RSS Feed

The interaction between shared knowledge and personal knowledge


August 27, 2016 by jayeren

I just finished a book called the Crowd: a Study of Popular Mind, a study of human group behavior. It illustrated that people’s opinions and emotions can be easily influenced by others when these individuals are gathered together in a crowd, and these unconscious actions of individuals in these organized groups can be spontaneous or out of result of manipulation. No matter what caused this group behavior, it forms for a simple reason: each individual’s personal knowledge is assimilated by shared knowledge of the whole group. Once personal knowledge and shared knowledge matches with each other, people reach a consensus, further assimilation takes place more rapidly and easily as people don’t give much thought to their actions and they start to parrot others. I came up with some questions after finish reading: what conditions need to be satisfied to form shared knowledge? To what extent can shared knowledge be distorted and misleading?

First we need to distinguish shared knowledge from personal knowledge. Shared knowledge is knowledge that is validated, understood, and agreed by a group of people (the amount of people is yet to be discussed). Personal knowledge means that others hardly have access to this knowledge or this knowledge is difficult to share. While personal knowledge can be exceedingly strange without much restriction, shared knowledge is shaped by processes that operate at a social level. It meets a series of requirement before people recognize it as shared knowledge.

Firstly, it needs common understanding of language, convention, and tradition in order to function socially. For example, I notice that every time when something funny happens in the comedy series, Friends, there is laughter coming out from the background reminding you that this is the funny part and you should be laughing. When I first tried this TV drama, I wasn’t familiar with English or American sense of humor by then, therefore I didn’t really enjoy it. But my friend, a native speaker, believed that it is the funniest drama she’d ever watched, and all Americans would agree with her. Apparently to make a comedy successful, the show has to share the same language, social customs and habits with the audience would agree that it is funny. As time passes, audience forge ties with dramas based on similar sense of humor. Therefore whenever there’s laughter from the background, audience would also laugh subconsciously.

Another important thing is that contribution of individual knowledge has to be validated by the group before it becomes shared knowledge. Just like that of TV dramas, scriptwriter’s ideas need to be proofread by all cast and crew so that it is sure that the jokes are funny indeed. Though this process would usually be reduced after repetitions of this process. It works like an authority. People tend to believe and trust the knowledge the authority shares with them because authority represents high correctness; therefore logically, knowledge that authority spread will soon become shared knowledge, and this cycle goes on and on. This credulity may be one thing that causes danger. One painful lesson was taught during the time when Hitler was in power in Germany. The idea that Jewish people were evil and harmful was already a kind of shared knowledge. Hitler, the supreme leader of the whole country, gave out speeches that further belittled Jew’s status and images; gradually the opinion that Jews deserve death spread rapidly and became shared knowledge. Clearly, the process of validation of the group on knowledge produced by individual was minimized not only because of the matter of authority, but also the fact that everyone was killing Jewish people created pressure, and few people would give it a second though before killing Jews. One of the darkest period of human history began that way.

In conclusion, there are certain ways to produce shared knowledge, but shared knowledge is not always credible. We should always be clear-minded about other’s opinions and actions before following them blindly because we may not only get other people and ourselves into trouble, the greater size of the crowd may even confuse more people and create a vicious cycle.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar