Human Knowledge & its Expression:
Posted by khuram on January 29, 2007
In my other articles like “Some Differences of Human & Animal Mind”, “Knowledge Explosion in the Modern Times” and “Animism and Mythology”, I have taken “Knowledge” as equivalent to “theoretical awareness”. As it can be safely assumed that animals make no theoretical constructions. Computers etc. display theories, but they are not ‘aware’ of any theory. So “theoretical awareness” can be considered as the unique property of only humans. But the fact that animals are generally aware of their environment, raises the question that if all knowledge theoretical? Following article is basically an attempt to reply this question.
As already has been stated that “theoretical awareness” is the unique property of only humans. My opinion is just that we can consider only this type of ‘awareness’ as ‘knowledge’. There can be other modes of ‘awareness’ also. It does not seem wrong to not treat other forms of ‘awareness’ as ‘knowledge’. Awareness can be as remote as like a thermometer being ‘aware’ of body temperature as it can show exact amount of temperature. This type of awareness is neither ‘theoretical’ nor ‘conscious’. Only thing here is that let’s say mercury expansion has direct relationship with temperature. Mercury, in a sense, is ‘sensitive’ to heat or temperature. Mercury shall show a specific ‘response’ i.e. of expansion, whenever it shall be exposed to heat. But this type of ‘sensitiveness’ and ‘responsiveness’ is totally mechanical. Mechanical actions can be considered to be quite rigid, constant, blind and above all, ‘non-conscious’. We say, just for our own convenience, that thermometer is ‘aware’ of temperature. In fact it is not. Fact is just that the mercury in thermometer has rigidly, blindly and unconsciously been affected on the basis of a constant physical law. It is we humans, who can take conscious notice of how much mercury has been affected through the application of heat. Then we call so measured heat as temperature. In the article on the topic “Some Differences of Human and Animal Mind”, I have defined ‘consciousness’ as the “manifested form of sensitiveness and responsiveness which originates from biological sense perception.” Now question arises is that what are the core elements of biological sensitiveness and responsiveness? In above discussion, we have recognized that mechanical sensitiveness and responsiveness has to be in a constant pattern, has to be blind, rigid and non-conscious etc. An animal’s sensitiveness and responsiveness will have whole different features. In an ordinary animal, there is presence of famous five senses. In addition, there is ‘memory’. This animal may show many types of responses like fear, belongingness, anger etc. etc. The issue here is that just what are the differences between the sensitiveness and responsiveness of a thermometer and those of an animal like a dog? In a thermometer, mercury will show its response only when it shall be physically exposed to heat. Mercury is ‘blind’ because it cannot show any response without physical contact with heat source, where obviously, heat source may include hot surrounding air as well. A dog, on the other hand, is not blind because it can show some response without having been physically exposed to hot surrounding area of burning fire. A dog can ‘see’ burning fire from as much distant place as to just able to ‘see’ the burning fire but not able to feel any heat thereof, and then can show its response. At this point, real ‘awareness’ comes to scene. This ‘awareness’ can be thought of as such a ‘sensitiveness’ which must have been originated, may be just partially, from “past memorized experiences”. Here it seems pertinent to mention Henri Bergson’s concept of Mind. He has conceived ‘mind’ as a faculty, which can ‘store’ past. Although I do not think that the only function of mind is to just store past and then, as Bergson says, to recall the relevant contents of past experiences upon facing the current situation. Mind, in my opinion, can have many other functions than to this one, but this definition of mind, in my assessment, does comprehensively describe an animal’s mind with the exception that still the pure instinctive actions of animals, which are generally independent of any of past experiences, are not covered by this definition. In this way, we can say that those animal actions that originate from the application of ‘stored’ past memories (may be like movie clips) upon current situation are the ‘awareness’ based actions. Other actions, that are independent of past experiences, may be considered as just ‘instinctive’ actions.
Now if we try to differentiate mechanical sensitiveness and responsiveness from the sensitiveness and responsiveness of an animal, we can do it at two levels; i.e. (i) on the level of just instincts and; (ii) on the level of ‘awareness’. On the level of instincts, such things as pleasure, pain, comfort, discomfort etc. shall characterize an animal’s sensitiveness and responsiveness. These things are not to be found in just mechanical sensitiveness and responsiveness. Secondly, mechanical sensitiveness and responsiveness is just a one-way process. The behavior of non-living entity, which is showing mechanical sensitiveness and responsiveness, has to be perfectly ‘passive’. On the other hand, instincts based animal’s sensitiveness and responsiveness is a two way process where animals generally show ‘active’ behavior. An animal that feels pleasure would by itself move towards the source of pleasure and similarly shall move away, at its own (i.e. by using its own biological mechanical or locomotion energy), from the sources of pains and discomforts. Now come to see the difference of mechanical sensitiveness and responsiveness with animal’s sensitiveness and responsiveness on the level of ‘awareness’. Animal’s mind possesses the faculty of storage of past experiences and the ability to recall relevant past experiences upon facing the current situation. Actually, it seems that animal mind is able to store the related or “associated” observations in serially connected form. What I mean is that let’s say an animal, which is ‘aware’ of ways of its routine path etc. shall recall the next turn or way-out after having reached that particular place where that next turn is situated. It means that animal’s mind, where past experiences have been stored, shall retrieve the corresponding relevant information i.e. about next turn, only when the animal shall again perceive the place of that turn. It is simply not appropriate to suppose the presence of any such ability in animals that they could have some sort of imaginative mapping of ways of their usual route. In this way, in animals, process of sense perception continuously keeps on drawing next relevant information from the storeroom of past experiences i.e. mind; because sense perception itself is a continuous process. And since past experiences are guiding animal here, so we can consider this type of animal behavior to be based on ‘awareness’. In the same way, animals can memorize (i.e. store) the information regarding what to do upon listening particular commands of their Masters and can retrieve that information from memory whenever they listen those commands. In addition, animals can expect or anticipate the commands by their Masters as well. But it seems that they can have such expectations only in the presence of those Masters.
Now we can try to differentiate between this type of animal awareness and the ‘theoretical awareness’ that can be found in our perceivable world, only in humans. First of all we should accept that basically, or by birth, humans do not possess anything like ‘theoretical awareness’. Innately, humans possess only ‘learning potential’ as well as certain tendencies for it. I shall discuss these tendencies at pertinent stage. Human childs acquire or learn theoretical propositions or other theoretical stuff only and mainly out of their experience of living in human groups or society. Without going into the speculations regarding just how primitive theoretical knowledge could have been evolved in early human societies, we can just assume that it might have been so evolved as a result of very long term processes. I have mentioned earlier that it is not appropriate to suppose that animals can have anything like ‘imaginative mapping’ of their ‘stored past’ because it is only the process of sense perception in animals, that can retrieve or draw the relevant past contents out of memory. But for the case of humans, it is pertinent to suppose the presence of ‘imaginative mapping’ of past contents even for the case of such an hypothetical individual human who gets no experience of living in human group or society at all. Due to this ‘imaginative mapping’, humans are able to recall those past contents in their fresh memory (or conscious mind) that may not have any linkage with their existing sensory information. Due to this ability, humans, for instance can recall and tell ways of path of some other city while standing on a different location of another city. In this way, actually humans can imaginatively ‘explore’ the storeroom of past experiences. And although humans can imaginatively explore the past experiences of mind but it seems that they cannot reach up to a particular past memory content just arbitrarily. What seems right is that they can reach up to a particular past memory content only through a chain like process. For example, in order that I may recall ways of path of some other city, first of all I need to bring the idea of that other city to my conscious mind. With the idea of that city in my conscious mind, then I shall recall different spots of the path etc. and then, only through this chain like process, I shall be able to tell the complete path to some other person. I shall discuss the structure of this chain like process in some other article. The thing to be emphasized here is that the ability of ‘imaginative mapping’ of past experiences exists only in humans and that although this ability itself is not equivalent to humans’ ‘theoretical knowledge’, but the same ‘imaginative mapping’ is an important source of this ‘theoretical knowledge’. The same ‘imaginative map’ is the source of origin of all human thinking, imaginations and dreams as well. Due to having this ‘imaginative mapping’, humans are in need to ‘express’ this map of stored past experiences. They can do it in the form of let’s say artwork like drawings as well as in theoretical format. Archeological evidences of various cave-artworks reveal that humans used to express their ‘imaginative maps’ in the form of drawings in as early period as about fifty thousand years ago. Evidences of theoretical expressions are relatively quite recent.
Human mind, unlike animal mind, not only stores past experiences, it also alters or modifies those past memory contents. For the case of animals, what can be safely assumed is that they do generalize various past experiences but obviously, to a far lesser extent to what humans can do in this respect. What only humans do and so animals cannot be supposed to be able to do is that humans can draw analogical as well as other inductive and deductive conclusions. And the limitation of human mind is that every kind of conclusion or inference, whether it is simple generalization or analogical or it is any other form of inductive or deductive inference, is not more than just a re-arrangement of already possessed past experiences. Suppose there are two experience based similar entities (Aab) and (Babc) in human mind. Let’s say, A and B are two students. A is experimentally known to have ‘a’ and ‘b’ qualities and similarly B is experimentally known to be the possessor of ‘a’, ‘b’, and ‘c’ qualities. On the basis of this information, this human mind can draw an analogical conclusion that probably A possesses ‘c’ quality as well. Here this mind has assigned ‘c’ quality to A at its own i.e. without any prior experimental test. In this way, there has been some addition to mind contents because previously mind had only experimental data whereas now mind is having an analogical inference also, in addition to the old experimental data. It means that mind is having some new information that has not directly come from sense experience. And although this new information has not directly come from sense experience but the fact to be noted is that the same new information has come indirectly from the same sense experience. Mind has come to know something quite independently of sense experience. But in fact mind has not created anything at its own. In more understandable words of our information age, mind just has performed a copy-paste thing. It just has copied quality ‘c’ that belonged to B and then has assigned this copied entity to A. In analogy, mind only performs copy-paste whereas usually doesn’t perform cut-paste.
In the same way, in any other form of conclusion or inference, mind does not create anything at its own. It just re-arranges, or modifies the given information and then presents so modified information in such way that gives some new meanings. For example, consider the following simple example of a deductive conclusion:
All A are B
All B are C
Therefore All A are C
Here we can suppose that premises of this argument had come from sense experience whereas now mind has reached to the deductive conclusion i.e. “All A are C”, at its own. In a general sense, this conclusion is the product of mind. But in a more technical sense, this conclusion is not any creation of mind because not a single word of conclusion “All A are C”, is a whole new thing. In fact all the words of conclusion are already contained in the premises. In this deductive conclusion, mind has just re-arranged the information, which was contained in the premises.
In this way, we can say that unlike animal mind, human mind not only stores past experiences, it re-arranges or alters those past experiences as well. In addition, unlike animals, human mind contains many abstract entities also because due to the process of sense experience and thinking and imaginations, humans can identify many abstract entities like beauty, friendship, mind, knowledge etc. etc. Humans’ ‘imaginative map’ thus not only includes original sensory information, it includes abstract entities and re-arranged, modified or altered information as well. And humans are in need to ‘express’ this type of imaginative map. And again, as already has been described, humans usually do it in theoretical format or in the form of drawings or some other artwork etc.
Now we can discuss the main issue i.e. is all knowledge theoretical? The above discussion actually implies a relatively more technical definition of knowledge, which may be stated like: “Knowledge means those stored past experiences, that may include original sensory data as well as abstract and re-arranged or altered information, which can be expressed with or without having been exposed to the associated or relevant current sense perception. In addition to being able to be ‘expressed’, those stored (original plus altered) experiences must be able to set guidelines for present or even future attitudes, behaviors and/ or actions”. We should consider that ‘knowledge’ is far complicated thing than to this definition and that this definition is trying to describe only some particular aspects of ‘knowledge’.
In this way, we can differentiate between ‘knowledge’ and just ‘awareness’. ‘Knowledge’ includes ‘awareness’ whereas just ‘awareness’ may not be accompanied with ‘knowledge’. Awareness is just ‘sensitiveness’ that comes, at least partially, from past memorized experiences upon facing current relevant sense perceptions; and it may include corresponding ‘responsiveness’ as well. ‘Knowledge’ on the other hand must be able to be ‘expressed’ as well as it may not have any relation with currently-perceived sensory information. In addition, knowledge should be able to set guidelines for present or even future attitudes, behaviors and/ or actions.
Knowledge therefore may be considered to be the ability to express (original plus altered) past. Secondly, ‘awareness’ is also other main component of knowledge. So in lose sense, only ‘theoretical awareness’ can be considered as ‘knowledge’. In a strict sense, combination of ‘awareness’ with any mode of expression such as theoretical expression or artistic expression or any other form of expression can be regarded as knowledge. The foundation of this knowledge is the ‘imaginative map’ of past experiences. This map is not the true picture of past because it includes such altered contents as well that may range from just vague and meaningless conclusions to marvelous metaphysical theories etc. This imaginative map sometimes reflects itself in disorganized or random styles in the forms of dreams and illusions, and the same imaginative map can reflect itself in very accurately constructed pieces of arts as well as logically/ mathematically and grammatically accurate pieces of philosophies, sciences and literature. It has been mentioned earlier that although theoretical awareness is not innate in humans, but humans do possess some pre-given tendencies that can refine and improve the quality of ‘imaginative map’ and also help in the process of construction of theoretical mind stuff. These pre-given tendencies are that humans, with passage of mind related experiences, tend to become logically, mathematically and grammatically more accurate and consistent and artistically and poetically more precise and balanced. As we live in already civilized age, so we get introduction to theoretical knowledge from the society. I already have stated that discussion in this article shall not go to speculations regarding just how theoretical knowledge first time originated in human societies. But however, it seems right to point out that these pre-given tendencies might be having a great role in the original creation of theoretical mind stuff. Theoretical stuff itself is not knowledge but it makes us ‘able’ to express our ‘imaginative map’. Our tendencies of becoming logically and mathematically more accurate and consistent can work on raw ‘imaginative map’; but it seems that these pre-given tendencies work more efficiently on theoretical mind stuff. When we logically, mathematically and grammatically improve our theoretical mind stuff, then actually we also make corresponding refinements and improvements in our ‘imaginative map’. And every segment of theoretical stuff corresponds to more than one aspect of ‘imaginative map’ and vice versa. By having a particular theoretical proposition in our conscious mind, we are having its related aspects of ‘imaginative map’ also in our conscious mind and vice versa. And just like that we can explore our imaginative map only through a chain like process, each and every bit of theoretical stuff also can be accessed (recalled/ expressed) only through a chain like process. Let’s say I have memorized page No.110 of a particular book. Normally, I shall recall the contents of this memorized theoretical stuff only through such a chain like process that I shall start telling it from first word and shall tell or express the complete page word by word. The chain is like that while uttering second word; I shall get a ‘spark’ of what is going to be the third word and by following that ‘spark’, I shall utter that third word; then I shall get similar ‘spark’ for next word and so on. This chain like process should be compared with photo copying process of photocopy machine that instantly copies all the contents of page. Secondly, it is very difficult to suppose that let’s say a classical singer is fully aware of all the complicated ups and downs of music before starting to perform. The fact, that seems right is that the singer shall start singing; and at stage of every bit of up or down in the music, he shall get similar ‘spark’ regarding what to perform in the very next moment. And then he shall give a continuous performance in this way. The wave of ups and downs of music is not “hard-coded” in his mind. Actually each and every bit of those ups and downs is just recalled, through a chain like process, at the right stage. The guiding factor behind this process is not any “hard-coded” material but seems to be consisted of many pre-given tendencies of humans, out of which “sense of musical balance” may be considered to be the main guiding factor behind this particular process.
Similarly, knowledge does not reside in mind like any “hard-coded” theoretical propositions. Whenever we are required to ‘express’ knowledge, we start exploring our ‘imaginative map’, obviously in a chain like way; then some of corresponding theoretical stuff also comes to conscious mind. Our innate tendencies of keeping ourselves logically, mathematically and grammatically accurate also come to action. These tendencies, instantly, help in translating the exploration of ‘imaginative map’ into the logically connected and interrelated theoretical propositions. In this way, we theoretically describe our ‘imaginative map’. In the same way, we can instantly interpret the currently observed any new phenomenon and can describe it theoretically.
Thus existence of imaginative map is a great advancement in humans. It cannot be said with surety that other animals do not possess this kind of imaginative map at all. What can be said safely is that the most advanced imaginative map of any animal would still be inferior to very rough and less developed imaginative map of any primitive human. And as we live in already civilized societies, so the imaginative maps of our past experiences include various kinds of theoretical stuff as well. It means that here, theoretical stuff being a part of imaginative map, may not have its existence apart from, or distinguished from the imaginative map. The systematic structure of theoretical propositions and language helps us in refining and improving our over-all imaginative maps. We tend to keep our imaginative map and our expressions logically, mathematically and grammatically accurate. Theories of logic, mathematics and grammar etc. in this way, have been discovered out of our own general tendencies. Humans are much more than animals and it is not right to think that human knowledge is just some quantitative advancement in animal intelligence.