Knowledge: A Choice (Jan. 2002)

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Knowledge: God-like Reason or Many-splendored Biological Behaviors? 

 
If a person knows something and does it, does she act from her reason or does she perform essentially a bodily function given her understanding of her situation? Usually in the history made in view of the ancient Greeks the answer has been that people act rather deliberatively from knowledge and reason. Knowledge and action are considered separate categories. First we know like the proverbial all-knowing God’s-eye-view looking down on a situation, and then after consulting reason we act.

If we ask the same question to a (magically talking) beaver in his pond, what would be his reply? Giving an answer to our thought conversation, we imagine that the beaver would say that he just chews trees and dams creeks because that’s the way it is without any presumption of initial widespread knowledge before action. Meanwhile ponds are formed, erosion is mitigated and riverine species adjust to new conditions of constant flooding just as people make widespread changes to their environment from their actions–at least this is what happened before beavers were heavily trapped.

Rather than turning this question into the tired philosophical path of human reason versus determinism and while acknowledging something different and yet similar between the person and the beaver, the attempt will be to answer the question by finding another frame of reference. We could and will consider, for example, a frame that compares not plan and action but circuits of effects. The beaver chews trees to move logs to dam water to create protection. The person will be, say, a farmer who plants seeds to grow wheat to harvest the crop to bake bread to eat. Both circuits begin and end with the initiator. In this way we would then be tempted to say that people are different than beavers in that we can create longer and more elaborate circuits. One notices immediately that simpler animals use simple environmental interaction circuits like, say, pushing with a leg against a rock to move oneself. The frame of organisms acting through circuits then feels right in that it does not make the old stark choice of attributing special powers of reason to humans and mere determinism to animals. Nor does this frame introduce the additional philosophical problem of how does action proceed from reason, a seemingly pure form of spirit without causality.

From this new frame of reference we can then say that we ourselves are organisms possessing many elaborate circuits with elements in our environment. I live between circuits of houses-erection-warmth-protection, post offices-writing-letters-correspondence, books-reading-ideas-new plans, and so on. These circuits appear in a variety of ways as when we speak of cats having instincts to hunt mice or of ducklings needing the developmental stimulus of a mother to initiate following behavior or of bees knowing flowers by a coupling of sensory cues and nectar extracting behavior.

This makes sense but seems odd. Why? Our usual way of talking is that we know about things and then we use them in what we think are true or virtuous ways. We are back to the commander in chief of reason acting like a field marshal. If we turn to the contemporary understanding from philosophy, we find more anomalies from among this usual way of thinking.

Here we find ferment around the discussions about truth and the nature of the mind. We will leave out the wildly unclear discussions about agency and right action (ethics) for the moment. But the discussions about mind and truth are seen to closely follow the frame of reference of humans as the great planners who seek to absorb all seeing truth into the reason machine of mind before proceeding to action. Mind and truth are the inner and outer facets of humans, the great reasoners. Not surprisingly the shoes are not fitting too well and there are huge difficulties as you will have noticed if you trouble yourself to follow this literature.

Most of us are aware that truth itself is something that varies among people’s points of view and that is far from certain. Unfortunately the overall discussion is largely framed as relentlessly searching for certain truth or giving up and succumbing to the messy condition of everyone to her own truth. And part of the confinement of this discussion relates to a division whether truth lies in splendid independence out in the world waiting to be discovered (the perfect terrain for heroic reason to survey the dominion of truth before action) or whether truth is somehow constructed or interfered with by the knower. The very discussion of truth is uncomfortable with any suggestion of subjective corruption of pure facts. Whispers of divergence such as the example of the farmer above who saw a field of sagebrush before planting it with wheat are constructed as: the farmer knew the truth of the field of sagebrush, he acted, and then he knew the truth of the wheatfield. But farmers who regularly know the "truth" of weeds to be merely temporary impediments to wheat in a continual process of clearing and cultivating perform more like beavers than philosophers who pretend to hop like grasshoppers from one truth pedestal to the next.

Similarly, most of us are aware that the science-aided search for an explanation of the mind is moving rapidly but still in strong mystery about its nature. The architecture of the brain has been shown to be more wondrously complex than any of our forbears like Plato or Descartes could have ever imagined. Yet, despite this interlocking extravaganza most research proceeds as if the heroic brain can be explained in isolated splendor without turning to possible necessary connections with aspects of its environment. The tradition of Reason and humans as the towers of light tells the researchers that all the machinery and all the experience of consciousness must be there. Even when amidst the brain chemistry and neuronal circuitry a radical voice proposes a society of the mind, this is deemed to refer to a society of components within the mind rather than a possible society of the mind with its friends and enemies outside from wheat to houses to snakes.

Returning to our circuits of interaction frame of reference and a possible compromise between reason and determinism, we can look for a similar compromise frame between mind and truth. The best bridge concept goes through knowledge. Right now knowledge is conveniently defined as being the same as truth, and knowledge is said to consist in representations which allegedly reside in the brain even though no one has the least clue what a "representation" would look like or even to whom it would appear in some view master. In short knowledge has become a place marker concept to be used to check off someone if they "have" knowledge of something, preferably to be sold somewhere in the infamous knowledge economy. Going back to our circuits of wheat farming and beaver ponds, we could try out knowledge as, say, the circuit we have with the wheat. Wheat, then is the item in the circuit of farming and harvesting and bread and eating (with many other sub-circuits thrown in such as certain shapes of green things when separating them from non-food-producing plants). Our knowledge of wheat could be said to be a certain alliance with a certain plant. Our knowledge could be said to be a circuit of plant-cultivation-food. This works fine for the beaver who has an alliance with trees and ponds as well as a circuit including these. In fact we can go even further and propose that wheat and the farmer make a kind of hybrid organism of farmer-growing-wheat. That might sound derogatory in Manitoba, but then turning it into a country and Western song of "I’m a wheat producin’ man" sounds much better.

It is interesting to note that from an unexpected quarter, the science of genes, the very same proposal has been made. Richard Dawkins in the book "The Extended Phenotype" recognizes that logically the beaver plus pond should be considered the organism that helps those particular genes to survive since beaver without pond would have very different survival probabilities.

If we bring this back to ourselves, then the discussion so far indicates logically that we should consider ourselves to be not only our physical bodies but those plus our alliances to everything we know. And for most of us this is a lot more than for the beavers; it includes our houses, our clothes, our friends, the Eiffel Tower and now some picture of Kabul.

By way of side story or humor there is the anecdote about the Chinese philosopher Liu Ling who reportedly entertained similar ideas about being the sum of his knowing. He also, in a radical twist, belonged to a group who espoused nakedness. When a visitor to Liu Ling’s house remarked in surprise at his nakedness, he is reported to have replied, "The world is my house, and these walls are my garments. What then are you doing standing in my pants?" (Collins, Randall. 1999. The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.  p. 171)

Even if the frame of reference of enlarging any knowing organism to be the extent of all her alliances seems counterintuitive, we have at least answered the initial question in a way that is free of the contradiction of dividing reason and action. Each of us humans is an organism of extended knowledge alliances which lives and grows by adjusting the alliances from raising gardens to repairing our bicycles to stretching. This is less than the master of reason while the word "adjusting" hints at more than determinism. "Adjusting alliances" can be intuitively grasped as a creature of so many reward/avoidance circuits that there are opportunities to jump tracks between them as when we watch an animal walk back and forth before finally going off on one path. This linkage between circuitry profusion, circuitry interference, circuitry jumping followed by circuitry reinforcement of classes of circuit jumping is framed from conceptual language that works well with the current direction of brain research plus the established Darwinian type learning mechanisms.

Just for balance and a sense of openness about what this knowledge business is about consider some of the many, very different ways that we have used the words "to know." This will take several paragraphs and will hopefully feel like a break to look around a room to see what else is happening regarding this theme of knowledge.

In the Bible knowledge was marked as the power that imitated god and then it became a synonym for sexual intercourse presumably from a knowledge of closeness. With the Greeks of Homer’s time knowledge was akin to an insight that was a visitation of a god while good knowledge was like the thought that completes itself. Later Plato enjoined philosophers to leave the everyday shadowy knowledge of the cave for seeking pure knowledge through a cleansed and logical aspiration for the rather divine, pure forms of knowledge. For Buddha knowledge was akin to a desirous grasping that would surely lead to troubles.

Notions since then have only proliferated. There is the clarity notion. It is called a mirror of nature. Similarly, it has been compared to a clear vision or an idea or a representation. Related to these are the notions of observation, which is like a neutral snapshot, and perception, which is like receiving a sensed part of a vision that is somewhat like either a bouquet or a missile.

Tied to the older traditions where knowledge came from the gods are a group of concepts about knowledge that extend all the way down to recent concepts of reason as being a kind of logical, categorical source of purity. There was the concept whereby knowing was said to participate in divine wisdom. It might mean also surrendering to divine will or grace to get true knowledge. This could also be considered unions with divine wisdom. Current concepts like intuition or hidden psychic powers still retain a sense of counting on extrasensory help.

Related to this use of knowledge like inspiration is a sense that knowledge should also be a kind of wisdom or even alignment with wider processes. Knowing could mean to be attuned. And when alignment crossed with union then knowledge flowered as love that was both specific and a harmony with the divine. One could even know by being possessed of god.

From here it is not a great leap to see that knowledge is tied to imagination, discovery and creativity. If someone says that she knows that she can build a swimming pool, this is a testament to her imagination, creativity and faith as well as know-how.

But if knowledge leads to a creative potential, it also can be part of deceptions and illusions. Knowing can mean being part of a false ideology or of one’s unconscious projections or just simply what is called "wishful thinking." Here too where knowing can create a better future it can also corrupt. Recently I saw stenciled on the sidewalk at a university campus the words "U of F’s best kept secret." This brings out two contradictory aspects of knowing in that things are secret to keep from being spoiled by too much common knowledge whereas anything, including secrets, can be used as advertising material to make money from spreading knowledge. Both creativity and corruption underline that knowledge transforms. One might speak of an island’s history as being tranquil when no one knew about it until it was discovered and tourism completely changed it.

Another aspect of knowledge is that it can be an easy familiarity or it can be an effort as in disciplined training. The business literature speaks of a cycle where training and study in structured, planned ways are one kind of learning before this knowledge seeps into daily life of an organization where it is then considered tacit knowledge. Here knowledge by familiarity almost disappears into the everyday habits, agreements and customs of everyday life. Here one speak of knowing almost by way of belonging as when someone says, "I know what to do." One knows the practices and customs and stories that allow one to participate with others. Some people claim that in this context rituals are used to teach this knowledge of the everyday presuppositions and to teach this knowledge of membership.

Knowledge can be seen not just as an acquisition but as an adornment or a tool or even a weapon. "I know all about that" can be part of a strategy of impressing by showing off. Knowledge is also considered useful in unfrivolous ways as when communities seeking liberation from something espouse knowledge as empowerment or as a weapon of liberation.

Another way to consider knowledge is of holding expectations across time. When we say that we know that the train comes at eight o’clock, we are expecting the train to perform at a certain time until such time as we find out otherwise or until we forget about it. To know something is to keep the expectation that it is a certain way. This aspect and talent of humans has been called "time binding." We understand this concept when we speak of deceased relatives and friends by saying that we are "keeping someone’s memory alive." Our knowledge as memory has bound them into our social group past their physical death.

Memory is assumed to be an aspect of knowledge or even identical to it in the sense of retaining something inside us. "I know" and "I retain" are assumed to be equivalent. Now memories turn knowledge in the modern era into biological phenomena. Knowledge might then be placed in brain cells or their interconnections or more probably in neuronal patterns of common electrical excitation. But here we are not sure if we are talking of what knowledge is or what accompanies knowledge. Other biological phenomena are more directly tied to knowledge. Behaviors and adaptations are considered by some to be synonymous with knowledge. Fish know how to swim really means fish have adapted to water. Or, the seal’s bouncing a ball and my riding a bicycle mean that we have learned behaviors.

Biological sketches of knowledge extend in several directions. One might speak of a bacterium as knowing that the sugar is over there which would mean, without shorthand, that a bacterium is moving in a direction that reflects a positive sugar gradient like many other similarly observed bacteria. This "awareness" of the bacterium would be considered to consist of some sugar sensory transduction mechanism that triggered directional movement. More generally one speaks of organisms responding as if they "know" something by following various feedback loops connecting stimuli to responses. The loosest biological talk speaks of ideas as memes which jump from person to person like genes (especially if they were in horizontally inheriting viruses) so that we might consider knowing the latest joke as something like catching an infection or, better, learning how to use alphabets like acquiring an improved gene.

Other aspects of knowledge highlight an incorporation of ideas into a body of knowledge. To "remember" is to bring an old thought back into memory so that presumably the member can be made whole. Or, one speaks of digesting new ideas where new input goes through a restructuring with old ideas so that both are changed to make the new work with the old and vice versa.

These days knowledge is considered to be information and to be important in the economy almost like a commodity or even like a primary resource on a par with labor and capital. Knowledge in the business world can come in the form of industry techniques, individual expertise, group skills or databases, say, of marketing data.

This extensive list is now finished but certainly gives a sense of the wide and divergent ways humans have thought about knowledge, this most defining attribute of humans. Currently, this messy picture is handled very simply by contemporary philosophy. Knowledge is only considered if it is the propositional kind where someone S claims to know that p. Explicitly knowledge of a familiarity (e.g. knowing Ramon) or knowledge of capability (e.g. knowing how to sail) are excluded as being trivial. From this propositional knowledge there is another separation so that only true knowledge is of interest. Rather than saying that false knowledge exists, the contrast with knowledge which is defined as true and justified beliefs is considered to be falsehoods, ignorance and errors and designated as "knowledge claims." The question of knowledge is rather peremptorily ended as to its nature and instead philosophy rather grandly then proceeds to interest itself only with tests and proofs of the verification of what can be counted among this special class of beliefs called knowledge, aka truth.

One goal of this essay is to counter this traditional philosophical, simple view of knowledge by exposing a much richer and more diverse activity implied in knowing. The challenge with this is that the traditional concept of knowing by simple vision of truth followed by action is such an ingrained habit that the diverse attributes listed might above appear just as odd and piecemeal frills. Because of this we will now use the list of facets of knowledge above to examine both the traditional concept and the other concept of knowledge already introduced–behavioral circuits of relevance incorporated into an extended body. But first the new concept needs a more explicit statement of its defining distinctions.

The new concept of knowledge has been described within a few pages variously as behaviors, as circuits looping between self-interests and environmental aspects and as the collection of circuit patterns into an extended body. It should be clear that the new concept is attempting to find a concept of knowledge that is rooted in the ways primates and organisms in general deal with their environment. Whether or not this attempt succeeds, it is easy to see, given the incredible richness of biological and evolutionary study of organism-to-environment intelligence in evidence from today’s research, that this approach is more promising than the traditional approach which just posits some idea type things popping into the head. As a start to this sense it is even useful to consider behaviors or adaptations themselves as knowledge. One researcher declared:

"How, then, can we make that connection between adaptation and knowledge? We do so through a two_track argument. The first is that the human capacity to gain and impart knowledge is itself an adaptation, or a set of adaptations...."

"The second track of the argument is the one that many find strange and difficult, and one which has already been partially given in the Preface. It is that adaptations are themselves knowledge, themselves forms of ‘incorporation’ of the world into the structure and organization of living things. Because this seems to misappropriate a word, ‘knowledge’, with a widely accepted meaning_-knowledge usually just being something that only humans have somewhere in their heads_-it makes the argument easier if the statement reads ‘adaptations are biological knowledge, and knowledge as we commonly understand the word is a special case of biological knowledge’."  (Plotkin, Henry. 1994. Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge. Harvard University Press. pp. xiv-xv)

It is this fit between our everyday understanding of knowledge and "biological knowledge" that we are trying to unravel. So, our new concept begins as an adapted pattern of behavior. A bee "knows" flowers and a child adapts to bicycle behavior.

Next consider the effect, if any, that knowledge has on its object. Traditionally knowledge was considered independent of objects as when a scientist performs an (non-quantum) experiment. But recently a new school of constructivism has grown stronger in Kant’s wake which notes the many ways that our prior organizing capacities see things the way we want to and in many cases actively distort the object to facilitate this. We do this regularly with the plants in our gardens, but also consider how we do this to people when we follow social practice and place them in restricting identities. In defining our new concept of knowledge notice how knowledge as a behavior allows us to accommodate both these contradictory facets--a reciprocal cross-fertilization/corruption of object and knower. We adapt to objects (the direction of science) and we adapt objects to us (the direction of technique and art). The second characteristic of a new concept of knowledge then is a behavior of an organism to an "object" or an other that has reciprocal adaptation where the degree and direction of reciprocity vary by class of interaction and situation. In practice we all realize that we do not know perfectly without our predispositions and we cast a shadow or a creative imagination on others with these same organizing leaps of faith while equally in many situations and with discipline we can relax our predispositions and let objects give us unique information.

Both practice and theory agree then that the behaviors we adapt with objects/others are reciprocal where knowers come with predisposed expectations (constructivist) and adapt to improved behaviors that more accurately include the object/others (objectivist). Too much of either leaves a knower either captured by imagination and fantasy or captured by a narrow-minded dogmatism to the latest measurements from the object. Philosophy too has revealed the inadequacy of these extremes. All work on the mind for 200 years from Kant to cognitive science shows categorically organizing structures of expectation. And the objective side has continually revealed the incompleteness of its knowability in at least some details (even objects seemingly well mapped up to quantum limits are changing between our observations from heat exchanges and more if and when one has the laboratories and time to even attempt this for objects simpler than the period at the end of this sentence) and in its context to others since one’s knowledge of something can never include all the other views of something that are continually changing it. Take as example of object Yosemite Park which can never include all the other people’s views about it (One starts with the Forestry Dept’s policies about Yosemite; one includes probably various Yosemite preservation lobbies; ... all of these are part of Yosemite and its processes and its changing courses) so that the notion of Yosemite Park as perfectly known object are completely impractical and even absurd as project.

Thus the second feature of this new concept of knowledge is reciprocity of our expectations and objects encountered. Behavioral adaptations plus reciprocity describes circuits.

Saying this might seem more awkward than our traditional view of representations, whole little chunks of ideas like snapshots in which we are supposed to traffic. But the next aspect of description might help with this counterintuitive hurdle. It is the notion that these circuits of adapted behavior are located between or across both knower and object. This was described above but can be given again by example as a shovel’s not being just alone in its objectivity or idealness but present as a circuit of need-for-hole to moving dirt to finding shovel-like tool to digging to having hole. Alternatively we could describe this circuit knowledge as a situational need with searching with light rays traveling to rods and cone cells in the eye to nerves leading to brain to neuronal patterns of the digging circuit that are part of certain response patterns that are sending action instructions to limbs that are moving to grab the shovel source of these light rays to send confirming nerve messages through our hands that are going back through the brain to start initiating digging behavior. This description highlights location of the circuit not just in the head but also in our environment.

The third feature of the new concept of knowledge is then its location as extended members of the organism in circuits of action-relevance. We envision it as the sum of our external relations, context, memory cues in the environment and objects as proxy members by extension. It is the sheath of meaning we bestow into the world.

For some of you the sense of having your subjectivity be very distinct and removed from the world might make this entry into the extended mind where our circuits of relevance are cast all around us and into the universe seem odd. For mental warm-ups think of examples like the avid driver who speaks of "being one with the car" or business knowledge that one speaks of as belonging in common to the whole group or where one would attempt to draw a line of separation in saying that a mother knows her baby. Or, imagine a worm and a bobcat and think about getting each of them to react by touching the worm and by throwing a ball into sight of the bobcat. If radius of reaction were used to describe the bobcat’s extended body as is employed for the worm’s body, then "in eyesight" of a bobcat would define its "body." Beyond suggestive examples it would be good to reference other sources who have dealt with this problem. They have noted two major features of a conjectured extended body: (1) a "coupling" between our minds and "features" of the environment or between perception and action where it is irrelevant to speak of these latter two as even distinct and (2) use of the external environment to economize mental resources by both storing memory there and by using features of the environment for computation.

Consider this appraisal from these renowned researchers:

"The view we advocate here is reflected by a growing body of research in cognitive science. In areas as diverse as the theory of situated cognition (Suchman 1987), studies of real-world-robotics (Beer 1989), dynamical approaches to child development (Thelen and Smith 1994), and research on the cognitive properties of collectives of agents (Hutchins 1995), cognition is often taken to be continuous with processes in the environment."  (Clark, Andy & Chalmers, David. "The Extended Mind." Analysis 58.1 January 1998.  p. 10)

Or from these philosophers reviewing the implications of cognitive science on the mind:

"The environment is not an ‘other’ to us. It is not a collection of things that we encounter. Rather, it is part of our being. It is the locus of our existence and identity. We cannot and do not exist apart from it."  (Lakoff, George & Johnson, Mark. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought. 1999. Basic Books.  p. 566)

Three other researchers begin by quoting Marvin Minsky in a way that highlights the way our brains are continuously changing their adaptations:

"‘Why are processes so hard to classify? In earlier times, we could usually judge machines and processes by how they transformed raw materials into finished products. But it makes no sense to speak of brains as though they manufacture thoughts the way factories make cars. The difference is that brains use processes that change themselves–and this means we cannot separate such processes from the products they produce. In particular, brains make memories, which change the ways we’ll subsequently think. The principal activities of brains are making changes in themselves. Because the whole idea of self-modifying processes is new to our experience, we cannot yet trust our commonsense judgement about such matters.’" (Minsky, Marvin. The Society of Mind. 1986. Simon and Schuster. p. 288)

They go on a paragraph later to give their view:

"In fact, an important and pervasive shift is beginning to take place in cognitive science under the very influence of its own research. This shift requires that we move away from the idea of the world as independent and extrinsic to the idea of a world as inseparable from the structure of these processes of self-modification. This change in stance does not express a mere philosophical preference; it reflects the necessity of understanding cognitive systems not on the basis of their input and output relationships but by their operational closure. A system that has operational closure is one in which the results of its processes are those processes themselves. The notion of operational closure is thus a way of specifying classes of processes that, in their very operation, turn back upon themselves to form autonomous networks. Such networks do not fall into the class of systems defined by external mechanisms of control (heteronomy) but rather into the class of systems defined by internal mechanisms of self-organization (autonomy). The key point is that such systems do not operate by representation. Instead of representing an independent world, they enact a world as a domain of distinctions that is inseparable from the structure embodied by the cognitive system." (Varela, Francisco, Evan Thompson, & Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind. 1991, MIT Press. pp. 139-140)

Now, as a way of bringing together these first three aspects of a new concept of knowledge (behaviors/adaptations, reciprocity, extension by coupling), consider that humanistic studies also reveal these same features. The philosopher Pierre Bourdieu notes that social institutions carry cultural knowledge (for him–called habitus) that we learn and use when we are there. An example might be how post offices demand a certain kind of patient and methodical behavior which we all know and use there. Thus, post offices are a certain type of node of our lives where we know to act "post officedly." Likewise other philosophers have noted that knowledge is not only embodied but also situated in specific ecologies or communities. Someone, for silly example, "walks like an Egyptian" as part of knowing that community’s situated knowledge.

More simply these features are exhibited by simple things we do to remind ourselves of something as when we leave a package by the door to remind us to take it with us to work the next day. We are remembering it in our environment rather than in our heads.

There are two other features of this new concept of knowledge that will round out the picture for now. The fourth feature then is that knowledge has its own economics. There are costs and benefits with knowledge. We cannot learn and remember everything and some things are more difficult to learn. So we choose to know things based on cost-benefit analyses. We build up credibility with others like good credit by being reliable reporters of information. If we cannot pay the costs to keep something in memory, we are likely to forget it. This economic aspect of knowledge is not incompatible with the old concept of knowledge as stored representations but it is more easily imaginable with knowledge as adaptations of which we only want to pay the costs for those with the biggest benefits. It should also be noted here that biologists too find these same type of economic attention to costs and benefits all through the natural world in that all creatures have to do a strict accounting of energy in and energy out.

The last feature of the new concept of knowledge is that it describes a larger class of phenomena than truth which is seen as a special subset of knowledge behaviors. We all have idiosyncratic behaviors, preferences, silly perceptions, secret thoughts and so forth that are hardly worth bringing to the philosophers’ special list of things that are true. Yet, they belong to us, are sometimes important to each of us personally, define us even if by our errors and are not so inconsequential as to merit the philosophers’ dismissal as erroneous knowledge claims. Even the way beavers "know" trees merits the status of knowledge despite how some expert would define the "truth" of trees which is unlikely to include such important pointers as "face sideways when nibbling." Truth standards are another question and should not confuse the actual facts and diversity of knowing behaviors.

This completes an adequate description of a new concept of knowledge which could be called embodied knowledge as distinct from objective, ideal or representational knowledge which are all, it might be disparagingly noted, ideal systems that need not involve actual knowers. At this point it should be helpful to go back to the list of aspects of knowledge above to compare traditional knowledge with embodied knowledge. In doing this I will skip over the older religious aspects of knowledge from the Bible through Homer to Buddha to tackle the everyday characteristics before coming back to those religious aspects. The non-religious derived aspects used to compare old and new concepts of knowledge are: alignment/wisdom, discovery/creativity, deceptions/illusions, advertising by spreading, transformations of knowledge, tacit knowledge vs. disciplined training, adornment/tool/weapon, time binding and expectations, biological concepts including memes and information as commodity or expertise. For added fairness a short set of characteristics was chosen because they are explicitly positive aspects of the old, conventional view of knowledge: great precision in definitions, social cohesion around best knowledge, social industry of knowledge refinement (science), technical power and a democracy of facts independent of ideological or cohesion pressures.

As we go forward to compare theories of knowledge, the reader should be advised of a certain politics of truth in this discussion. Another assumption from our tradition of reason and truth presents understanding as pertaining to the facts of which both speaker and listener are with false modesty not supposed to be a part of. I, author, am supposed to write as if the facts are all out there to be described as if I were irrelevant, and you, reader, are supposed to perform equally neutrally. This is of great use if you want arguments to go on unendingly and heatedly as each round describes truth her way which completely revises and rebuts any previous descriptions. This is because of another tradition in our philosophical heritage where the truth-seeker renounces any self-interest in taking up the God’s-eye-view to describe perfect truth. Truth is in and politics is out and dirty.

However, in a view of knowers as embedded in circuits that begin and end in self-reference, politics and personal slant are permanent costs and joys of doing knowledge business. As we will see later, this seemingly compromised condition is actually of great benefit in the practical affairs such as in communication where recognition and use of personal interests is much simpler than the false shortcut of pretending to none. This is important in this discussion not just as part of this attempt at a revised frame of reference for the field of agent and knowledge but also as a response and a responsibility that you are asked to take in the discussion. The intent of writing could be either to say "accept this" or to say "consider this." The intent of this author here to you is the latter.

One of the subtle, important but overlooked assumptions regarding the traditional notion of truth is that if something is true then this means that it is true for everyone. This works well when we all use the same system of time or when all NASA engineers accept the same principles of heat coefficients between metals. It does not work well when we try to agree on what land should be used for including the contingent "facts" about the movement of traffic and water through the soil around it.

The direction that this discussion will go is away from the currently fashionable interest in the certainty of the objects of science and more toward the elements of society that have been underserved by knowledge as uniform certainty. Once again we see our familiar pattern of a split where science-society mirrors object-subject by revealing a success in the former and failure in the latter. A short hint of this failure points out that the belief in certain truth suggests a model of communication that is an exchange of declarative truths. This works well if everyone is a general giving orders and interestingly enough if everyone could be a scientist on the edge of a new discovery but disastrously when most communication is negotiating differences and the only tools are to fill the channels of truth declarations with greater precision of incommensurate concepts or with greater volume. Other problems stemming from this split in philosophy regarding objectivity and society show up as a shriveling of any spiritualities or identities other than as doers of action. A person defining mind as split from objectivity has already entered the ratrace.

In this context of asking you, reader, to consider the ideas presented here within a certain political frame, I am asking you not only to watch the facts presented but to consider them as a relationship that you would use to this abstract "object" called knowledge. There are tons of facts to be presented; there are centuries of writings to be consulted; there are aisles of self-help books to refer to. But all of these will result in a death by noise to a discussion such as this if facts are the only organizing principle. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be either an experiment or a fact that can decide between the two ideas about the nature of knowledge--clear representations within the head of reason or alliance/circuits of extended self-interest. Without recourse to decisive external deciding facts as we have been privileged to have in our scientific pursuits, each of us must bring a sharp attention to the type and quality of relationships we make in acts and states of knowing. Each of us is our own experiment in evaluating the politics of knowing versus the neutrality of knowing as we are to each act of knowing. This act of knowing in all its uncertainty, tenderness, personal idiosyncrasy and potential for toughness is the fulcrum of our creative power in the world. However weak our courage in facing these choices of meaning, there is no excuse in renouncing our potential for genuine growth in order to defer to experts or ideologues.

To understand knowledge or to entertain a new theory of knowledge are to risk examining one’s own relationships. The possible, fruitful result of this approach is a theory that not only has better explanatory power about how mind and knowledge work but also has a more refined sense of how power, interest and individual preference affect actual knowing relationships in domains that are not of the one-size-fits-all type such as appears to happen in the physical sciences. The potential gain is even greater than this improvement in accuracy since relationships in knowing are not just about the somewhat boring and pedantic accomplishment of knowing in the sense of getting it right but about the larger, more interesting and ultimately spiritual variety of ways of knowing and living with the known. This will be the upside. Knowledge by alliances, circuits and relationships not only will give the choke-hold type verifications offered by knowledge by certain truth, but it will also open up new vistas of moving and behaving differently with knowing relationships. In short, knowledge as truth has espoused an uptight, continual accounting of facts; knowledge as relational involvements yields not only this accuracy but opens up to love and other postures of how the other is embraced. It is this contracting strategy of conventional knowledge as certain truth that has both drained culture’s ties to a spiritual past and watched bureaucratic culture be bypassed laughingly by popular culture. Knowledge as facts only ever offered a low-brow, spiritual relationship to life of fact-finding. To get more than the contemporary, introverted personal spiritualities is to forge a knowledge embedded in the full range of relationships to allow social modulation of music and beauty.

Let me restate the above more simply. If the conventional theory of knowledge as uniform truth is correct, then a justification should proceed wholly within a descriptive presentation of facts. However, if this unconventional theory of truth as circuits of relationships is correct, then a justification should proceed both with observations and by testing personal relationships. You are being asked and forewarned to try the latter.

An example. How many different ways have you examined the document you are now reading for clues about the author, the context and timing of the publication, the conditions under which you received the document, and so forth? Or even how many different types of clues have you tried to find at the outskirts of the text about this author’s motivations? Background, ethnicity, philosophical school, motivation, character,...? And on another side how many aspects have you considered as to what friends or colleagues will say or you will say to them regarding what you are reading? We all do this all the time with different emphases depending on what is important to us. The point here is that this written material is not being written or read by a computer that lists the statements by themselves and then possibly later adds more statements about the "facts"; rather, all of us constantly expect motivational and contextual cues constantly throughout all our interactions including our recitation of straightforward facts.

And yes, the same question to myself elicits some evident motivations beneath these words. Reaching for common understanding might top the list along with imaginations of how things could be, but recognition, stubbornness, an image of friends mixed with readers, my social identity and my financial prospects, a sense of the day’s getting too late are other facets that attempt to be satisfied through these circuits I now design through words. Rather than knowledge as a grand plan of clarity, writing proceeds from a motivated, consistent vision that clambers through connecting ideas to sew relational circuits between us.

And now we compare the old and the new concept of knowledge using our earlier list of knowledge attributes.

Alignment is certainly used in Eastern philosophies; one thinks immediately of Taoism and its reliance on being attuned to the Way. But I cannot think of a non-mystic Western tradition that invokes alignment other than as attempts to get wisdom by following certain prescribed steps. The old concept of knowledge can only approach any task including wisdom, when it ever leaves its contemporary fascination with logic, as a set of discrete, mental steps. This is called the instrumentalist view of knowledge since it confines a knower to be an instrument performing discrete steps where knowledge of "this is so and so" is succeeded by now "do thus." On the other hand embodied knowledge, by encouraging both directions of reflection between knower and known, is directly open to the situation of the knower and thereby her alignment with the known.

In using discovery and creativity for comparison the difference comes at the level of explaining a mechanism of knowledge change. Knowledge as truth is a rather static concept of knowledge ownership that must assume some additional principle of personal action or motivation to empower the discovery engine. Embodied knowledge, however, carries its own discovery motor in that a body with adapted behavioral circuits shares the vital characteristics of both a body and the changing reality in which it is embedded so that continual adaptation and maintenance of behavioral circuits are permanent features of knowledge just as they are of life.

Deceptions and illusions are considered by traditional knowledge to be at best foolish and naive and at worst comparable to a fallen state of grace or even to sin. Being wrong is pretty bad. For embodied knowledge, however, there is always a component of misuse of the object by the adapted behavior in that there is no perfect truth to be grabbed. This is accepted as natural in the same way that we laugh at lightly but do not disparage a mussel that has grown on the bottom of a ship rather than on a rock, its "intended" target. In fact rather than a two-tiered, rigid system of truth and error, embodied knowledge recognizes that the business of life for knowers is the continual improvement and exploration of knowledge relationships. Illusions are the rich, counterfactual sources of new knowledge, new relationships and definitely of art and beauty.

Advertising is used as both a conscious and an unconscious strategy. The conscious strategy of informing does not give differences for us. The unconscious strategy where advertisers seek to influence our behavior even against our will certainly favors the embodied theory of knowledge. The aspect of the unconscious generally, which some cognitive scientists think is a much larger part of our knowledge base than our consciousness, supports more a concept like embodied knowledge than the older house of clear ideas where beliefs and truth are the primary objects of knowledge interest. The argument is that our consciousness is only a portion of the circuit of behavior distributed in other parts of our body including lower brain areas and into environmental features and supports. So, deluging our environment with cues and attempting to preempt deeper portions of our behavioral circuits would be able to influence our behavior even without our making the conscious choice.

To say that knowledge transforms is more of a claim and not really a feature to compare since it directly repudiates the old concept of knowledge with its strict separation between a passive knowing and action. Shifting from comparative to polemical mode it should be noted that the tie between knowledge and action goes both ways. One particular study used two groups of kittens, one of which moved around and the other whose members rode around in a basket carriage pulled by a member of the first group. Each pair of kittens, one from each group, saw the same thing but only one of them was involved in action. This first group learned while, when out of their basket carriages, the second group had not learned things like how to not bump into objects. (Held, R. & A. Hein. "Adaptation of Disarranged Hand-eye Coordination Contingent upon Re-afferent Stimulation." Perceptual-Motor Skills 1958. 8:87-90; cited in Varela 1991: 174-5) The direct link between knowledge and action is implied by the practice of secrets, which the conventional theory of knowledge as truth with its universalistic aspirations of truth available to all does not touch except to relegate it to the sub-world of political machinations. Secrets are important because with knowledge one can confidently predict that others will act differently; that "secret hideaway" will no longer stay the same if the secret is broken. Behaviors as action are a direct part of the knowing.

Both concepts of knowledge recognize discipline and training as paths to learning, but embodied knowledge does better in regard to tacit knowledge. This is the knowledge that has become everyday, not-thought-about knowledge as in knowing the way to commute to work which has become a pattern that has partly slipped into the unconscious. We are not so much smarter as we are rebuilt.

To speak of knowledge as a tool or weapon is not incompatible with the old concept of knowledge as truth, but it is more easily compatible with embodied knowledge in that it is a simple extension of the body. One can easily speak of a crab’s defense as its claws or of a person’s defense as their knowledge or know-how.

Some remaining aspects for comparison are tied to social embodiments of knowledge, adornment and information, and will not be used here. The biological concepts of knowledge are directly part of the impetus for the new concept of knowledge although whether embodied knowledge is the best theory satisfying the biological criteria is another question. The last non-religious aspect of knowledge to be compared is time binding and expectation. To say that I know the sun rises every morning is an expectation, more strongly brought home on those cold nights of camping. Now the language is tricky here because of a scientific distrust of the concept of purpose, but what would one say about a seed and the rains of spring? Does a seed "know" that it will rain? It’s easy to get around this language by using proper Darwinian language of plants have survived and are living today which produced well encapsulated zygotes ready to resume growth with a water stimulus. Oh, and these are called seeds which happen to be rain-ready. Early human hunters might be said to know that tracks lead to huntable animals because they expected such an animal at the end of the tracks. Nowadays the expectation component runs ahead of the knowing part. If, for example, my neighbor brags that he has a very pretty lawn, it’s a good bet that if weeds appear then he will be out there quickly to pull them so that his knowledge claim meets his expectation. Like action expectation is built into our knowledge circuits of interaction. All our meaning is carried into the future as an expectation that present trends will continue until proven different. In this sense we can be said to "bind time" by bringing the present or the past forward into the future as when the neighbor keeps his lawn the way it was. This aspect of knowledge is very naturally a part of the concept of embodied knowledge but only awkwardly included with knowledge as truth.

Next let us consider the aspects that are the positive characteristics of knowledge as truth to see if the new concept can cut it. The aspects mentioned are: great precision in definitions, social cohesion around best knowledge, social industry of knowledge refinement (science), technical power and a democracy of facts independent of ideological or cohesion pressures.

To say that one has a knowledge conceived as behavior with, say, a tape measure or even a microscope certainly allows one to improve that behavior and make that circuit more accurate and precise. Similarly one can refine behaviors into new categories and by comparing any differences for fruitfulness in order to make new definitions to any degree of precision or categorical distinction. While embodied knowledge allows equally fine precision and definition, it does not encourage it the way that truth gives it an almost frenzied attempt for the best by pursuing the one and only truth. In this way embodied knowledge supports precision in knowledge distinctions without being the equal engine of discovery that truth has been.

Parallel to the above embodied knowledge supports social cohesion regarding the best knowledge (e.g. the best practice or behavioral circuit is to not use lead pipes for water in homes because they cause lead poisoning) without giving it the salvational demands that knowledge as truth has exploited.

Knowledge refinement or science is an established social industry at this point that is described by many as a practice and a set of techniques including the experimental method. In a straightforward sense science defines itself as a set of certain type practices which is easy to transpose as saying that its definition could be as a class of self-improving behaviors. Not only does science as a social industry of practices fit fine with knowledge as behavioral adaptations, but many observers sympathetic to the field would still maintain that science could use less of the founding, religious spirit of truth which bends the scientific practice towards a more dogmatic scientism. Saying this should not overlook the contribution that knowledge as truth has made in forcing through "best adaptations" of theory to fact by positing the holy grail of the one and only true knowledge and by relentlessly demanding that observers adapt to facts rather than the reverse.

The vast technical power that knowledge has acquired is very directly a set of practices, thus behaviors and circuits of adaptation, which are, if anything, more compatible with embodied knowledge. Promisingly but initially uncomfortably such a view allows us to see various industries as the large organisms they are which use their practices and behaviors to channel resources through transformations into products that are channeled to other social functions.

The distinction that the traditional concept of knowledge made between independent facts and the theoretical cohesions to which they might belong has certainly proved to be important. The trouble is that actually the concept of knowledge as truth tends to see only the advantage of the independent fact and overlook the importance of mental cohesions such as theory much less pattern and culture. While knowledge as truth certainly helped free thinking and especially research from Francis Bacon’s idols of thought in which facts came wrapped in religious-cultural garb at the dawn of the scientific age, by now it is increasingly clear that this is a two-way street. Facts without some interpretation are impossible; facts without some organizing theory are useless. The question of how much of either fact or culture/theory is a question best left to particular domains and particular cultures of inquiry. The point here is that embodied knowledge, by its avowal of subject-object reciprocity, can be employed to emphasize either end of the circuit between the knower’s initial pattern (cultural and theoretical cohesion) and the fact or object, while knowledge as truth has a blind spot behind its own vision of facts where cultural pattern disappears. Embodied knowledge brings its own embodied pattern of behavioral interactions with it to a knowledge encounter but can emphasize either the object’s independence or the object’s reconciliation into some cultural/theoretical pattern.

Now let us see if the earliest historical records about knowledge give us any insights about our two compared theories of knowledge. For Homer knowledge was like an organ, for him noos or thymos, were comparable to the eye that could easily be construed to be at odds among them as when we speak of our heart disagreeing with our mind. (Snell, Bruno. The Discovery of the Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature. [1953] 1982. Dover Publications, Inc.  p. 20) Any new thoughts or decisions were invariably gifts or visitations from the gods and goddesses. Truth had no interest for Homer; he spoke and praised thoughts which completed themselves. Thought as physical organs is certainly on the face of it more commensurate with knowledge as patterned extensions of the body, and good thoughts defined as those which complete themselves is also more compatible with knowledge as functional adaptations. New thoughts as divine visits would seem to be equally compatible with either theory. For Homer men acted as embedded in a complete and widespread universe of other powers where there was neither the certainty of one’s personal powers as in rightness and truth nor the anguish of personal decisions. There mental organs propelled them through the world just as did their arms, and new ideas or new mental fortitude came as if gifts from gods without any methodological or personal justifications.

Related to the Homeric view is a more widespread cultural view of knowledge called participation in the world. This could mean a primitive knowing of an animal by participating in the essence of or maybe soul of the animal. Or it could later under monotheistic influences mean knowing by participating in a divine intelligence that allows one to use the divine intelligence to jump over the distance in order to be inside the other. Odd as these may seem to our sensitivities today, they nonetheless are instructive here in a plausible path of embodied knowledge evolving conceptually in history. If brains evolved in continual circuits of interaction with others in the environment, then a sense of continual embeddedness feeling probably like alignment would have probably been the relation to life rather than our tower-of-truth selves with a distrustful and even alienated relation to life. The apparent spontaneous emergence of new ideas as visitations of gods and the participation or sense of being inside another to explain empathy would have been obvious explanations.

Another feature of ancient thought that is explained with difficulty today is that people regularly ignored what we call objective evidence in favor of religious or cultural explanations. Ernest Gellner mentions the generalized example at the time of the rise of civilized city states where a commoner might start to observe a facet of a star that was at odds with what the high priest claimed but where the reality of the social order and the power of the priest prevented her from doing so. (Gellner, Ernest. Plough, Sword and Book; The Structure of Human History. 1988. University of Chicago Press.) The old concept of knowledge as truth has no sympathy for this sort of fact corruption whereas the new concept of knowledge as behavioral adaptations with a reciprocal relation between subject’s needs and object’s ‘permission’ note that many adaptations can fudge both the object (as the commoner does above) or the subject (as social science does regularly in eschewing any normative influence).

Not to be avoided in this comparison is the Biblical notion of sexual intercourse as a type of knowledge. Knowledge as factual truth, of course, does not touch this one. Knowledge as extended body of adapted behaviors suggests that familiarity and knowledge are the same and that joining and knowledge are the same in the sense that everything one knows and especially that one is familiar with is part of one’s own knowledge body.

The largest shadow cast by the mythology of the origin of knowledge relates to the human fall from grace following the acquisition of knowledge. The Bible poses this as a double gift of the power of the gods and the power of the devil followed by expulsion from paradise; Buddha posed it as the suffering immediately attendant upon following desires and the grasping of knowledge. The sense of suffering and separation is evident in the concept of time binding where meaning is a projection of our expectations into the future even in the simple act of saying that this tree is a tree where we turn around and expect it to stay a tree. The divergence between the growth of these knowledge expectations from the spread of time-binding knowledge and the ever fickle vicissitudes of life would certainly lead one to not be surprised at the gap between a lost paradise of no time and a promised paradise of infinite time. This feature of knowledge is not incompatible with the conventional concept of knowledge but is again more compatible with the adaptation concept of knowledge where time is more explicit in the growth and maintenance of behavioral relationships than in the somewhat timeless snapshot collecting of representational facts.

The most recognizable break in the historical concept of knowledge occurred at the time of the birth of philosophy. Notably Plato was part of a movement away from the gods and toward a search for principles of nature including a principle of knowledge. His move was to acknowledge the corrupted everyday world of knowledge as being parallel to a universe of ideals or perfect exemplars. With this a whole history of idealized knowledge was underway that I have been labelling in a very generalized way the old concept of knowledge. And with Plato’s conception of knowledge a whole history of devaluing individual and actual knowledge came with it. Now that we live in a period after the creation of a huge quantity of "true knowledge" we go around schizophrenically imagining that each of us has access to the pure ideal type knowledge but that most everyone else is apparently involved in that corrupt type knowledge.

The differences in the two ways of conceiving knowledge reviewed so far are just differences while the aspects reviewed next are features that the old theory is blind to and has hence worked to hide from us. The theory of knowledge as truth posits a world that is perfectly describable and unique. As such it matters not whether one person or one million know its truth; people are irrelevant. But people live, relate and have cares beyond fact-finding. And it is in the domains where perspectives flourish, where identities bloom, where values take root, where personal meanings are founded, where imaginations jostle for consensus, where play rubs on the friction of cares, where possessions teeter between work and gifts and where joy is found in the dance of interaction and not just in the drudgery of fact compliance that the concept of knowledge as the full and idiosyncratic range of adapted accommodations that actual knowers make becomes a compelling vista beyond the res extensa and up into the res cogitans social dimension of life.

The simple formulation of this difference begins by noting that classical knowledge in the post Descartes tradition has no need or place for human relations, possible or actual, since the world/reality is supposed to be what it is irrespective of whether any or all knowers are present. Thus, it can only have a psychology of failed machine, a spirituality of instrumental reason or else your personal and interior god, a communication of statement and command without any interest in styles or rhetorical movements or medium/play over message or hardly any interest in perspectives, a sense of identities that are fixed beyond our interactive influence, a morality of compliance oscillating with rebellion and an economics so rationalized that people are forced into its machine logic. This is a serious charge against a mere theory of knowledge. The question here is can the new theory of adapted behavioral knowledge do better?

To start to answer this question consider the fifth part of the defining characteristics of the new concept of knowledge, the concession that knowledge is a much larger set of adapted circuits of behavior than the refined truth subset. What this acknowledges is that knowledge includes all the patterns of interactive behavior that are actually taking place however erroneous or debilitative or counterintuitive or silly. Each person or even each organism for that matter adapts and continues to adapt specific, actual behaviors to features in its environment. From the concept of knowledge as newly conceived one at least begins with the actual knowledge patterns that are present. This democratic step in epistemology is analogous in the social sphere to the historic step science took in letting objects "speak for themselves" with their actual characteristics. It is this largely untapped richness of knower-specific relations that is the stuff, if harnessed, to make possible a society of interactive delight, to make possible a culture to be "at play in the fields of the lord." This same surplus of idiosyncratic relationships today is partitioned crudely into the artistic-creative-after-hours netherworld of hobbies or into the troublesome darker world of error, psychological sickness and dysfunctionality. It is occasionally allowed to shine forth as at the edges of the established arts, in the play of children, in the silliness of lovers or in the momentary flashes of individuality when someone is caught with their social guard down.

The new concept of knowledge would not invert this hierarchy and let relativistic, idiosyncratic anarchy in but would facilitate an acknowledged regulation between consensual knowledge behaviors and the specific and idiosyncratic behaviors. The alternative to the fiat culture of knowledge by truth is not its feared opposite, relativism and anarchy, but people as actually relating knowers who learn by our historical path of adapting their actually constituting relational behaviors to the consensually elected truth preferences thereby preserving their relating aliveness and helping to maintain the consensuality of truth as a social wisdom. As a general departure the point is that conventional knowledge has obliterated actual subjects to the social detriment of all subject-subject modes while a new concept of knowledge conceived like the one proposed with actual interactional circuits of relevance brings back and gives a picture of actual subjects.

Each of us is an ongoingly evolving process of behavioral relationships so that there can be a valuation of our particular relationships in a psychology that is not as now "in a closet" from triumphal objectivity. It will be easier to negotiate identity between two people as we constantly must do when the behavioral interference of each other is explicitly seen and used rather than bulldozed onto another person as "they are who they are."

Communication under the current concept of knowledge is a picture of swapping truths or of sending a message of truth down some communication pipeline to be decoded by someone else. It’s truth back and forth without any interest in the nature of the ears on either end except in regard to how well they might be listening or decoding. To even take the step, as many do today, of recognizing that communicators begin in different contexts or perspectives because of gender, power or cultural preferences greatly enlarges the intersubjective channel of communication. This current state of a reform in communication theory adds more truth type considerations along the communication channel without facing the radicality of two subjects as two interacting organisms battling and playing as well as clarifying. When behavioral adaptations collide as they must for creatures who have the huge radii of interests attached all around us, then interactions, which have been styled communication in an already taming gesture that life is but a compliance or a catching up with truth, will involve conflicts of context. This type of interaction must go beyond truth exchange to engage in risks of change.

Knowledge as adaptations not only supports this kind of interaction since living as continual adapting is the model of subject but it also gives suggested paths of communication improvement: 1) using the idiosyncracies of behavioral pattern and 2) understanding that behavioral relationships do not come in but two flavors of true and false but in all sorts of strengths of conviction. It is again the actual, specific idiosyncracies of our personal involvements in knowledge that build our interest into the patterns that are the first threads sewing up a pattern as true in the sense of behaviorally well adapted. When the frontal exchanges of communication collide, it is time to delve into these idiosyncratic first threads. Moreover, these tiny roots of our adaptations are the source of the strength of fit and of the breadth of fit to seemingly unrelated knowledge adaptations. The details of specific adaptations and the breadth of relevant interconnection between each of our specific adaptations is what constitutes the contexts we have grown into the world which must be risked in each communication worth its name. It is the deep and wide roots of our knowledge adaptations that make unique contexts for each of us. Instead of being wished away by fiat these tiny threads of behavioral connections can be used, even exploited and enjoyed as the unraveling and reconnecting of the roots of our identities.

Similarly morality is currently caught between compulsion and free assent. The former assures compliance; the latter promises a correction to the former’s lack of freedom while risking the relativism of each-to-her-own-morality. Once again a nuanced subject is missing from the plane of objectivity. Under the concept of knowledge as behavioral adaptations morality is to the behavior between subjects as truth is to the behavior to objective features–well adapted behaviors and/or consensually adapted behaviors. Each subject can be encouraged to learn from the lessons of the past without being forced to comply or being expelled into some do-whatever-you-want rejection. This does not at all exclude the right of others to set limits to specific behaviors that affect them; it is only to show how the new concept of knowledge by restoring the specificity of behavioral interactions and thereby real subjects is an opening to a continually refining sense of morality that also avoids the compulsion/anything-goes dichotomy. What becomes then possible is morality as an emulative art of self-refinement.

Everyone knows that economics is the "dismal science" and that its heavy mathematical "laws" are about real things, production and money–in other words, hardly the stuff of a theory of knowledge. Yes, but, it does not have to stay a dismal science. The connection is that our lives are ultimately about value and meaning. No creature except modern humans divide their time up between production and consumption, or between misery-making bondage maximization and empty pleasure searching. The trap is once again the stark cut between object and subject. If, under an improved concept of knowledge, we are able to define ourselves by the character, selection and enjoyment of our relationships, then this dichotomy and this bleaching of value from interchangeable products diminish. Consumption begins to regain some of the idiosyncratic, experiential flavor that is being drained away from it in the one-size-fits-all economy and mass production thereby both shrinks as a percentage of economic activity and in many industries begins to value its own local color. Moreover, the field of ecological economics which recognizes the necessary fit of economics within the larger and overriding parameters of ecology rather than the reverse can be made continuous by making explicit the joining of human activity to other biological activity as happening when organism behaviors become extended, prolonged and more quickly adaptable. Economics is a behavioral ecology whose adaptations (i.e. knowledge) have proliferated in number, complexity, length of linkages and cultural transmission across time and generations. This is the direction of opening in economics that a reformed concept of knowledge offers.

To fully conceive of knowledge as of biological origin and not as a divine gift of rationality is to recognize more powerfully the role of life in the cosmos. What rational knowledge as truth has shown is a picture of contradiction where physicists can evolve by accident to observe the universe like a forlorn tourist. This forlorn tourist is the direct descendant of Plato’s disavowal of the corrupt knowledge of the cave. What biological knowledge where adaptive behaviors keep enlarging the interaction sphere of organisms shows is that organisms expand to absorb the environment. As knowers we have built ourselves as feedback interactions into the environment. Life does not stop; every thought and newly learned pattern changes the real world or its probabilities. The cave always carried the roots, unconscious and scattered amongst our allied objects, that are continuously alive and that have made us the mental mushrooms we are, growths refined by practice and reason.

It is with this reconsideration of a living cosmos that the nature of spirituality appears quite different from the vantage of the new concept of knowledge. Spirituality then describes the many open-ended experiences of the subject in this living, evolving world. From singing to silence, from ecstasy to self-discipline, from group harmonies to individual retreats, from love to focus, from dance to relaxation--the various paths towards greater vistas are all facilitated by the recognition of an embodied subject. Without her there is only the timeless condition of inert truth where the only spirituality is mental discipline. Under the old concept of knowledge and during the reign of rampant objectivism these subjective experiences have been greatly restricted from the inter-subjective realm and pushed into the private. Who knows where these group experiences could go when they are doubly liberated from facts purged of organization and traditions tied to narrow or specifically organized activities. In relation to traditional spiritual paths the potential path indicated here falls between the adherence to definite true steps of knowledge to the divine and the renunciation of self and knowledge grasping. Between these paths lies the spiritual potential to use knowledge in an aware combination of grasping and letting go. Such a self, freely choosing its alliances or dissolving them, could give the subjective and inter-subjective world a steering mechanism all over the terrain from the everyday social to the flowing contrails of orchestrated possibilities.

The direction of this thesis might strike some as odd in turning to biology, a science, to find an inspiration for the humanities when, as is well known, the first time around the science of mechanics largely knocked the humanities to her knees. This is the irony of the humility of acknowledging and exploring our kinship with the beaver in his pond. If the beaver is in some Platonic cave of ignorance, he certainly does not appear to be suffering as greatly as we moderns who have supposedly risen above it. The real difference in physics and biology as a liberatory tool is that mechanics simplified the physical body while biology continues to explode the complexity of the self-organizing world in which it is time that human knowledge shared rather than shunned with its own closet of simplified idealizations.

 

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