Thursday, 30 August 2012

Analytic vs synthetic knowledge

I think one of the great strengths of Inuit Knowledge (IQ) is its ability to synthesize and incorporate new knowledge with the old. It is for this reason, and because of my technical issues with variations of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that I've always been reluctant to say "traditional Inuit Knowledge".

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is basically:

the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, the principle is often defined as having two versions: (i) the strong version that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories and (ii) the weak version that linguistic categories and usage influence thought and certain kinds of non-linguistic behaviour. (Wikipedia entry)

I tend to think that education is the single most influential determinant of one's worldview and behaviour because the notion of "culture" is also influenced by what we've been taught or have become aware of in the course of experiencing life (ie, "education" in its broadest sense including but not limited to school education). The human mind is a wondrous thing, and capable of learning so very much when and if applied the way it can comprehend the subject material. Granted, learning take perseverance and patience.

I take issue with statements that say, because of climate change, IQ is no longer applicable: it takes a while to adjust to new or novel factors but human intelligence always adjusts.

The strength of IQ is Inuti culture's willingness to learn and adapt new things and make it its own. New technology? -Inuit will figure it out and modify it for Inuit purposes. New materials? -Inuit will figure them out and make uses of them. But what I want to point out is:

the intellectual capacity of IQ is such that it will even adapt to new belief systems and incorporate what is new into the archetypal landscape. What I mean is that we, the Inuit, as children have all heard variations of Inuit legends incorporating new facts seamlessly because there is not one set canon (some of the dog-human children of Nuliajuq, for eg, who become the qallunaat and sent off in a boat made of a kamik sole, though I suspect before European contact the story might have been slightly different). The rise of Christianity and the fading away of shamanism is also "justified" by way of story-telling, the same way that unethical behaviour is discouraged by way of scary tales...

Having no set canon for Inuit legends also allow these legends to be used as mnemonic devices for remembering land marks: the Atanarjuat legend has variations in every Inuit community if it exists, the places and situations in the story themselves become incorporated into the local landscape: there is that such-and-such island where Atanarjuat fled... the island is different in every community.

The story is used to help Inuit children remember where that particular island is situated in their area because memory retention is easier/surer if facts are connected to a narrative/story. The story is also remembered by the parents/grandparents and passed on to the children whenever the island is passed by. The ancient Kiviuq legend is a perfect template for this type of remembering; the story itself never ends waiting for new things to be told. The "voice of authority" is not so much in people but in these evolving, adaptable legends.

Most people are unaware of this fact. The power of IQ to synthesize the old with the new is its greatest strength.


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