of this claim than physicist Richard Feynman, a keen populariser of a simple approach to physics. Feynman’s widely used pictorial representation, known as Feynman diagrams, visualise the abstract formula of quantum electrodynamics in a simple, mathematical manner. Feynman first introduced the diagrams as a “bookkeeping device for simplifying lengthy calculations” (Kaiser 4).
Using stick-figure lines, Feynman brought back Newton’s fundamental approach to the problem, without the complicated knowledge based on new technological advances. The mathematical nature of Feynman’s diagrams approaches the complexity of quantum physics with simple logic. An axiomatic system can be expressed in the simplest of terms, yet remains valid, sophisticated, and with a high level of reasoning. The success of Feynman diagrams lie in their simplicity: they are fundamental to our understanding of the complexity of the natural world, whilst not being produced with great difficulty.
However, is it possible that Feynman’s rare genius renders him an exception? Arguably, intuition and a natural ability to see simple patterns in complex problems led him to produce this model. Regardless, the natural sciences are based on mathematics. Successful mathematical knowledge represents a pattern in its simplest form. Scientific models aim to accurately represent the natural world in an understandable manner. Therefore, Feynman diagrams, which are based on mathematical, simplistic knowledge are a valued model. Hence, knowledge produced with simplicity is valued in the sciences as well.
Yet, simplicity in the natural sciences may also lead to knowledge which is discarded. An example of this are superseded, simple scientific theories, such as the Fleischmann-Pons experiment in the 1980s, which lead to the apparent discovery of cold fusion. Involving electrolysis, it was a dream discovery: a “simple experiment with results that reshape our understanding” (Cold Fusion: A Case Study for Scientific Behavior 1). Unlike Feynman’s diagrams, the experiment was heavily faulted in almost all stages of the scientific method.
Fleischmann-Pons’ results were unable to be replicated and hence not verified. The scientists were criticised to have a “lack of knowledge” of physics and “refused to collaborate” with experts, limiting their access to shared and past knowledge on fusion (Cold Fusion: A Case Study for Scientific Behavior 5). Furthermore, in a rush to publish, they did not conduct “simple and obvious experiments” which would have provided “key evidence” to support or undermine their hypothesis, and there was a lack of repeatability (Cold Fusion: A Case Study for Scientific Behavior 7).
Hence, the Fleischmann-Pons experiment was simple, yet invalid, as in their simplicity, the scientists did not rigorously follow the scientific method. But, was the root of their problems solely the simplicity of their experiment? The experiment was influenced by extraneous variables such as flaws in reasoning, peer review, and observation. Faults in the scientific method effect both simple and difficult experiments. Therefore, my claim remains valid: predominantly, knowledge in the natural sciences is valued due to its logical simplicity, leading to applicability, but is usually the result of a detailed, systematic effort that could be seen as difficult.
To what extent is knowledge produced with difficulty valued in the arts?
Knowledge in the arts is valued regardless and perhaps because of, its lack of difficulty. As Degas said, painting is “easy when you don’t know how”, and arguably, Jackson Pollock’s action paintings have a lack of naturalistic, formal qualities, and composition which previously defined painting (“Edgar Degas.” 1). Pollock defied consensus through his cathartic process in which he lay a canvas on the floor and splattered paint with hardened brushes.
Pollock relied on emotion, intuition, and a lack of reason, as he states, “when I’m painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing” (“Jackson Pollock Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” 1). Furthermore, Pollock produced procedural, conceptual, theoretical, and cultural knowledge, as he is seen as a key figure of abstract expressionism. However, is this solely due to his artistic skill and knowledge thereof? In the case of Pollock, the role of circumstance could be considered.
Peggy Guggenheim, who acted as his patron, contributed heavily to his success (“How Peggy Guggenheim Made Jackson Pollock.” 1). Furthermore, Pollock successfully read the art scene at that specific time. His understanding of the need to break consensus in the arts post-war demonstrates strong cultural knowledge. Hence, Pollock should not be treated as an exception.
Defying consensus by implementing a lack of difficulty praised by old-masters in terms of reason, technical and procedural knowledge, has often characterised greatness in the arts. It is the nature of art to redefine itself. As the viewer, we ache for the new and exciting, whereas the artist yearns to stand out from others. Therefore, this claims supports my thesis.
However, a counterclaim to this idea is that there are certain, rigid qualities that define a truly great artwork, being that it is only knowledge produced with great difficulty in the arts that we value. An example of this Théodore Géricault’s 1819 Raft of the Medusa, an impressive oil painting depicting the aftermath of a shipwreck. Géricault’s “interviewed survivors, visited morgues [â€¦] and filled his flat with body parts”, including a “severed head” (Peregrine 1), and reconstructed the original raft itself (Puchko 1).
The project took a total of eighteen months. Arguably, the famous status of the work is reliant on Géricault’s research, being a combination of sense perception and emotion, as he yearned to paint the dramatic, intense event as “the Old Masters might have done”, leaving nothing to “chance or fantasy” (Christiansen 1), indicating the involvement of reason, too.
The accuracy of the work required great technical skill and procedural knowledge, as well as a stroke of rare genius. Today, the work is regarded as an “icon of Romanticism” (Laborie 1) due to Géricault’s undoubtedly difficult process of knowledge production. However, initially, the painting “failed to bring him the [â€¦] public success he craved” (Christiansen 1). Therefore, can one truly say the work was always valued by consensus?
The original Medusa remained a “politically sensitive matter”, and its image was far too disconcerting and repulsive to popularise Géricault (Christiansen 1). Therefore, in Géricault’s and the community’s eyes, the work originally failed and was not always valued, despite the difficulty of producing the work. It is reductionist to state that it is only knowledge produced with difficulty that is valued. Hence, this counterclaim does not undermine my thesis.
Overall, it is not only knowledge produced with difficulty that is valued. In the arts, both works produced with ease and difficulty are valid, whereas in the sciences, it is often the simplest theories are often valued the most. Logical induction and valid reasoning is central to knowledge in the natural sciences. Commonly, the simplest theories and experiments can provide this, as they stress fundamental, valid principles and facts which cannot be disproven, such as mathematical knowledge.
Even experiments undermining my thesis, such as Fleischmann-Pons, contribute to science through their simplicity. According to Karl Popper’s theorem of falsifiability, disproving a hypothesis is central to the natural sciences. Valuable lessons can be learnt from Fleischmann-Pons, such as the importance of the scientific method. Hence, regardless of its validity, knowledge produced with simplicity is valued in the sciences.
Contrarily, in the arts, the production of knowledge is difficult to pinpoint as difficult or simple. Arguably, one could state than any creation of an artwork involves a difficult technique, high reasoning, or specialist sense perception in their eyes. Subsequently, it is both knowledge produced with ease and difficulty that is valued in the arts. However, does this make all art a masterpiece? If I say the creation of an artwork was difficult for me, does this make me an old-master, and put me on the same level as Géricault?
The implications of my thesis in terms of the natural sciences is that if knowledge produced with difficulty is valued to a lesser extent, does this diminish knowledge produced with difficulty? Arguably, invalid knowledge produced with difficulty is valued: we learn from mistakes in their extensive, rigorous reasoning or methodology and produce valid knowledge from these improvements.
Therefore, even invalid knowledge produced with difficulty should not be entirely discarded. In the arts, stating that both knowledge produced with or without difficulty is valued leaves us with a very broad and inclusive definition of what makes art great.
This minimises the role of gatekeepers of knowledge, and leads us to question consensus in the arts. Yet, if ways of knowing- in Pollock’s case intuition, in Géricault’s sense perception- determine the value of art, this implies that art is a way of thinking rather than a form of expression. Furthermore, if, as in Pollock’s case, art is valued due to it breaking previous consensus, this severely undermines the role of consensus. This leads me to wonder if we should question the value of art at all, and if we should instead simply create art for art’s sake.
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