Tuesday, March 9, 2010


A Contribution to An Inquiry into the Nature (and Understanding) of Knowledge

Table of Contents:

Table of Contents:    1

I. Prolegomenon: Preliminary Escapades    1

I.1 Personal Perspective    2

I.2 Professional and Political Conjectures    5

II. Some Fundamental Considerations    7

II.1 What Is Knowledge    7

II.2 Three Types of Knowledge    8

II.2.1 Recursive or Operational Knowledge    9

II.2.2 Descriptive or Attributional Knowledge    10

II.2.3 Discursive or Propositional Knowledge    11

III. The Architecture of Inquiry    13

IV. Pursuant of the Fundamentals    15

V. Some Political Implications    16

VI. Bibliography: Itemizing Primary Sources    17


I. Prolegomenon: Preliminary Escapades

". . . as soon as we think that we correctly perceive something, we are spontaneously convinced that it is true. . . . if . . . it is impossible for us ever to have any reason for doubting what we are convinced of, then there are no further questions for us to ask: we have everything that we could reasonably want. . . ."

-- Rene Descartes, quoted by L. Newman

I propose to start with the purely subjective observation that for anything that I consciously decide to do, there is an associated purpose and a concomitant motive which propel me to do it. If this sounds pompous and outlandish, being in the subjective realm, I can nevertheless claim it to be indisputably true.

I.1 Personal Perspective

For reasons I hope will very shortly become self-evident, by way of an introduction I deem it appropriate to reproduce in its entirety, grammar mistakes included, my email to Joan Swirsky which was composed and sent today, Tuesday, 2-Mar-2010 (9:26am EST, emphasis added):


I missed you.  You are one of the unique rare souls generous enough to indulge my whimsy.  I pray all is well with you, and I mean every aspect of your being.


My February was consumed in a medical sabbatical.  I spent the first half being aware that something was not right with my body but could not quite figure out what.  I landed in the ER on the 15th with a TIA.  I got discharged on the 18th with Cobalt-Chromium stents on all four of my cardiac-arterial grafts.  I'm back at my computer to recuperate.  I submitted my latest article to Frank yesterday.  Frank said it's queued for tomorrow's posting.  I suspect something is amiss when you did not reply.

Today I embark on an ambitious project which I labeled "Inquiry into the Nature (and Understanding) of Knowledge."  It is provoked by my umbrage at the
Oval Office spearheading the marketing and funding of Global Warming initiatives despite the fraudulent nature of the knowledge behind the GW narrative

This about covers everything.  Here's hoping I hear from you real soon.

Live long and prosper,


With a song in my heart: regards & carpe diem,

Constancio S. Asumen. Jr.

Being connected  makes all the difference!
(You may call me Stan, if that makes it easier)

631-868-0083 {home/fax}
631-721-5225 {mobile/office}

Admittedly, this may fall into what I elsewhere dubbed, albeit in a different context, "The Fallacy of Exhibitionism." I consider Joan to be my spiritual Rabbi and inspiration in the realm of authoring. She has been very generous and critically forthright with her opinions. How we got connected is a narrative that deserves, nay, demands to be told. It is instructive of the nature of communication in the age of the internet. It can be revealing of the internet's pitfalls and immeasurable benefits.

The quasi-saga started on the night of Sunday, 25-Oct-2009. Coming home from work, I heard on the radio a replay of an interview with then candidate Obama pompously deploring the U.S. Constitution as a proscriptive constraint on governance rather than a prescriptive sanction for governance. This was rudely and inadvertently cut off when I parked on the driveway. I promptly proceeded to Google-search for the text string "Obama, U.S. Constitution."

The first item in the hits list returned by my search propelled me to send the following email:

Dear Ms. Swirsky,

I stumbled onto your column when I googled for the keywords "Obama, US Constitution".

You are exactly the kind of columnist/journalist/author we need more of in the U.S.  I regret that I did not stumble onto your work sooner.

If you have some kind of a mailing list for your articles, kindly include my email address in it.

I thank you very much.

With a song in my heart: regards & carpe diem,

Constancio S. Asumen. Jr.

Being connected  makes all the difference!
(You may call me Stan, if that makes it easier)

631-868-0083 {home/fax}
631-721-5225 {mobile/office}

Since then the volume of our correspondence through four hours ago (9:52 am EST) tallied 36 in my inbox and 63 in the sent folder. In range of subject matter and wealth of substance, this is rivaled only by my correspondence with a graduate school colleague, through the Spring of 1973, who wrote me last on 1-Feb-2010. She is the only acquaintance from my college days who keeps me posted albeit on a less than regular basis.

Joan and I seemed to have been yapping away in barely three months (February '10 being a hiatus) as if we have known each other forever. She has that uncanny effect of bringing out of me what she dubbed "a wealth of memories screaming to be told." What I find piquantly remarkable is the near-certainty that she would not recognize me from a hole in the wall if by a confluence of circumstances, we bumped into each other wherever people bump into each other these days.

{Any one of the following locations could be my favored venue for such an accident: the Intermission cocktail lounge at the New York Metropolitan Opera House, ditto the Carnegie Hall, the 18th Green grandstands at Augusta National during the Masters, or St. Andrews Old and Ancient during the British Open, ditto the Pebble Beach Golf and Country Club during the U.S. Open. I don't have the vaguest idea what genre of venues Joan may happen into, and there is no point speculating about them. There is no such thing as speculative knowledge.}

Joan, having posted her facial likeness on her website, I most definitely have a slight advantage as far as such a scenario goes. I would not bet the mortgage on it, though. Years of trying to stay under the radar somehow rendered my facial recognition skills somewhat jaded.

Herein lies the relevance of this quasi-saga to the project at hand: should such a fortuitous event come to pass, the only things we may know about each other are those which are true of who each one of us is. What we may not know about each other is for the time being essentially unknowable. To know that you don't know does not constitute any kind of knowledge, as it does not make you know what you don't know. At best, it may only make you want to know what you don't know.

I.2 Professional and Political Conjectures

As I write, I will never know the content of the conversation that might ensue from such an encounter. Yet I'm certain I would find it, to paraphrase Spock one of my favorite characters, fascinating to eavesdrop on. For reasons I cannot explain, and I hope she would not take offense at, I confess that contemplating on the above scenario in part inspired me to embark upon this project.

Finally, it behooves to touch on the political angle to my motivation. For this I invoke Patrick J. Buchanan's, quoting H.L. Mencken, conclusions to a recent column on "Global Warming" and "Theory of Evolution" with the following indictment of the powers that be, especially the purveyors of information:

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed -- and hence clamorous to be led to safety -- by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Both Darwinian Theory and moderate-period global temperature fluctuations were topics covered by An Introduction to Historical Geology, a course I used to teach to college juniors. Professional decorum compels me to think that an inquiry into the nature of knowledge with due diligence may help, in however minor way, exterminate those hideous hobgoblins, from the national polity. I am acutely aware that ideologues in the corridors of power, e.g., the Oval Office, both houses of Congress, the 'main stream media,' etc., have their designs to the contrary.



II. Some Fundamental Considerations


Let me stipulate as a primary axiom that the ultimate purpose of human knowledge is the perpetuation of the human species. What you know does not count for much if you end up being extinct, as did the dinosaurs of geologic antiquity.

It is necessary to postulate, as a starting point, that the physics of the universe mandates that everything exists in space and time. Furthermore, there are two intertwining and interacting realms of existence, namely the material and the conceptual. As a corollary, both space and time being themselves concepts, the material realm is necessarily subsumed by the conceptual realm. This is the main basis for 'mind over matter' to be axiomatic.

II.1 What Is Knowledge

Nothing exists in isolation. That is, existence, in and of itself presupposes a relationship. Knowledge may be construed as the state or condition of comprehension of this relationship, rather than just of the existent by a process of knowing. For any notion of knowledge to be viable, the process of knowing requires at least two necessary elements: the one that knows, aka, the knower, the sentient observer or subject, and that which needs to be known, aka the object of knowledge.

This architecture is congruent with what seems to be ubiquitous in the literature, such as that laid out by Jonathan Dolhenty as follows (emphasis omitted):

"There are three elements which enter into knowledge:

  • (1) the knowing subject,
  • (2) the known object, and
  • (3) the mental act of knowing, which is called cognition."

I differ with Dolhenty in one significant way. The entity of my object of knowledge is focused on the relationships concomitant to the existent's existence rather than the existent itself. I also further stipulate that when it comes to sentient being, I mean human beings. When it comes to thinking, I am unapologetically anthropocentric. I cannot care less what the hen 'thinks' or 'feels' about it when I consume a soft boiled egg.

II.2 Three Types of Knowledge

For pedagogical purposes, I recognize and propose to deal with three basic species or types of knowledge
M. Steup), to wit: discursive or propositional, descriptive or attributional, and recursive or operational. This is not to claim that the list is exhaustive. It is merely to concede that the limits of my understanding recognize these three types to be relevant to the mission of prevailing over the processes and phenomena, encountered in both nature and society, that the mind needs to muster to control, and hence both beneficially and beneficiently utilize, its environment.

I acknowledge a somewhat radical departure from the classical formulation of Spinoza's
three kinds of knowledge, to wit:

knowledge of the first kind is based on sense experience and imagination;

knowledge of the second kind is based on reason or understanding;

knowledge of the third kind, which "proceeds [directly] from an adequate idea of the formal essence of certain attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the essence of things."

In my scheme of things, imagination does not formally belong in the realm of knowledge. While imagination may encourage and hasten the acquisition or augmentation of knowledge, it cannot be construed as an integral part of knowledge, per se. Likewise, his third kind of knowledge rather belongs in the rubric of Devine enlightenment or revelation, more in the genre of inspiration.

{Parenthetically, I deem it useful to emphasize in passing, that the fanatical acolytes of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) in politics and academia, notably including President Obama and some friends of mine who I otherwise respect, are the classic victims of the trap laid out by Spinoza. Wittingly or unwittingly, they exploit the inherently ambiguous boundary between knowledge and imagination to promote the sinister AGW agenda with the view of enhancing the benefits they derive therefrom. For Obama and other politicians it is economic leverage to justify taxation. For the academic types it is the continued funding of research or teaching projects, in progress or being proposed.}

II.2.1 Recursive or Operational Knowledge

Of the three species, the third, namely operational knowledge is the simplest kind to prove and establish. I therefore find it expedient to deal with it first. This is typified by "how to do things," kind of knowledge, where the proverbial "the proof is in the pudding" mantra is particularly applicable. The know-how used is valid if and only if the process yields the intended and expected results. As with every type of knowledge, the degree of difficulty of the proof is proportional to the degree of complexity of the object.

Thus, for instance, how to prepare a soft-boiled egg depends on what market grade of eggs you are using and who is the intended consumer of the dish. I prefer 'barely comfortably peelable' while Jack Lemmon's Felix Unger prefers 'spoonable.' For a Rhode Island White Leghorn medium grade sized egg, Felix's optimally requires three-and-a-quarter minutes in boiling water, mine is best done in four-and-a-half minutes.

On the other hand, how to package explosives for remote detonation would require a more intricate construction and commensurate attention to detail. Obviously building the superconducting super collider particle accelerator entails an almost immeasurable degree of complexity, in comparison.

II.2.2 Descriptive or Attributional Knowledge

Any attempt or effort to codify the attributes of an existent such that it acquires enough coherence to be communicated to another subject or knower, falls in the rubric of establishing attributional knowledge. This type encompasses descriptions of places, people, events, phenomena and imminently knowable objects, etc. These include both tangible (matters, events and places) and intangible objects such as the narrative of a dream episode.

The declarative statement, "my daughter is blonde and she has blue eyes" represents a good example of this type of knowledge. Made to a predominantly Scandinavian or Eastern European audience, it most probably may elicit a shrug of the shoulders or a "big deal!" in response. But made to an Oriental or Asian audience, as happens to be my ethnicity, it might elicit a "how did you manage to do that?" kind of response.

In either case, colors of the hair and the eyes being standard features of a person's likeness traditionally employed for personal identification chores, the audience need not delve into the intricacies of light wave mechanics or the physics of refraction of light to confirm or deny the truth or falsity of the statement. The use of commonplace metrics would suffice to prove the verity of the statement.

The point being that the ease or difficulty with which knowledge can be established primarily depends on the credulity or gullibility of the recipient public or audience, and the complexity of the knowledge being proved. Thus the statement "the earth is round," to be proved, needed the circumnavigation of the globe to take hold over the proclivities of the "flat earth society." By contrast, the statement "the sky is blue" needs only the ability of the audience to look up and the vagaries of the weather to get confirmed, or otherwise nullified.

A dream episode is a more tricky item to deal with. That dreams do occur has been chronicled since biblical antiquity. By a dream episode I refer to the sequence of events, scenes and interactions that unfolds while the subject is in a state of sleep which can be recalled as a coherent gestalt after waking up.

The subject is involved either as a participant to the event scenario or a passive spectator. Regardless, the narrative of the episode falls under descriptive knowledge. This stems from the Descartes' dictum that knowledge emanates from the thinking subjective self. Both the interpretation of the dream, and the cause that triggers the episode falls in the rubric of propositional knowledge, as they involve looking into the intricacies of physical brain activities and the dynamics of mental functionalities.

II.2.3 Discursive or Propositional Knowledge

This is by far the most complex of the three types of knowledge.




Let us examine each one of these types



III. The Architecture of Inquiry


A typical college syllabus on the subject of Inquiry is described by K. P. Mohanan
to contain something like, ". . . equipping students with the ability to:


The Architecture of Knowledge has been delved into by Jonathan Dolhenty as follows (emphasis omitted):

"There are three elements which enter into knowledge:

  • (1) the knowing subject,
  • (2) the known object, and
  • (3) the mental act of knowing, which is called cognition.

The subject is obviously the one who knows, the knower in this case is man, and taken individually, the ego or I myself.

The object of knowledge is anything and everything that is, or becomes, or can be, known by man. The objects of man's knowledge are himself, conscious states of his self, and also realities other than himself. Every act of knowledge must be knowledge of something and refer to some object."

Spinoza's three kinds of knowledge:

knowledge of the first kind is based on sense experience and imagination;

knowledge of the second kind is based on reason or understanding;

knowledge of the third kind, which "proceeds [directly] from an adequate idea of the formal essence of certain attributes of God to an adequate knowledge of the essence of things."



IV. Pursuant of the Fundamentals


Seeds of the Soul planted at conception with the Will as the gift of Providence.



V. Some Political Implications


What needs to be done to leverage back the corridors of power.


VI. Bibliography: Itemizing Primary Sources


The hyperlinks embedded in the text are itemized as Notes. The hyperlinks embedded in the Notes are left as they are from the original sources.

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