the stuff of learning: knowledge LO146

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. (
Fri, 17 Feb 1995 12:49:56 -0800 (PST)

Well I have taken a deep breath and chastised myself for not being
practical so now I think we are ready to actually do some work --- thinking.

What is the stuff of learning? What is knowledge?

Host's Note -- before we plunge in, I'm incorporating here a definition
of "chaism" that Kent sent as a separate message. I needed the
definition in reading this message.

I had a question as to what Chiasm means. A chiasm is a reversible
relation between two aspects of the same thing. Merleau-Ponty was the
first to use the term philosophically in THE VISIBLE AND THE INVISIBLE. I
follow his lead in this so mindbody/bodymind is a chiasmic relation.
Physuslogos/logophysus is also chiasmic. Changelearning/learning change
would be another relevant example. This is a word that is in the
dictionary. It was not just made up. It allows us to talk nondually.


Has anyone reflected on the nature of knowledge? Has anyone noticed that
it is unlike anything else in existence? What is unique about knowledge
is that once you attain it it is indelibly imprinted on your being and
over time it matures and transforms but you never lose it once you have
it. Think of every other aspect of experience. It is all fleeting. When
you eat, have sex, or have any other experience it vanishes in an instant
with little trace but fleeting memories. But when you actually learn
knowledge it stays with you and not only that it ripens over time so that
if you keep harkening back to that knowledge it unfolds deeper and deeper
levels of understanding to you. Now by knowledge here I do not mean facts
that are learned by rote. I do not distinguish tacit knowledge from
explicitly linguistically represented knowledge. I am talking about
knowledge about things within the world as experienced -- i.e.
phenomenological knowledge. It is knowledge that allows the epistemic
level to appear in the emergent series:

fact --- things known in relation to theories
theory (blum) --- coherent statements based on paradigm
paradigm (kuhn) --- assumptions based on an episteme
episteme (foucault) --- knowledge based on categories within a worldview
worldview (heidegger) --- all encompassing interpretation of Being

Knowledge is made possible first and foremost by our categories. Category
theory is a neglected branch of philosophy. I would refer you to Igvar
Johannson's CATEGORICAL INVESTIGATIONS for the best most recent treatment.
Also you should have a look at Foucault's THE ORDER OF THINGS and THE
ARCHEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE. Categories are put forward by Aristotle, Kant,
Hegel, and others. They are our most general concepts before the collapse
into Being. Categories appear at a certain threshold of coherence in our
comprehension of the world. It is because there are categories that we can
have knowledge because all knowledge ultimately depend on the
differentiation of the categories and all distinctions unfold from them.
This categorical level of the differentiation of the most general concepts
supports the whole superstructure of knowledge. And knowledge is the thing
that persists within the world more than anything else.

If we say that the most generals concept Being is persistence as such
then one step away from it at the point where our most general concepts
differentiate appears the thing that persists more that anything else.
Metaphysics deals with these two levels of our existence. Ontology asks
the question what is Being. Epistemology asks the question what is
Knowledge. These are the two branches of metaphysics. Every thing below
that is physics or specific to a specialized discipline. Paradigms are
the assumptions of a discipline. Theories are the explicit conceptual
networks that allow us to do science and facts are independently
confirmable implications of disprovable theories. No fact exists without
a theory and no theory exists without a paradigm. But all sciences are
dependent on the epistemes that are universal and which connect the
sciences together. Foucault describes how these epistemes have changed
over time within our tradition. Even interpretations of Being change over
time and Heidegger describes that. At each level there are discontinuous
changes within our tradition. The most famous of these is the paradigm
shift but the same kind of discontinuous/continuous changes occur at
each level.

There is considerable disagreement over what the categories (the most
general concepts) are. Different philosophers have taken stabs at
defining them. But the global/local mobius effect works here too so that
mulitple distinctions that are all right can be made. The global Sameness
of the categories is Being. Instead of having a single distinction one
has instead a cluster or constellation of distinctions that all interfere
with each other. Here are Igvar Johannson's categories:

State of affairs
Grounded and External Relations
Existential Dependence
Inertia and Spontaneity

Notice that this series of categories starts with a chaism of Spacetime.
Within spacetime there are states of affairs which have qualities.
Relations between states of affairs can be in terms of grounded or
external kinds of relations -- i.e. the different qualities may be
intrinsic or extrinsic to each other. Existential dependence determines
whether something actually exists or not by its depending on other
things. All things display inertia and spontaneity. And what causes
things to occur as they do is their inherent tendencies. Now once we have
these categories (or some other set) we can begin framing our knowledge
of the world in these and derivative concepts. This framing in terms of
concepts is our knowledge. Notice that all these categorical concepts
could be just implicit in our tacit knowledge. Concepts get represented
as ideas via the process of ideation. But the concepts themselves are not
necesisarily tied to a particular representation by ideas. Ideas are
historical products of the production of illusory continuities. Concepts
are the elements of knowledge itself that can be artificially separated
from their expression in ideas or language. Because we grasp concepts it
is possible to translate from language to language or have completely
different ideational structures pointing at the same concept. Concept
comes from conception -- to become pregnant. The concept is the germ of
knowledge within the theoretical structure expressed in language that
does not really need language to exist. It is more like a vision of how
things fit together that later is expressed in language and theories.

For instance we have the concept of a number. That concept is expressed
in many different ways in many different cultures but the concept itself
is identical regardless of its various representations. When we get the
picture what a "number" is then we have knowledge of it and it is
extremely persistent within us. We don't just loose it even if we forget
about the details of the representation. Concepts are deep patterns in
the way the world manifests to us. Categories are the fundamental
building blocks of these concepts. They are in fact usually meta-concepts
of some kind.

Learning is the process of uncovering these deep coherences within
experience which is normally facilitated by language. From this we get
the relation between the teacher and learner. The teacher has a concept
in mind the vision of which he wishes to impart to his student who does
not have the vision. This is sometimes a painful process which is
restrained considerably by the cultural barriers called academia and
educational institutions. But once you learn how to learn (by accident
and trial and error as you bumble through the academic maze) then you can
go on to pursue knowledge by your self or with others of like mind. In
that case you might run into genuine teacher/learner situations. In those
situations the teacher is actually the learner and the learner is
actually the teacher. They in fact form together a chiasmic relation. In
these genuine relations of teacher/learner where exhileration of learning
which benefits and enriches both occur there is no master/slave dialectic
as described by Hegel but instead mutual exploration in which the roles
of teacher and learner are continually being reversed between the
participants. And at times it is possible to attain an even higher level
or resonance in which both the teacher and the learner become the TAUGHT.
This is to say that the global chiasmic relation between the two become
such that both learn things neither knew before. This is the definition of
the Platonic dialectic and is a rare and wonderful possibility built into
the heart of our human existence together. This is the ultimate level of
the wild learning/change organization. It is wild because it experiences
and receives emergent events as a social process of learning and change
within the world. As G.H. Mead (that most neglected of American
Philosophers) says the essence of the social is the process of emergence.

The learning-change organization participates in meta-change and
meta-learning up to the fourth and highest possible meta-levels of
learning change where emergence occurs. What is emerging are new
patternings within the unfolding of the logos and physus: New theories
followed by discoveries of aspects of existence that had always been
there but never noticed before or if noticed not understood; New kinds of
things in the world that cause us to rethink our theories. By attempting
to understand these emergent patterns we are engaging in the Orthanc. And
the result is knowledge. Much of it uncommon knowledge or perhaps
KNOWLEDGE PAINFULLY ACQUIRED such as that of Lo Ch'in-shun the
Neo-confucianist who wrote one of the deepist books ever written.

Knowledge is a strange thing -- it is not something well understood. So
when we speak of the Learning organization we must always remember that
it is not just learning but also unlearning by reformulating its
knowledge and it is also relearning as it remembers what it once knew but
had forgotten by ceasing to harken back to what it had known before.
Plato says that all knowledge acquisition is remembering what we innately
knew. The primordial sources of knowledge are there embedded within
manifestation. It is through the orthanc that we access them and once
they appear they become very persistent. In order to forget what we know
we have to learn something else. If we do not access what we know it goes
dormant but is almost never completely forgotten because it is embedded
in our experience is a deep and lasting -- indelible trace.

Kent Palmer
One who prizes learning together more than learning alone.
Please participate with me in this adventure.

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. :Administrator of ThinkNet {aka DialogNet}
Software Engineering Technologist :philosophy and systems theory email lists
autopoietic social systems theorist:hosted at the Thinknet BBS (714-638-0876)
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