The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan..

Superb essay by Jonardan Ganeri who is a philosopher and won the Infosys Prize in the Humanities in 2015.

He says European societies view knowledge as a core-periphery system which has a strong trunk and then branches. What is instead needed is a Banyan system where there are multiple roots which sustain the strong core:

European societies, knowledge is often pictured as a tree: a single trunk – the core – with branches splaying outwards towards distant peripheries. The imagery of this tree is so deeply embedded in European thought-patterns that every form of institution has been marshalled into a ‘centre-periphery’ pattern. In philosophy, for example, there are certain ‘core’ subjects and other more marginal, peripheral, and implicitly expendable, ones. Likewise, a persistent, and demonstrably false, picture of science has it as consisting of a ‘stem’ of pure science (namely fundamental physics) with secondary domains of special sciences at varying degrees of remove: branches growing from, and dependent upon, the foundational trunk. 

Knowledge should indeed be thought of as a tree – just not this kind of tree. Rather than the European fruiter with its single trunk, knowledge should be pictured as a banyan tree, in which a multiplicity of aerial roots sustains a centreless organic system. The tree of knowledge has a plurality of roots, and structures of knowledge are multiply grounded in the earth: the body of knowledge is a single organic whole, no part of which is more or less dispensable than any other. ‘Stands an undying banyan tree,’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gītā, ‘with roots above and boughs beneath. Its leaves are the Vedic hymns: one who knows this tree knows the Vedas. Below, above, its well nourished branches straggle out; sense objects are the twigs. Below its roots proliferate inseparably linked with works in the world of men.’

There is a right way and a wrong way to get this new picture of knowledge off the ground. An epistemic pluralist claims that just as a banyan tree has many different but equally valuable roots, so there are many different but equally valuable ways of interrogating reality. The wrong way to fill in the picture is to think that a ‘way of interrogating reality’ consists in a collection of what Paul Boghossian at New York University has called epistemic principles, general normative propositions that specify under which conditions a particular type of belief is justified. 

He quotes from Jaina philosophy which talks about pluralism and yet finding a way to evaluate the different approaches.

Obviously all this is connected to economics where we have many schools and keep fighting over their superiority. There also we have core-periphery issues. But to think of the various schools/thoughts as a Banyan tree is a much better way of thinking through the issues.


One Response to “The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan..”

  1. The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan.. — Mostly Economics | pcdubey2007's Blog Says:

    […] via The tree of knowledge is not an apple or an oak but a banyan.. — Mostly Economics […]

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