Postmodernism 3

The value of knowledge is perceived differently in each of the three worldviews. Christianity’s primary source of knowledge is the Bible, which is seen as a divine narrative. Most of the Bible is written in a literal, narrative form. This type of narrative is associated with linear thinking/reasoning, which tends to be logical, cause and effect, black and white. Linear thinking is like tree, with a rooted foundation, solid core, beginning and end; but with ever growing and extending branches reaching upwards to the light. Knowledge, however, in the sense of knowing facts, is seen as inferior to wisdom. Wisdom is seen as a superior understanding based on accumulated knowledge, experience, and application of divine precepts, especially of a moral nature.

The modernistic view of knowledge is also linear. It is respectful of and sometimes idolizing of knowledge, which is seen as intrinsically valuable, as well as infinitely powerful. Science is seen as the source of knowledge.

Postmodernism, on the other hand, has lost respect for knowledge, legitimately seeing its limitations and contradictions. Less legitimately, the conclusion drawn by postmodernism is one of confusion and distrust – that nothing can truly be understood.

Mary Klages references postmodern authors Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari when describing the postmodern rhizomatous model of knowledge acquisition. Unlike a tree, a rhizome, or tuber, grows laterally, under the ground, making interconnections with itself. The analogy is stretched however, when it is claimed a rhizome or rhizomatous plant has no beginning or end. We may not be able to identify the first plant in the grouping, but there is one. The group also has a clearly defined circular border, which is the end of the group. There also seems to be some confusion as to a rhizome being like a fungus. This limited analogy, I believe, is supposed to represent circular thinking/reasoning, which is exercised more frequently in the postmodern realm. At best, it could be compared to the eventual return to an original position after exploration of the immediate environment: at worst, to the motion of “going in circles”. This type of thinking lends itself to cyberspace surfing – hours can be spent exploring links before one realizes that the original topic of interest was forgotten long ago. It is also more compatible than linear thinking with the idea that there is no truth, words have no meaning, and nothing can be understood: if these premises are true, there is no need for a logical end to any thought pathway anyway.


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No doubt, there are advantages to circular reasoning, but the disadvantages are worrying. In a letter to Brian McLaren, prison evangelist and former Nixon aide Chuck Colson observed, “A generation raised on channel-surfing has lost the capacity for linear thinking and analytical reasoning." Colson’s statement points to one of the biggest problems in education in the postmodern era – the inability to reason analytically. This is a problem since the ability to reason and analyze is essential for navigating the environment, making sound judgments, and for carefully considering the more important aspects of life. Analytical reasoning is also necessary for grasping complex subjects, thus, it‘s absence impairs academic success. In addition, it is necessary for political understanding, judgments, and choices. Impairment of reasoning abilities in the political arena invites manipulation by the less impaired, such as the state.

Colson’s statement recognizes that, apart from the type of learning, the medium through which learning takes place can also influence thinking. One way in which the medium influences thinking is that it determines the type of information disseminated – for example, a book is more suited than a movie for an in depth study of a topic. It is always available (tangible, not in motion), it is quickly and easily manipulated (by the hands), and its form is conducive to contemplation, since you can quietly spend as much time as you like on one page or paragraph. A newspaper article, on the other hand, may only communicate basic facts about an event. Looking at complex media, a computer video game may motivate children to practice learning exercises better than print media. And sometimes less is more: a single black and white photograph may be best to make a statement or portray a stark reality.

Obviously, different generations have been exposed in varying degrees to different learning media as media availability and preferences have changed with time. This has affected thinking and worldviews. For example, when thinking about knowledge, Christianity is concerned about truth, which is information and wisdom; modernism is more focused on facts and analysis; and postmodernism seems to be concerned with factoids and individual bits of information, sometimes related, sometimes not; all delivered by the relentless bombardment of mass media. The increased capacity for digitalization of information ensures a rapid, steady stream of messages to those who desire it. Mary Klages explains that digitalization necessitates a new definition of knowledge according to Lyotard and others: Rather than knowledge being the opposite of “ignorance”, knowledge will be that which can be digitalized. That which cannot be digitalized will be ignored and therefore just “noise”.

Politically, knowledge has, over time, moved from the hands of the few to anyone connected to technology. Knowledge has always been a commodity, but is now more so, as it is disseminated by mass media and linked to advertising. Since knowledge is also power, the state and news agencies now have to share their power (to control information) with citizens who can quickly obtain information from numerous sources. Another positive trend encouraged by postmodernists is that of the Internet-created potential for sharing information with the disenfranchised, along with creating the opportunity for anyone to be an author and/or editor. The negative side of this is that with fewer restrictions and oversight, the integrity of the information authored and edited can suffer.

Summary of Knowledge and Worldviews

Christian:

Given/revealed by God/Bible

Communicated in narrative form

Linear reasoning

Good, but wisdom is better

Modern:

Transmitted by language

Good for its own sake

Limitless potential

Equated with science

Linear reasoning

Postmodern:

Nothing can ever be truly understood

Circular reasoning

Like a rhizome

Digitalization

Should be available to all

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