Sunday, December 16, 2007

"Knowing How" and "Knowing That"

The "knowing how" and "knowing that" distinction is supposed to buttress the argument made by Frank Jackson and the like who want to say that knowledge cannot be reduced to physical facts. This plays a large role in the Mary's Room problem which I've mentioned earlier.

Consider this counter-example, however. If I knew that all I needed to do to make something bold in my favorite online forum was to add [b] and [/b] syntaxes around the word I wanted to make bold, "knowing how" to do that seems like a rather trivial distinction.

Perhaps that's not a very good example, because I already know how to type. In the original Mary problem, however, Jackson says that Mary knows everything about her subject. She has studied the physics of light, and how its particles interact with the eye. She presumably knows everything about it. But not "how" it would feel when it hits her own eye.

The further away from learning simple skills we get, it seems there is greater the potential is to attribute something almost supernatural to them. If I know everything that there is to know about riding bikes, and have thought about all the physics of balancing myself and pushing pedals, then presumably I know how to ride a bike. The "hows" ultimately become "thats" if we are imaginative enough with how sophisticated the "thats" can get. Remember, Mary knows everything physical fact about light. If there's something she doesn't know after all that, physicalism is false.

To me the "knowing how" part will always collapse into the "knowing that" part. Because if you knew everything that there was to know about how to do something, even without experiencing how it's done, you presumably already know how it's done.

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