The historical development of a discipline can be defined as the changes made in the methodology, concepts and language of the discipline. The duration of these developments and the impact it has on the quality of knowledge varies. Thus, is the relationship between the quality of knowledge and duration of historical development mathematical in the sense that they are directly proportional to each other? Furthermore, how can they be directly proportional if the quality of knowledge produced is also affected by other factors? I will be exploring the disciplines of biology and visual art in my essay to evaluate these questions.
The quality of knowledge could be defined in many ways, based on the AOK considered. In scientific disciplines, the accuracy of knowledge is important because scientists aim to produce knowledge that is close to universal truth. Scientists also ensure that the knowledge they produce is applicable, meaning it should consistent with observations made by others and help to better discover and understand the universal laws of nature. The knowledge could also be applied to research in that discipline or other disciplines. In visual arts, the applicability and utility of knowledge produced can be a measure of its quality. Applicability is when an artwork’s techniques and styles are emulated and inspire many other artists to produce knowledge in the arts. Universally utile artworks can be used to gain knowledge about new artistic methodologies as well as cultures, ideologies, social and political transformations.
Is the quality of knowledge produced by a discipline directly proportional to the duration of historical development of the methodology in that discipline? The duration of historical development of a discipline implies the duration of time that there have been conceptual changes in the knowledge framework of a discipline, such as its methodology. Often, advancements or setbacks to the quality of knowledge produced in a discipline often occurs at the same pace of these developments, so the quality of knowledge and duration of historical development can be directly proportional.
In the natural sciences, methodical development has involved the discovery of new methods of research and advances in technology such as the instruments and equipment used. This has improved the ability to test and experiment the prevailing hypothesis, leading to the production of new empirical evidence. Paradigm shifts occur when this evidence challenges the prevailing hypothesis such that the entire framework of the theory is revised and leads to a shift in thinking. Often, this shift leads the discipline to produce knowledge that is an increasingly accurate approximation towards the universal truth. The first-cell membrane theory proposed in 1925 was not accurate as the scientists lacked enough experimental evidence, using only light microscopes. The discovery and development of the electron microscopy from the 1940 to 1960’s falsified the first theory and eventually, after other inaccurate models, led scientists Singer and Nicolson to develop the fluid-mosaic model as new empirical evidence was acquired.1 It led to a paradigm shift in the discipline, and is widely accepted until today because of its accuracy and applicability. The progress in knowledge occurred with the increasing duration of methodological development.
In visual arts, developments in the methodology involve alterations to the conventions of the methodology of the discipline. These norms comprise of the styles, techniques and a common goal followed by a group of artists for a certain period and can be changed through successive art movements. Society has taken` years to appreciate artwork that defies norms. Often, societal views have changed with the increasing duration of historical developments in the methodology, allowing for the quality of knowledge to improve in direct proportion. Post-Impressionism, an art movement that began around 1886 was unacceptable to the European public. This was because the art audience at the time was mainly the bourgeoisie or middle-class that wanted academic style art.2Thus, it was academic art that was widely appreciated and valued until the beginning of the 20th century. Vincent Van Goh’s paintings were not appreciated by most art critics and the public in his lifetime as he did not follow the conventions of academic style art. He used Post-Impressionist techniques and depended on his emotions and memories to create artworks. His art only became widely accepted over time, after his death in 1890, as more changes in the conventional methodology in visual arts took place with art movements such as Expressionism and Abstraction that encouraged the use of emotion to create artworks. Now, the knowledge Van Goh has produced is applicable as his techniques and style have been emulated by many artists until this day, in the contemporary art era. Moreover, his famous works are universally utile for mankind to shape their view of individuality, style, beauty and persona in art.3
On the other hand, changes in the quality of knowledge produced occurs at a different pace than the developments made in the methodology of that discipline, so the quality of knowledge produced, and the duration of historical development can be inversely proportional. Renaissance Art (art produced before 1800) has now become unpopular as many people are buying and appreciating modern art, in the contemporary art era. A Stanford art history professor commented society is no more valuing the utility of this art that could “teach us about the cultures and people who came before us”.4 In the last few decades, advancements in technology has allowed scientific knowledge to accelerate exponentially over a short duration of development of the methodology of the discipline. During biology class, we discussed about the Human Genome Project produced the entire base sequence of the human genome in thirteen years, which has been possible due to rapid advancements in gene sequencing technology.5 This data has allowed new scientific knowledge to be generated in other disciplines and the rate of producing new knowledge is accelerating. For instance, the Human Genome Project has improved understanding about the causes and mechanisms of genetic diseases. It has also allowed physicians to diagnose genetic conditions and examine the risks of patients acquiring the disease.6 The accuracy of knowledge in terms of understanding the disease mechanisms has accelerated over a short duration, along with its universal applicability to humans and its practical applicability in the field of biology and medicine.
How far is the duration of historical development of a discipline the only factor that affects the quality of knowledge produced by a discipline?
To an extent, the duration of historical development of aspects of the knowledge framework of an academic discipline is proportional to the quality of knowledge. However, the quality of knowledge is also affected by other factors outside the historical development of the discipline. Thus, in the mathematical sense, the quality of knowledge is not directly proportional to the duration of historical development due to the influence of other factors, that should, ideally be constant. Often, religious factors have prevented disciplines from improving the quality of knowledge. Galen, a Greek Philosopher in the 2nd century A.D proposed an inaccurate theory of the cardiovascular system that was widely accepted for 1,500 years. Due to the fall of the Roman Empire from 500 to 1400 AD, the Church ensured that any new discoveries made by other scientists were made to fit Galen’s doctrine and teleological view, and thus there was no interest in acquiring new knowledge through experimentation.7The discipline of biology was held back as the strict teleological teachings of the Church teachings prevented the falsification of Galen’s doctrine.
Given that defining the quality of knowledge is subjective, and depends on the knower’s perspective, (their use of ways of knowing and criteria by which they judge knowledge), there will be discrepancies between the perceptions of the quality of knowledge produced in a discipline at any point of time, independent of the duration of development of the discipline. Even in the exploration of this essay, students may have defined the quality of knowledge in different ways. Although the theory of evolution has improved in its accuracy due to novel experiments being conducted and the empirical evidence falsifying the inaccurate aspects of the theory8, Creationists who use faith and emotions to judge scientific knowledge, still do not believe the theory is accurate. This means the relationship between the duration of historical development and the quality of knowledge is subjective. The modern art movement “Arts for Art’s sake” encourages the viewer to assign value to art without taking into context the external aspects of the artwork such as its social and political utility.9 The movement dissuades assigning a universal utility to any artwork due to its social or political purpose, instead encourages individual utility. Hence, even if changes in the methodology in the arts take place, it does not necessitate that the applicability and utility of the arts improves, as it depends on the knower’s perspective to judge that.
There were instances in which the applicability, accuracy and utility of knowledge increased or decreased in direct proportion with the duration of historical development of the discipline. However, this does not necessitate that the quality of knowledge is impacted in direct proportion as it can be inversely proportional also. Furthermore, this is not the only factor that directly affects the quality of knowledge as factors outside the developments in the knowledge framework of the discipline such as religious constraints impact the quality of knowledge as well. Given that defining quality is subjective and depends on the knower’s perspective, perceptions of the quality of knowledge will differ, independent of the duration of historical development of the discipline. Thus, we cannot say that the quality of knowledge is always directly proportional to the duration of historical development of the discipline.
2 Defining Post-Impressionism. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://arthistoryunstuffed.com/defining-post-impressionism/
3 Impact, T. N. (n.d.). Van Gogh’s Impact on Art. Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/impact.html
4 Pogrebin, R. (2016, August 28). Can the Old Masters Be Relevant Again? Retrieved January 09, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/29/arts/design/can-the-old-masters-be-relevant-again.html
5 A.Andrew, M.David, Oxford IB Diploma Programme Biology Course Companion, 2014 Edition, pg 147, Retrieved 3rd December 2017
6 Walter, F. M., & Emery, J. D. (2012, March). Genetic advances in medicine: has the promise been fulfilled in general practice? Retrieved December 10, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3289799/
7 AIRD, W. C. (2011, July 22). Discovery of the cardiovascular system: from Galen to William Harvey. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1538-7836.2011.04312.x/full
8 MacDonald, F. (n.d.). One of The Biggest Evolution Experiments Ever Has Followed 68,000 Generations of Bacteria. Retrieved January 09, 2018, from https://www.sciencealert.com/one-of-longest-evolution-experiments-overthrowing-previous-assumptions
9 Art for Art’s Sake – Modern Art Terms and Concepts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2017, from http://www.theartstory.org/definition-art-for-art.htm