“Knowledge is nothing more than the systematic organization of facts.”

Theory of Knowledge May 2014

EXAMPLE ONE: Grey Areas in Knowledge and Their Affect on Human Understanding and Judgement

A grey area to me is a fog, things focus and refocus and blur into one another, it is abstract and incomprehensible. The concept of knowing and knowledge as a whole falls into this mist easily for me, a seventeen-year-old high school student. Theory of Knowledge is something that has been introduced into my educational carrier just recently with my relocation from a Canadian Public High School into a German International IB institution in my final year. When I asked what this class was at the beginning of the year my peers answered back with shrugging shoulders, shakes of their heads and unhelpful murmurs. Among this general mantra of confusion one reoccurring answer which I received was “No one really knows.” a perfect way to kick off a class in which we, a bunch of awkward not quite adults, are asked to answer questions to which no one really knows the answers to.
 The statement “Knowledge is nothing more than the systematic organization of facts.” Strikes a cord in me, probably because it sounds too cold, is said in a formula instead of a sentence and I’m not a big lover of maths, it is for these reasons that my first reaction to it was a question: How does the formula, this systematic organization, represent any sort of deviant?

Humans follow a chicken or the egg format; there is this ever-present urge to decide if we form ourselves or if society forms us. How much of us are truly of our own creation and how much is a patchwork of everything we come in contact with or what we think we should be to appease our herd mentality. We seek out labels for ourselves and for others to make sense of the world around us; we seek naturally a place in the world, but as humans we also crave individuality. What happens, then, when this need to fit in and label others and ourselves turns against us? What happens when this “systematic organization” becomes too much, too broad or not broad enough? How are you to know who you should trust? Or the drive of this particular essay: How are we to deal with living in a broken society where people are more easily diagnosed than proven cured?

Psychology and Psychiatry as a human science is abstract, leveling out between being an arts program and a science in university study. It runs on a formula, however, there must be guidelines and checklists to have diagnoses made; There are certain traits a person with Depression will exhibit, like wise for Schizophrenia, Dissociative Identity Disorder and Bipolar disorder and in tern there must be ways in which these are organized and classified. These terms however have become abstract and ephemeral, the public is abusing the system in more ways than one and when you are told to trust professional opinion above anything you can feel it is an obvious problem. The illnesses listed above have become tandem terms, labels for classic traits of the human condition and verbs and when it is protocol in schools and workplaces to have to get a professional label if the need arises rather than trusting your own emotions it is an obvious cause for concern especially when, in the words of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, “We are all mad here.”

Being in my final year of high school I know the troubles that can be faced by students first hand. I have seen stress, depression, self-harm and suicide in my peers between the two high schools I have been in attendance to. High school is a massive time of change for young people, it strikes when adolescence are at their most venerable and impressionable by far. Between friends, work and studies there is great change that goes on formed by the need to fit in, maintain individuality and to handle these new challenges and demands all at once. It is said by NIMH that 14 is the mean age of manifestation of most mental illnesses, around the same time as the transition from elementary school into the first few years of high school and here we are answering questions with no answers when we don’t even know ourselves.

It is in this stage that we find all of the slang and labels that is fogging up organized facts in the world of Psychology. The first time I heard the term “schizophrenic” used as an adjective I couldn’t understand the linkage from the way the weather was acting and the stories I’ve heard about my Great Uncle. When I hear people use the term “I’m so depressed today” “I had insomnia so bad last night” “You almost gave me a panic attack” or tell a thin person they look “anorexic” I cringe. The systematic organization in Psychology used for diagnoses are being applied everywhere in the most menial of ways more and more. However, people are not only “diagnosing” each other with the use of mental illness as adjectives there has also been a new trend, perhaps it’s not new, but I came into contact with it only a few years ago where one of my friends claimed severe anxiety and depression for herself. This is more dangerous than simply looking at WedMD for the reason of a headache. This headache will fester and weave it’s way into the mind, the psyche and this hypochondriac way of thinking will act like a placebo to mental illness and is very likely to lead a person to truly believe that they are suffering from these horrible diseases they have labeled themselves with and make their prior situation worse.

This anecdote brings us to the warped dangers of a self diagnoses in this field and the implications they bring up about mental health in a way much like a video we were shown in a Theory of Knowledge class: A TED talk done by Jon Ronson, the author of The Psychopath Test. Ronson starts out the talk speaking of the DSM, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. Ronson explains that this book has grown a vast deal over time from a small pamphlet to a book of 886 pages. With 374 Mental Illnesses listed between its covers.  374 known mental illnesses: more than every single person in my graduating year. Early on in the talk Ronson explains that while flipping through this book he has come to the conclusion that he is the sufferer of approximately 12 mental Disorders. The way we can so easily fit ourselves into these diagnoses says something about the systematic organization of psychology and psychiatry and the knowledge they truly pertain. Through the talk we follow him through his interactions with a man called Tony, a patient in Broadmoor Hospital. The man, a Scientologist, who introduces them tells that he had “faked madness” to get out of a prison sentence and is now stuck with no one trusting that he is sane. This story goes on, Tony we are told has been on Broadmoor for 12 years. His Original prison sentence was 5. A thought raising quote comes up in this talk that goes like this: “It’s a lot harder to convince people you’re sane than it is to convince them your crazy”.

There is another essay question for Theory of Knowledge this year which discuses a well known quote by Abraham Maslow “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails.” Though it is not my topic question it can be woven in to the idea that knowledge is just the systematic organization of fact. This story told in the TED talk by Jon Ronson discusses psychology and it’s role in law, when all you have are these guidelines to metal illness everyone becomes mentally ill. This creates clarity where there is none by focusing solely on the Diagnoses and less on the people themselves and clearly in the case of Tony over shadows the people, in the same way the way a self diagnoses can overshadow ones own self knowledge.

Grey Areas in knowledge are everywhere, this effects how we can see and understand any topic beyond our own interpretation. We are looking for images in fog. My peers, and me ages 17-19 have been tasked with this in Theory of Knowledge, we have been told to take into account all areas of knowledge and come to an understanding of our topics. In Psychology there are vast pockets left for interpretation, broad diagnosis than can be applied over expansive situations, abuse to the system itself and it seems an every winding web once a label has been nailed to your shoulders to keep you in this place. A systematic organization of facts, figures or definitions all on its own does not beget knowledge in its fullest form. It may provide us with guidelines but it is the way we follow and personally interpret these guidelines that makes the difference between understanding and not and with psychiatry and psychology today this is reinforced tenfold because in today's society, in a rendition of Alice in Wonderlands famous quote, as told once more by Ronson: “Everyone’s a bit Psychopathic.”