This third book of a philosophical trilogy by Towner (Process of Knowledge, 2001, etc.) explores the constructions, visualizations and limitations of human knowledge.
Towner tackles a dense, nuanced topic in a way that’s simultaneously inventive and relatable, which is no small feat. In his introductory chapter, he gently lays the groundwork about the potentially overwhelming subject of how humans perceive and ultimately shape their reality. He supports each subsequent chapter with extensively researched examples and vivid, clarifying metaphors; for example, he uses the analogy of the transformation of wood into charcoal to illustrate how knowledge helps us to track the transformations of objects. Without knowledge, Towner argues, the different stages of wood would seem to exist independently of one another; instead, knowledge allows us to understand that burning is a transformational process. Towner’s precisely worded treatise also uses the example of how computers process and display information: Humans can build machines to hold “reality in perspective” and “we can understand how the machine works”; a human similarly assembles and constructs knowledge about reality and builds on previous experiences. Most intriguingly, Towner proposes that closed circuits of human knowledge can create impenetrable worldviews, which gives rise to a false sense of “completion.” His division of human reality into the three basic categories—physical, behavioral and ideal—provides an excellent overall framework. The book doesn’t have the pop-cultural swagger of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (1988), nor does it embrace a Foucault-like academic extremism. But the highly intellectual tenor of the work makes it suitable for academics and other readers interested in how we form and navigate our way through a constantly changing environment.
A book that aims to show readers how they arrive at their conceptions, which aren’t always as complete as they might think.