General Attributes


Here follows a list of general attributes of knowledge in contemporary use.  It is a cursory list to give a broad stroke of the knowledge smorgasbord.  Biological Aspects are treated separately.

Trend to Naturalism

Knowing vs. knowing in one’s guts or bones

Knowledge carries attitude

If someone is not comfortable with what they say (or know), they will exhibit awkward behavior

And conversely, if someone is very comfortable with what they say (or know) they will exhibit comfortable behavior and sometimes brilliant or intuitive further knowledge.

Knowledge is a behavior

Knowing as picture vs. dealing with something (cf. Charles Taylor, knowing what a football is involves a football 'behavior')

K as an aspect of an organism coupling to features of its environment

Leon Kass on seeing the world vs. eating the world

This Page:



Instability of Object

Externality of Knowledge

Communication Demands

Power Aspects

Economic Considerations

Psychology/ Cognition


All thinking uses body metaphors (up/down, inside, strong, etc. are all relative to body perspective)

Embodiment - knowledge is embodied in knower

Knowledge often resides in extreme parts of body (e.g., knowing how to play the piano involves learning with the hands as much as the brain)

Lessons from Computation

Algorithms reveal that much knowledge can be encoded or calculated reliably from a small set of instructions

Knowledge can be acquired by neural nets which are highly distributed, random connections that learn by reinforcement.

Information theory reveals perceptual thresholds arising from noise

Artificial intelligence turns intelligence hierarchy upside down by showing that what was assumed to be the easiest, discrimination or perception, is much more difficult than what was considered difficult (computation and storage)

Distributed control (knowledge is more efficient when stored locally)

Object does not exist independently of observers

Critique of the closure of any concept ("What is wrong with the notion of objects existing 'independently' of conceptual schemes is that there are no standards for the use of even the logical notions apart from conceptual choices." Representation and Reality, Hilary Putnam, Bradford, 198?, p.114.)

Logical disconnection of something - even from itself in another moment of time ("If we take even a symbolic expression 1 = 1, 'absolute sameness' in 'all' aspects is equally impossible, although we may use in this connection terms such as 'equal', 'equivalent'. 'Absolute sameness in all aspects' would necessitate an identity of different nervous systems which produce and use these symbols, an identity of the different states of the nervous system of the person who wrote the above two symbols, an identity of the surfaces [etc.], of different parts of the paper, in the distribution of ink, and what not. To demand such impossible conditions is, of course, absurd, but it is equally absurd and very harmful for sanity and civilization to preserve until this day such delusional formulations as standards of evaluation, and then spend a lifetime of suffering and toil to evade the consequences." Science and Sanity: An Introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and General Semantics, Alfred Korzybski, Lakeville, Conn., Institute of General Semantics, 1958, pps. 194-5)

Knowledge is a selective/deselective force in evolution (e.g. knowledge of 'wheat' has meant great changes for the wheat family of genotypes and for other plants, soils and cultures)

Bruno Latour - science belies its particularist roots; fact/belief dichotomy is replaced by 'factish'; the object always carries a fabricated element

Constructivism has convincingly shown, following Kant's lead, that the mind brings its own constructs and expectations to its perceptions.

Quantum mechanics reveals a fundamental bond between object and observation

Externality of Knowledge

Knowledge can be stored externally (e.g. writing, tools, roads)

Memes highlight knowledge's ability to be reproducible, stereotypes the danger of this reproducibility

Gregory Bateson’s ecology of mind (knowledge is part of a circuit such as axe is part of human-warmth-fire-wood-cut-axe)

Semiotics reveals all objects to be signs, carriers of meaning and capable of being used to indicate more meaning (Note that meaning, like knowledge is an underdefined term)

Knowledge is contextual, shaped and/or stored in local specific contexts

Dewey’s notion of transactional bodies places knowledge within a whole of those who use it

Situated knowledge including eco- and ethno-knowledges and community knowledge place knowledges in a specific group and context

Sociology of Knowledge (knowledge is culture)

P. Bourdieu - knowledge resides in institutions (see also business/econ section below) as a structured "habitus" where one can acquire social capital.

Metaman/cybiont - humans as part of a supraorganism where knowledge binds us and where institutions such as stock exchange function as intelligence or newspapers scares function as hormonal glands?

Communicational Demands

Narrative and discourse theories - knowledge is constrained by social ridges of narratives and social ravines of discourses

Conversational analysis (more than knowledge exchange - turn taking, identity negotiation, story clusters, action sequence negotiations, amplitude shifts, etc.)

Knowledge as truth is detrimental in dealing with forms of communication such as negotiation that presume neither same beginning point nor end point.

Epistemics - truth prevents good (i.e. organized) arguments and disagreements; need for the reappraisal of rhetoric

All forms of participation including the participatory arts (e.g., singing, dance) are relegated to frivolous position.

Media must present knowledge in an already organized fashion but allowing some interpretation.

Power Aspects

Knowledge is a form of power - M. Foucault et al

Knowledge as corrupting (e.g., If too many people know about it, will be ruined.)

Knowledge as dangerous (e.g., "If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.")

Knowledge as the play of secrecy/advertising (e.g., "The best kept secret in the Bahamas")


Joseph Rouse - Knowledge requires an analytics analogous to Foucault’s power analytics

Knowledge is often subservient to ideologies

As covered in Terry Eagleton in "Ideology" (1991), Verso ideology could be any of the following where each would entail knowledge as circumscribed into ideology:

Process of production of meanings, signs and value
Process whereby social life is converted to a natural reality
Body of ideas characteristic of a social group
Socially necessary illusion
Medium in which social actors make sense of their world
Forms of thought motivated by social interests
Ideas/false ideas which bolster a dominant political power
That which offers a position for a subject
Identity thinking

Economic Considerations

Knowledge is a business commodity

Use of knowledge on the internet implies that it is hierarchical, user controlled, flourishing even in contradiction and needing to be “maintained.”

Knowledge can be controlled, purchased

Knowledge as advertising is what an advertiser can convince consumers to believe

Knowledge as tacit business practices reveals knowledge to lie hidden in the everyday practices and habits of the workers and customers.

Knowledge must be enacted to go from concept to tacit, everyday usefulness.

Knowledge management is involved in creation, distribution and destruction (outdated practices)

Economics of knowledge (Knowledge/memory have costs and efficiencies)

Information glut puts Enlightenment-type knowledge in the sense of knowing almost everything out of reach as knowledge production outpaces even distribution.


Unconsciousness (knowledge can be crippled by the inate patterns)

Knowledge is rutted into more primitive relational aspects of our personalities

Knowledge as healing where one specific knowledge or recognition of a problem can cause healing (this notion predates modern psychology)

Knowledge from psychology has opened up a bind between control and undermining knowledge where one knower has a privileged view of another's blind side (and deterministic side).

Cognitive psychology and animal cognition - knowledge is acquired in discrete steps of cognitive abilities

In evolutionary time and/or in developmental time

Knowledge is a carrier of emotions (and some speak of emotional quotient)

Edward de Bono - thinking is a pattern satisfaction and it comes with different characters (negative, prolific, etc.)

Virtue epistemology - choices of rightness are influenced by ethical elements

Robert Kegan - knowledge of relational thinking is needed to negotiate modern life (not only relationships but identity itself is used and negotiated) (See "Over Our Heads: the Mental Demands of Postmodern Life", R. Kegan, Harvard)

Knowledge as carrier of spiritual grasping, unhappiness (See Spiritual Aspects section)



Thoughts and suggestions; Email

Page updated 9/3/01