Knowledge and Information LO30698

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 10/13/03

Replying to LO30695 --

Dear Hal:

First I want to thank you for sticking with this discussion. I believe
the issues we're discussing are quite important and I appreciate your
commitment to rigor. See my further comments below. wrote:

> Yes, these future connections are (arguably) "in there" - sort of a Prego
> theory . . . :-)
> But I assert these connections are not knowledge until they are, to use
> your word, discovered. (Here I assume discovered means found and thought
> about by a knowledge-holding, knowledge-executing creature)

Well I think they are knowledge in the form of claims as opposed to
knowledge in the form of beliefs. But I also want to point out that even
when they are 'discovered,' to use my term, by a mind, they are not
knowledge by virtue of the discovery, because the discovering mind may
reject them as false. Rather, they are knowledge independent of minds.
So in their recorded 'objective' form, they are knowledge regardless of
whether or not the discoverer accepts them as such as true. But that is
not to say that they were not regarded as true by the minds that produced
them, or that they may not be regarded as true by some other minds who may
regard them as true in the future, even though some who do discover them
may regard them as false. No. What we need as a basis for truth versus
falsity is something more than whether or not claims have been apprehended
by minds. Read on.

Now then, I would now like to suggest that we drop the definitional debate
because I think it is a waste of time. My sense is that it has become,
like so many others before it, a contest of mere ad hoc preferences or
even political posturing. We can define terms any way we like and get
exactly nowhere in the process. Instead, I suggest we focus on the heart
of the issue, as it were, which to me is whether or not the idea of
correspondence between a belief (or a statement) and the fact(s) that it
points to is possible. I call such correspondence, if it is complete,
truth. But rather than argue about the definition of the term, let's
shift to the heart of the matter. My question for you is: Can there be
correspondence between beliefs and/or statements and facts? In your
opinion, yes or no?

If you agree with me that there can be such a correspondence, or that we
can at least compare the content of our beliefs and claims with what we
regard as facts, then I think we may have a basis for agreement in
general. But if you do not think that there can be such a thing as
(degrees of) correspondence between beliefs and/or claims and facts, then
I would ask you (a) to explain why not, and (b) what mechanism you propose
we use instead as a way of separating reliable or useful beliefs or claims
from unreliable or useless ones. If you believe the world exists -- and
maybe you don't -- how do you distinguish between beliefs or claims about
it that are accurate or truthlike versus ones that aren't?

For myself, I do believe in the idea of seeking to establish
correspondence between beliefs or claims and the real world. And because
of this belief, I also believe that claims, and not just beliefs, can
convey such correspondences. And since such correspondences can exist in
written form -- whether discovered, read, or ever deciphered or not by
minds -- that such objective expressions of correspondences exist
independent of minds and have autonomous standing, if you will. The claim
that the moon is not made of green cheese does not depend on the existence
of knowing subjects -- much less human ones -- to be true or false. Its
truthfulness is quite independent of us anthropocentric mortals, thank you
very much.

> Your argument relies on the "knowledge" being eventually "discovered" or
> at least discoverABLE if I read you correctly. That is, it is still a
> "mind in the loop" knowledge definition with action (internal or external)
> the sole means of detecting the knowledge.

See response above. There is no such reliance in my view.

> A connection ready to make is not a connection made.

Connections with minds are not a requirement for truthfulness.

> The rest of your argument is founded on a belief that a connection made
> more ready (but not yet connected) is knowledge - I disagree (Note that I
> do not use objectionable words here such as "mistake" or "slip backwards")

Hal, if I think you've made a mistake or that your argument displays a
contradiction that causes it to slip backwards, why can't I say that? Do
not mistake a critique of an argument for a personal attack? Let's keep
this civil. I respect you and that is why I give your words the fair and
open critique they deserve. Do not penalize me for doing so. What would
you have me do, humor you? I expect the same treatment from you.

> So my assertion that knowledge may only be detected by action (internal or
> external) still stands unchallenged.

See above. Objective knowledge in the form of claims does not depend upon
a mind to exist once a mind has produced it. A statement thereafter which
asserts a correspondence between itself and the facts it refers to exists
independent of such knowers after it has been produced. Thereafter, the
degree of actual correspondence between a claim and the fact(s) it refers
to is what it is.

> You make a sort of side point later in your note revolving around the
> nature of facts and the truth or falsity of same.
> In a message dated 10/10/2003 11:04:58 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
> writes:
>>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

Actually, Hal, I was quoting you, not me. That's why the above was in
quotes. My point was just as you say, that what we learn is not the same
as facts. Rather, it is what we THINK or SAY the facts are. And what we
think or say the facts are may be true or false. So to say that we learn
knowledge or information is to gloss over the issue of whether what we
think or say we've learned is actually true or false -- or, more
precisely, to gloss over the issue of why we carry on as though what we
think or say we've 'learned' is always true.

> In this, unfortunately, you seem to miss the definition of the
> word "fact" - if a belief is false it is, by definition NOT a fact. The
> word "fact" carries with it this truth / falsity breastwork which you
> accuse the rest of us of ignoring.

No. There is a difference between a state of reality (a fact) and the
content of a belief or a claim about it. Facts are conditions of reality.
Beliefs and claims are assertions or descriptions of reality that may or
may not comport with the facts. If they were one and the same, there'd be
no possibility of falsity, which of course is preposterous.

> Main Entry: fact
> Pronunciation: 'fakt
> Function: noun
> Etymology: Latin factum, from neuter of factus, past participle of facere
> Date: 15th century
> 1 : a thing done: as a : obsolete : FEAT b : CRIME <accessory after the fact>
> c : archaic : ACTION
> 2 : archaic : PERFORMANCE, DOING
> 3 : the quality of being actual : ACTUALITY <a question of fact hinges on
> evidence>
> 4 a : something that has actual existence <space exploration is now a fact> b
> : an actual occurrence <prove the fact of damage>
> 5 : a piece of information presented as having objective reality
> - in fact : in truth
> A fact IS reality, actuality, truth.

Per my comments above, I agree that fact is reality. But to say that it
is truth is to beg the question of how we determine truth relative to what
the facts are. So it is not the truth. You have to tell me/us how you
establish the correspondence between beliefs or claims about what the
facts ARE before you can claim that your version of WHAT they are makes
them true, or truth. Again, I refer you to my queries above. Of course
you may reject this notion of correspondence as a definition of truth
altogether, in which case I remain anxious to hear what your alternative

> Thus, I believe my assertion of information as "the facts" and knowledge
> as "what to do about the facts" also stands unchallenged. The group HAS
> refined my thinking to be inclusive of "mental activity" in the word
> "action".

No. Information is nothing but claims about what you or others think the
facts happen to be, and that alone begs the double question of (a) whether
claims contained in information are based on a belief in correspondence
between them and reality, and (b) how such correspondence is established
[i.e., by what criteria], assuming you subscribe to the correspondence

> So we do progress . . .




Mark W. McElroy
President. KMCI (
CEO, Macroinnovation Associates (


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.