Usability of non-knowledge

January 29th, 2007

Knowledge may be defined in many ways. Sure, quite a number of people writing and talking about knowledge do not even care about defining knowledge (sorry no references here in order to protect the innocent). Moreover, one might deny the existence of varying definitions, though, I — personally — would see this as a sign of a view on knowledge differing from my own view.

Apparently, some people take the delicate concept of disfinism a step further: We do not know what knowledge is, therefore, naturally, let’s do research on non-knowledge, respectively ignorance and the unknown. (Mind you, I am not talking of myself I am just a liar.) Of course, this research shall add to the existing (scientific) knowledge (in contrast to existing non-knowledge).

As a side note, here is one more hint on why disfinism is a safe bet: As long as one does not define the concepts one’s work is based on, or the area to which one’s work applies, one can carelessly produce whatever others buy (or even do not buy). And they will, because consistency rules.

But is it of any use? The work? The knowledge? This blog?

You might well ask! As an example, let’s provide a definition for knowledge. Say, knowledge is what can be put into use, and what leads to something useful. In this sense, we may want to define non-knowledge as what cannot be put into use, or is useless (not to mention that this definition could come in useful). Please note that this is only an example of perhaps minor use — depending on your definition of use. Also, you might want to limit this definition’s scope to what is nonphysical.

What happens as you start gathering (useful) knowledge while you try not to accumulate non-knowledge, while you try to separate what is useful from what is useless, while you weed out ignorance, while you warn your fellows of possible non-knowledge, intended ignorance, and the temporally unknown?

Here is an answer by Bill Watterson’s character Calvin:

The more you know, the harder it is to take decisive action. Once you become informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray. You realize that nothing is as clear and simple as it first appears. Ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing.
Being a man of action I can’t afford to take that risk.

Is this knowledge useful? It’s hard to decide, isn’t it!?


January 24th, 2007

Constructivism is easy to explain: Don’t!1


The basic assumption (or condition) is that there is you. From this it follows that there’s something which — or somebody who — is not you.2

Getting to know what is not youCorollary

In order to know you need to know about what is not you. Thus, whatever you want to know about what is not you needs to find some way into you.

The English language has a huge number of terms for these “ways”: Learn, observe, perceive, watch, hear, realize, comprehend, get, … you name it. Their essential aspect is that something is happening (on the way). Let’s call this the “process of perception” (but you may call it whatever you prefer).

That’s it.

In other words, constructivism acknowledges that — if you assume that there is you and something or somebody who is not you — there is something in between. For instance, a medium (that needs to be passed), some time (that goes by), an act of observation, sensory receptions, a recognition, maybe a translation, a calculation, or a memorization, and probably some thinking. Or else, you wouldn’t be able to know about what is not you.

The visual system (like of human beings), as well as any other sensory system, or a close look into a human eye illustrates the multitude of processes which is involved with the “process of perception”.

Varieties of constructivism

The specifics of the “process of perception” are interpreted and described in varying ways by the many facets of constructivism. Also, some forms of constructivism confine their theories to less general distinctions of you versus what is not you (e.g. social constructivism examines mostly social relations like you and a friend, groups of people, or societies, and how those perceive each other and everything else).

[Radical constructivism] starts from the assumption that knowledge (…) is in the heads of persons, and that the thinking subject has no alternative but to construct what he or she knows on the basis of his or her own experience.
Ernst von Glasersfeld3


Constructivism offers ways of perceiving perception.
If you prefer other perceptions of constructivism, welcome aboard.


1) The presented text is no explanation apart from the fact that you might view it as a plain representation flattened out on a computer screen or paper.
2) If for whatever reason you cannot agree here, either because you think there is only you, or because you think nothing exists independently of you, then you can stop reading since you are already thinking in a most constructivistic manner.
3) Ernst von Glasersfeld: Radical Constructivism. A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: Falmer Press 1995. Page 1.

A “funny game of constructivism”

January 20th, 2007

Andreas Zeuch referred to rattus rattus’ blog as a “funny game of constructivism”, though up until this very entry neither the word constructivism nor construct appeared anywhere in this blog (except for 2 obscure references of construction).

Curiously enough, this is some hint if you consider the fact that many people who by others are referred to as being constructivists never did so themselves. This applies to me as well as to this blog. I shall always happily refer to myself as a liar.

Then again, I do not know what Zeuch means by constructivism. In fact, I cannot know what goes on in Zeuch’s head at all, can I? Heck, I have no idea of what goes on in my own head. Does Zeuch? — Anyway, this not-knowing is part of (radical) constructivism according to Ernst von Glasersfeld who should know (1).

Even if I wanted to avoid using the label constructivism I would have a hard time letting you know. Though, if there is constructivism then it doesn’t matter anyhow. Or so, many think (as if it does matter if it doesn’t).

So, what is constructivism? — It’s a lie! Constructivism is the lie that makes understanding feasible. And because of this, I shall happily explain to you constructivism. Watch out!


1) Ernst von Glasersfeld: “We Can Never Know What Goes On In Somebody Else’s Head”: Ernst Von Glasersfeld On Truth And Viability, Language And Knowledge, And The Premises Of Constructivist Education; An interview conducted by B. Pörksen. Cybernetics and Systems 35 (2004) 4: 379-398.

Knowing that I believe

January 16th, 2007

I prefer to know that I believe rather than to believe I know.

Believe it or not this is a personal quote. Heck, I think I should be glad that it dates way back about 20 years :) Nowadays, this quote puts a smile on my face. And, I don’t even have to replace “believe” with “not knowing” to add to the fun.

Oder wenn jemand schreibt

Ob es einen Unterschied gibt, zwischen »glauben zu wissen« und »wissen zu glauben« ist schlicht eine Glaubensfrage.

komme ich nicht umhin mich zu fragen, woher “die” das wissen.

[G (German)]

Weathermen of knowledge

November 11th, 2006

I have just attended a mini-conference on truth and knowledge, organized by Manfred Füllsack. Well, you know, it doesn’t take a bunch of acknowledged experts to make you know what you do not know, but then it certainly helps in some way or other.

You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows
— Bob Dylan

In fact, I am still pondering over what I have actually been listening to. When someone articulates the need to distinguish tacit and articulated knowledge is this distinction nevertheless articulated, or is it meant to provoke the question which particular tacit knowledge it takes to draw the distinction?

Or, have I simply missed the speakers blink their Epimenidic eyes?

When Herbert Hrachovec compared the truth of knowledge with the expiry date of food might it be that the truth of his comparison had already expired at the time it has reached the audience? Thomas Auinger said this is not an issue of relativism. Quoting him: “Hier gibt es kein Relativierungsproblem.” Besides me wondering about what he was relating to, he might have been right about it if we consider the fact that the word “Relativierungsproblem” pretty much only came into existence when he used it. Or, was Herbert Hrachovec right when Thomas Auinger’s truth expired?

Of course, it’s all a question of definitions, isn’t it? (I love it!)
We have covered disfinism earlier here: The pure disfinism (of no definitions) and the eclectic disfinism (of a great many definitions). I should further extend the concept of disfinism by implicit disfinism.

Implicit disfinism is the science (or art — if you want — unless you define it) of discussing theories which try to explain the nature and scope of specific notions by use of the notions themselves without ever defining them. The little conference serves as a particularly nice example where several theories of epistemology (that’s theories of theories of knowledge) have been debated including plenty of references to truth and knowledge, shamelessly avoiding their definitions.

Thanks, guys!

Everything you know is wrong

October 11th, 2006

If you have ever doubted the usability of a liar’s typical statement “everything you know is wrong” apparently suits well as catchline for a book about disinformation. And You are being lied to is of course the truth of another book, isn’t it?

Even when the title becomes more specific like in Everything you know about sex is wrong it’s no less of a truth as any self-contradictory statement.

Don’t forget:
Everything you know about blogging and me is wrong. This in particular.

“I am not absolutely sure of anything”

September 24th, 2006

You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here… I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.

Richard P. Feynman, from a transcript of BBC television program Horizon in 1981. To be found in Jeffrey Robbins (ed.): The Pleasure of Finding things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman. Allen Lane 2000. Also in: James Gleick: Genius: Life & Science of Richard Feynman. Pantheon 1992.

A liar who knows nothing

August 6th, 2006

Truth and knowledge often enter the arena hand in hand. Knowledge being honored if true, truth being more valued if known.

Imagine Socrates were living in Crete. Say, being Epimenides‘ brother. A liar saying he knows nothing but the fact of his ignorance. The Honorable Chief Judge Aristotle, as yesterday so today, might have had him burn at the stake much earlier.

In some languages a double negative resolves to a negative, while in others it resolves to a positive. (Wikipedia, as of 2006-08-06)

Let’s try this. Do the following resolve to a negative or to a positive?

  • I can’t get no satisfaction.
  • But never do what you are not told.
  • He doesn’t know nothing ’bout no knowin.
  • Though, she does not know her ignorance.
  • Anyway, no words ought not to be trusted.

It’s a weird thing.

I am glad I am a liar who knows nothing save that there is more to know than knowledge. Now, go ahead, sue me!