Scientific knowledge is a great human achievement. Because of this knowledge, we can successfully navigate around our world and describe its size, shape, and mass. We know our world is a planet orbiting a star. We can say how fast light travels and how long it would take for light to travel to the next nearest star, which we know is smaller than our sun but denser. We know how to remove a heart that isn’t working and replace it with one that is—and possibly, with one we have manufactured ourselves. We know how to replenish soil so that it continues to sustain crops, how to smash atoms together to re-create energy levels comparable to those at the beginning of the universe, and how to inoculate against smallpox. Of course, the list could go on and on.
And on and on it should go lest we underestimate just how much we know. We know that osmium is the densest stable element, that Triceratops lived about 68 million years ago, that the eruption of Krakatoa ejected six cubic miles of rock into the sky, and that the opossum is North America’s only native marsupial. We know human blood comes in various types, and we know what types of blood may be transferred from human to human without deleterious consequences. We know how to turn lead into gold (yes, really, but it costs a lot), how to generate x-rays and block them, how to keep subatomic particles in a superposition, and how to arrange them so as to perform calculations across several possible worlds at once.
That is a lot of knowledge. And in this chapter, when we turn eventually to asking whether scientific “knowledge” is actually knowledge, we would do well to remember this astonishing list that captures barely a sliver of all the knowledge we frequently take for granted. Scientific knowledge merits special attention in epistemology because—on first glance, at the very least—it is the greatest tradition of knowledge-getting in all of human history.