Knowledge and Information LO30688

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 10/10/03

Replying to LO30654 --

Hi Hal:

Thanks for that very thoughtful post. I'd like to respond further to a
couple things you said. See below.


Earlier, I wrote:

>> (a) not all of our knowledge is in use in the form of actions all of the
>>time and yet we still have it, and
>> (b) that some of our knowledge may not be in our minds at all and may be
>>recorded in written or some other liguistic form.

You replied:

>I certainly agree with your (a) assertion, Mark.
>Our knowledge (IMHO) triggers action only when the "fact field" (all facts
>that you recall, see, hear, feel, etc. at that moment) being processed by
>your knowledge returns a new fact: "danger" or "opportunity".
>Of course, with no observable action at all one can inventory or even
>exercise one's knowledge through memories, what ifs, etc.

Yes! Exactly.

>Not to cut to fine a point, but in (b) the knowledge could not be "mine"
>until I internalize it. Your wording puts it in the domain of "ours" to
>which I must agree if "ours" includes all creatures both living and
>passed. But it, I believe by definition, must have been internalized by
>at least one of "us."

This is not too fine a point at all. It points to the the distinction
between mental or subjective knowledge, and expressed or objective
knowledge. But now comes the very interesting possibility of an exception
to what you say. I agree that explicit objective knowledge, since it has
been expressed, must first have taken the form of mental knowledge by
someone in order to have been expressed in the first place (we'll leave
aside for now the question of whether or not the expressed version is a
perfect match of the prior, internal version, which I don't think it is).

But once expressed, much explicit knowledge is full of logical
implications that have not yet been discovered or realized by anyone.
Thus, a well thought out theory that has been expressed in writing as a
record of someone's thinking or beliefs may be full of logical
implications that even the originator of the theory is unaware of. They
are future internalizations, to use your word, not past ones. And yet,
they are still arguably in there!

This is the signifcance of Karl Popper's so-called 3rd world of knowledge.
It's a kind of nether world that 'exists' in every sense of the term -- a
world of language and logic that is independent of our minds or the
physical world itself -- Popper's 2nd and 1st worlds, respectively.
Unlike the 1st and 2nd worlds, the 3rd world is inhabitted by
linguistically expressed assertions and all of their logical implications.
And it exists independent of our minds, and even includes assertions that
no minds have yet conceived!

I believe this 3rd world is a very real one, and that its existence lends
support to the view that knowledge is not just a mental phenomenon.


>I think all the confusion comes from confusing "learning" with
>"knowledge". We can learn facts, but IMHO this is not knowledge but
>internalization of information. Again I assert knowledge is acting on
>information - even if that action is completely internal to our thinking
>and only the individual is aware of it. It seems to me we need a new word
>whose definition is" That knowledge which is not information."

Here, Hal, I think you slip backwards, not forward. You just got done
above making the all-important distinction between knowledge and action,
only to now reassert their conflation. I think the confusion behind this
stems from the fact that all action can be seen as an expression of
knowledge. I agree with that. But the reverse does not logically follow
-- that all knowledge is necessarily expressed as action.

Also, if you accept the view, as discussed above, that objective knowledge
exists outside of minds, then it should be clear that knowledge can exist
independent of action, for there are no 'actors' in Popper's 3rd world,
only claims and their logical implications.

As for the term you're looking for, I submit there is no such word, for
all knowledge is a type of information. What type? A type whose semantic
content we believe or claim to be true. When you say "When we learn facts
[it is] not knowledge but information," you, and others, commit the
mistake of glossing over the very important consideration of whether or
not what we think we have learned is true or false. It's as if it's safe
to assume that the "information" we learn is always true, so the
distinction between truth and falsity is superfluous.

But since this is obviously not the case (i.e., information that we learn
is very often false), we need to a term that fits the following
definition: information that we believe or claim to be true, and not
false. That term, I submit, is 'knowledge,' and it can exist in either
our minds or in our cultural artifacts in the form of linguistic
expressions. Information that we believe is false is 'false information,'
not knowledge at all. Information that we have not yet decided upon is
'just information.'

And so I think so much of what passes for definitions of information and
knowledge suffer from a poverty of epistemology -- a failure to adequately
take the issue of truth or falsity in beliefs or claims into account.
This is profoundly ironic. I often think to myself how strange it is that
I have to argue so hard for consideration of the question of truth versus
falisty in discussions centered around the very idea of knowledge, as if
notions of truth versus falsity are somehow foreign to the subject.
They're not, they're at the center of it -- the defintions we need hinge
on them.

Hope this helps.



Mark W. McElroy
President, KMCI, Inc. []
CEO, Macroinnovation Associates, LLC []
(802) 436-2250


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

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