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  • Subject area(s): Science
  • Price: Free download
  • Published on: 15th October 2019
  • File format: Text
  • Number of pages: 2

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The statement can be interpreted as that “incontrovertible facts” could produce lucid knowledge, but the statement tries to argue most knowledge deals in ambiguity, therefore “incontrovertible facts” are not as necessary as people would expect. To discuss this statement, addressing the question that to what extent knowledge deals in ambiguity would be essential. It is also necessary to define “ambiguity”, which means “the quality of being open to more than one interpretation” according to Oxford dictionary. Natural science and human science will be referred to as to address the question. Although natural science is deemed to be more reliable than human science, uncertainty is inevitably involved in both natural science and human science, and this lack of certainty can be seen as the source of ambiguity. However, ambiguity does not always imply unreliability, rather it could be a driven force for the development of knowledge.

Natural science such as biology inevitably deals with ambiguity to a considerable extent due to the way it is presented and perceived. The Inner Life of a Cell series is a collection of artistically rendered simulation and is a part of Harvard University’s BioVisions project. According to the BioVisions website, “Each decision on how to represent a given biological process includes consideration of how to best visually communicate particular aspects of the process”. The project draws attentions to the way reality is represented within the visual communication of science. According to Newbold, visual elements — particularly those touted as “scientific” — seem to have an influential power as to lead the viewers to be unaware of the visual ambiguities that are present. Viewers are usually unaware of the visual ambiguities also because our cognition resolves those ambiguities quickly by making assumptions. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the extent to which one can know what one sees is the actual reflection of the objective world. In this sense, due to the visual presentation of biological knowledge that one perceives, biological knowledge deals in ambiguity to a considerable extent.

The ambiguity that is present in logically compelling explanations of certain phenomena is often ignored in natural science. For instance, Darwin’s theory of evolution has explained the origin of species in a logical and convincing way, and it makes perfect sense to believe that it is true. Darwin also wrote, “It can hardly be supposed that a false theory would explain, in so satisfactory a manner as does the theory of natural selection.” However, it is worthwhile noting that theory of evolution is merely “inference to the best explanation (IBE for short)”, which is “the reasoning from one’s data to a theory or hypothesis that explains the data”. Here, the problem of ambiguity emerges, because it means there are other ways of explaining the data or the phenomena, and the quality of being open to more than one interpretation is ambiguity. The term “best explanation” carries ambiguity too, how can we decide which explanation is the best? The best could be interpreted as the most logically compelling. It is evident that people tend to have faith in reason, because reason is believed to provide reliability. This faith then wells up certain emotions of trusting, hence the the theory can be seen as logically compelling.  However, it is necessary to know it is not the only way of interpreting the phenomena.

Scientific knowledge inevitably deals with uncertainties as Richard Feynman once said, “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some namely unsure, but none absolute certain”, and that uncertainties is equivalent to ambiguity if ambiguity is defined as inexactness, however, it does not imply that scientific knowledge is unreliable and untruthful. Scientists have also been alert to verbal nuances and ambiguities that interfere with meanings. For instance, biologists have used binomial naming systems lest the ambiguity of naming of species in different countries to cause confusions. Furthermore, natural science has developed its own rigorous methodology that prevents inaccuracies.

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