"....there is within most academics a desire for understanding. Unfortunately, in a modern university this is directed towards gaining certainty. This can be the precision of modern physics or the empty conviction of the philosophical relativist. The following quote from Neils Bohr vividly demonstrates the difference between certain and uncertain knowledge: "There are two kinds of ideas in our universe and they are represented by two kinds of statements: those whose opposites are obviously false and those whose opposites are obviously true. The first form the basis of most publications and are intrinsically unimportant. The second can point to truth and must be cherished." This quotation demonstrates why academics are so concerned with certain knowledge: it is publishable. It also raises an important question for the university: what truths do we cherish?
The difficulty with certain knowledge is that most of the important aspects of life cannot be dealt with by certain knowledge. What do I really want to do? What is that other person thinking? What is the best form of society? What gives meaning to my life? How should one counsel an employee? Life is full of such questions that can be only answered by embracing a much wider framework of reasoning than is encompassed by the realm of certain knowledge. The vital point here is that by not preparing students to deal with uncertain knowledge we limit their development and so impoverish them as human beings and citizens. The emphasis on certain knowledge does not even prepare students properly for the work force. Success in business depends much more on manipulating uncertain knowledge than any exact skill we can impart. As well, in the information age, any form of certain knowledge that is used in the work force will eventually be encapsulated in a computer program. Accordingly the most successful graduates are the ones that can deal with uncertain knowledge. Even when we do realize the need to teach uncertain knowledge - this is often done in the context of certain knowledge, as a subject listing "proven" methods to improve communication skills."
This excerpt is from "UTS, A Real University," by Chris Drane, Professor of Engineering, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org. The entire paper can be found at [http://www.eng.uts.edu.au/re-visioning/#Documents].