A Dialogue: On Knowledge, the Ethics of Evaluation, and Techno-Epistemological Postmodernity

Article excerpt

Knowledge structures as "moments of learning" are the minimal parameters of what we know that legitimize knowledge. (1) Not only because the reality of a temporal disjunction engenders liminal perspectives on knowledge, but because the nature of episteme becomes redefined in accordance with the "problems of translation" (PC 3) (2) between repositories of knowledge and their technologies of archiving. Epistemological postmodernity is a turning point for understanding virtual spaces of learning because it is a philosophical meditation that looks toward a future yet-to-come and settles around the problem of what it means to know in relation to the field of educational research, the crisis of legitimation after modernism, and the ethics of representation.

A question we must always ask in education and research is: Can truth be reduced to an archive? Is it possible? Yes. Knowledge is nothing if it is not grounded upon the possibility of a permanent record of physical data that can then be used to establish "laws of science" as the demonstrable evidence of the self-certainty of the truth of research. Culture depends upon the feasibility of referring to relatively archives of meaning to endow expressions of understanding with the evidence of empirical value and predictive power. The failings of conscious memory require the continuing, demonstrable proof of a past and a future to secure the possibility of a genealogical rendering of human experience.

Language intervenes nevertheless to question the validity of laws as denotative statements based on the power of the archive to stabilize the ground of meaning-making. The signs of knowledge thus exteriorized are transformed into the more general category of "information"--its "use-value" not withstanding the effects of representation that mediate for the limitations of human understanding by giving way to the instrumentality of technological reason. Lyotard states that "Scientific knowledge is a kind of discourse." (PC 3) A postmodern proclamation. Knowledge is not a technology in itself. The a posteriori of practice is lacking. Knowledge as discourse need not be instrumental. Commands can be disobey and disavowed, consciously or unconsciously. We must consider the significance of Lyotard's statement regarding scientific knowledge with respect to language and technology--the two-sides of a postmodern techno-epistemological understanding of real-world phenomena through information and communications media (e.g., the computer).

Postmodern epistemological doubt settles in the between the apparatus used for the technical manipulation of information and its archival containment of data as virtual signs of understanding. The need for a techno-epistemology--or a view of virtual knowledge that takes into account the influences of technological mediation upon the sources of its production and perception--arises out of the lack of faith in the truth of science. Representation deforms, denatures, and supplements the originary eidetic structures of conceptual formations. Technology redeems a postmodern epistemological doubt by quelling it in the practice of facilitating pragmatic ends through the supplementation of human weakness. Despite ineptitude. Lyotard isolates the origins of technology in prosthetics, or devices which are "aids for the human organs or as physiological systems whose function it is to receive data or condition the context." (PC 44) Such a post-Darwinian supplementation of nature readily follows the "principle of optimal performance," (PC 44) whereby God given deficiencies are minimized and one purposeful action "expends less energy than another." (PC 44) Technology presupposes the need for the proof of the efficacy of research "as the pragmatics of scientific knowledge replaces traditional knowledge or knowledge based on revelation." (PC 44) The concreteness of its manifest structures and operations objectify the union of thought and action. Instrumental reason is born when the root of technology becomes competence rather than invention or poiesis, utility rather than creativity or art. …