Joe Velikovsky

Where does knowledge come from?
Tricky thing about this Q is – there are many different types of knowledge, and different types of knowledge come from different sources, so, a very general answer might be: `Knowledge comes from the universe, and can be contained inside biological individuals and groups.

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  1. shinichi Post author

    Where does knowledge come from?


    Tricky thing about this Q (which is a very good Q) is – there are many different types of knowledge, and different types of knowledge come from different sources, so, a very general answer might be: `Knowledge comes from the universe, and can be contained inside biological individuals and groups.'

    One other simple answer is: knowledge is a cybernetic process.

    In Systems Theory (and specifically, Cybernetics), Lovelock (1995) states:

    `The attainment of any skill, whether it be in cooking, painting, writing, talking or playing tennis, is all a matter of cybernetics. We aim at doing our best and making as few mistakes as possible; we compare our efforts with this goal and learn by experience; and we polish and refine our performance by constant endeavour until we are satisfied that we are as near to optimum achievement as we can ever reach. This process is well called learning by trial and error. It is interesting to recall that well into the nineteen-thirties men and women were using cybernetic techniques throughout their lives without conscious recognition. Engineers and scientists were applying them to the design of intricate instruments and mechanical devices. Yet nearly all of these activities were performed without a formal understanding or logical definition of what was involved.’ (Lovelock 1995, p. 47 – bold emphasis mine)

    Aristotle talked about 5 kinds (categories) of knowledge, that's certainly one way to break them down…

    1. scientific knowledge (or epistèmè),
    2. practical knowledge (or phronesis),
    3. intellectual knowledge (or sophia),
    4. perceptual knowledge (or nous) – and
    5. productive knowledge (technè)

    But I'd add: 6. tacit knowledge (eg Polanyi), which is, knowledge we each know from experience of doing a certain task, but can't explain (in words) very well, but, we still know it (ie – can do it, on demand).

    (eg You might know say, how to ride a bike, or, how to paint a wonderful picture, or how to write a great movie screenplay) – but – it kind of takes too long to explain it, as for example, complex creative arts take around 10 years to master… (StoryAlity #7 – On `the 10-Year Rule’ and Creativity) and are also based partly on trial-and-error learning (and self-correction, which again is a cybernetic process), and on experience, and this results over time in a `feel for doing it' (ie `getting the knack' of doing a certain complex, multifaceted task)…. (see also Bourdieu's `habitus', 1993).
    Basically – it might take around ten years to actually explain all of it (every single detail and what to do in every single possible situation that might crop up in doing the task) to someone, in words (as, words aren't always a great communication tool, though often certainly can be) and, by then rather than `sit and listen to words' (or, read ten years' worth of them) the person you're trying to convey the knowledge to (of how to do the complex task), would have been better off, just trying to do the task themselves (ie practice, trial and error) and would then also know how to do it, probably, but – funnily enough, they also wouldn't be able to express quite preciesly and comprehensively how they do it (though, on demand, they could perhaps do the task, but – this also depends on, having a certain talent for the thing that is: being done). ie Maybe some people might never master a certain task, (ie they might do it, but not do it well by comparison to many others) even after ten years of practice.

    Popper on knowledge
    Sir Karl Popper (eg All Life is Problem Solving, 1999)contends that plants and animals have knowledge (Popper 1999, p. 58), and thus, human knowledge (culture) can be biological (internal to the organism), cultural (encoded in products external to the organism, e.g. books, movies, spoken words) and also, bio-cultural (a combination of inherent behavioural ideas and processes – and, learned ideas, and processes). Popper’s (1978) `Three Worlds’ theory divides knowledge into: physical matter and energy (World One), mental processes (World Two) and ideas, or products of the human mind (World Three) in a systems feedback relationship (Popper 1978).

    Dupré (2007) reports that Plato in his famous dialogue Theaetetus (concerning the nature of knowledge) has Socrates state to Theaetetus that knowledge is `justified true belief’, notwithstanding Gettier’s famous 1963 problem of justification (Dupré 2007, pp. 25-6).

    Conversely, (just for example) Feyerabend (1984) skeptically states that there is in fact no uniform concept of knowledge: `A great variety of words is used for expressing what we regard as different forms of knowledge, or as different ways of acquiring knowledge.’ (Feyerabend 1984, pp. 247-8).

    I personally like Popper's (1999) ideas on: where knowledge comes from. i.e. Amoebas actually have knowledge. (eg: `If food concentration is increasing, keep going in this direction… if it is decreasing, try another direction'). Even plants have knowledge.
    eg This is an example I'm just throwing out there:
    (Plant: `If it is Spring, I should grow flowers… and if I'm lucky enough to have some of them pollinated, those flowers should transform and bear fruit.)
    ie Yes – these are `instructions' coded into the DNA, etc, so it's not conscious knowledge. But if knowledge is: having information and acting on it, plants and animals do that all the time, but certainly not necessarily by `thinking about it' consciously.

    Consciousness is a whole other thing; conscious knowledge means we can run mental models and remember what we know, and try what worked before. (This is where scientific knowledge comes in, and falsification in science is when theories take the damage instead of us, whereas when an animal has a theory and it's falsified it can be fatal to the organism. Munz 2006 suggests that all organisms are `embodied theories' about the world (ie What will work). Theories are really just `expectations', as Popper and Munz show.)

    So, over time, various `IF > THEN > ELSE' loops are hardwired into the nervous systems of lifeforms.
    So a chimp  (say)`knows' a lot more than an amoeba does. But the idea is the same,
    And then, there are us humans – who have evolved consciousness, critical rationalism, and, the scientific method and other kinds of knowledge.

    Also – one other (simpler) way to divide up `types of knowledge' is, the (1) rational (knowing by – or from – thinking) and the (2) empiricist (knowing by – or from – experience, via the various senses, and apparently we jhave about 9 senses, and not just 5) theories (or, categories) of: knowledge.

    In that case, (if we ask `where do they come from?') – (1) rational knowledge comes from thinking (logic, reason) eg [Descartes], and (2) empiricist knowledge comes from experience [eg Kant].

    Also – I think this is a pretty good page, summarizing a lot (though, certainly not all) of the issues within `knowledge':
    Emotional Competency – Theory of Knowledge
    And as someone else mentioned here, this is a pretty good summary of the major issues: Epistemology
    (ie (1) Knowledge that, (2) knowledge how, and (3) knowledge by acquaintance – can all come from different sources… so, it's sort of complicated.)

    Anyway – so, that's one possible (and, pretty incomplete) answer, to, a very good question. 🙂

    And, thanks for A2A –


    PS – In one sense, knowledge is information – and `information' is what gets transmitted, both in biology (eg – in genes) and also, other types of knowledge can be transmitted in culture (eg in language, books, tv, media, and other symbol systems – eg, pictures, music, maths, etc).

    For those `units of culture', I have this theory:
    StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (and Narreme)
    ie In one sense, all epistemology (ie knowledge) is: evolutionary epistemology (eg Popper, DT Campbell, Koestler, Simonton, Csiskzentmihalyi).
    Mainly, because: everything is actually systems, ie, see holon-parton theory. And, see Systems Theory (Laszlo 1972, and Capra & Luisi 2014) etc.


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