The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

4.0 Knowledge as Noun

4.0 Knowledge as Noun

4.1 Monotone

4.2 Noun

4.3 Biology

4.4 Immeasurability

4.5 Incommensurability

4.6 Language

* Index & Epithet not in published dissertation




For our part, we have no trouble acknowledging the existence of a human nature, characterized by a species-specific array of highly plastic and variable traits, which, just because they are plastic, forbid easy normative conclusions about what behaviors, practices, institutions, laws, moral codes, and so forth are “natural.”

Marjorie Grene & David Depew

The Philosophy of Biology, 2004, 335.


4.0/ Knowledge as Noun

1.         I now begin progressively deeper and denser definition of knowledge. I start with knowledge as a ‘monotonic noun’.  I will treat it as an abstract Platonic noun like Beauty, Love, Truth, Justice, etc.  I will first explain what I mean by ‘monotonic’ and ‘noun’.  I will then demonstrate why this characterization is appropriate by reference to the undifferentiated but polymorphous biological human need to know, the immeasurability and incommensurability of knowledge and its general expression through inherently limited and biased human language including mathematics and English.  In effect, I will argue that the elemental biological human need to know is, in Aristotelian terms, the material cause of knowledge.


4.1 Monotone

1.         A monotone is, in music, “a single unvaried tone, or a succession of sounds at the same pitch (Grove Music Online 2005).  Music, of course, appeals to one of the two ‘distant’ human senses for knowing – hearing; the other being sight.  Music may be guided by reason in composition but in appreciation, a term distinguishing aesthetic from intellectual knowledge, is through emotion, sentiment or what Jung calls ‘feeling’ (Sharp 1991).  Aesthetic feeling distances one in contemplation as opposed to overwhelming one through the immediacy of sensation received through the ‘contact’ senses of touch, taste and smell.  The first is ‘sensuous’ and the later, ‘sensual’ knowing (Berleant 1964).  Interestingly, Joseph Henderson includes this aesthetic sense among four primary psycho-cultural attitudes - social, religious, aesthetic and philosophic – and concludes: “we cannot claim for science… the same epistemological authenticity that we can demonstrate in the four basic cultural attitudes” (Henderson 1984, 77).

2.         In a way, music was the first experimental science.  Thus Pythagoras (about 530 B.C.E.), using the strings of musical instruments, revealed an audible, measurable, cognate relationship between number and matter.  Arguably this is one of the most important bits of ‘knowledge’ inherited from the Ancient World.  It should also be recalled that the connexion between music and mathematics and hence Nature was recognized by inclusion of music among the Liberal Arts in ancient times and within the Western university from its medieval beginnings.  As will be seen in greater detail below, the other performing arts disciplines – dance and theatre – as well as the visual arts were not admitted to the university until the 20th century.


3.         Using his findings, Pythagoras constructed what was the first Western model of knowledge - his four-fold Tetraktys (Apatow 1999).  This begins with a monotone of the undivided string, or monad i.e., an indivisible unit of being (OED, monad, n & a, 2a).  The term, however, carries philosophical and metaphysical baggage accumulated over time by Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Synesius, Bruno, Spinoza and especially Leibnitz, co-discoverer of calculus (Catholic Encyclopedia, Monad, 1997). 

4.         As with all disciplines of thought, philosophy has engaged in heated intra-disciplinary debate over the meaning of the term.  For my purposes I take its original Pythagorean event horizon “as the name of the unity from which, as from a principle (arche), all number and multiplicity are derived” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Monad, 1997).  Extending this musical motif, I will subsequently present knowledge as diaphonic, triaphonic and quadraphonic (speaking in two, three and four voices, respectively).

5.         The monotone as “a succession of sounds at the same pitch” (Grove Music Online 2005), however, also introduces another characteristic of knowledge – Time.  Other than observing the changing seasons and stars, the first human-made time piece was music.  Musical rhythms serve to organize or pace human activity in dance and celebration and also at work and in war.  It is no coincidence that the military band budget for the USA armed forces was over $100 million in 2004 while the National Endowment for the Arts – responsible for support of all artistic disciplines across America – was only $121 million (NEA 2004). 

6.         In this regard, Marjorie Grene (1957), arguably the mother of the modern philosophy of biology, points out that one of Heidegger’s greatest contributions to philosophy was explication of the connection between being and time.  Specifically, human thought (and therefore knowledge) operates only in Time, not in Space: “It is only with objects that space re-enters the picture” (Grene 1957, 66).  Arguably, this observation finds expression in Grene’s later work as the concept of reflective privacy:

Members of our species are able not only to plan what they want to do in specific circumstances, by cooperating with others or scheming against them, but have the ability to think about their own thoughts in reflective privacy. (Grene & Depew 2004, 336)

7.         Movement along and across timelines is alternatively called memory, planning, intentionality or imagination of spaces, places and times without leaving the comfort of one’s own head.  The uni-dimensionality of thought with Space folded up into Time produces, perhaps, what Descartes called ‘the ghost in the machine’ or our sense of the ethereal, spiritual or transcendental.  In fact,


to account for the ordered experience we actually do have, we must presuppose a power of the mind to make it ordered: not, however, a power of abstract thought simply, but of imagination.  It is the faculty which Kant calls ‘productive imagination’ that effects this all-important mediation; and it does so, again, in reference to the temporal relations from which the argument began. (Grene 1957, 64)

8.         At the level the noösphere itself, Time is also fundamentally different from scientific or physical time, i.e., Time’s Arrow does not just move forward, but also backwards and sideways in human thought.  The implications of Time for the noösphere will be more fully examined below when I consider Emery & Trists’ overlapping temporal gestalten (Emery & Trist 1972, 24), Foucault’s epistemes (Foucault, 1973), and, Thomas Shales’ Re-Decade (Shales 1986).  For my immediate purposes, however, it is sufficient to say that knowledge exists like a focal monadic ‘I know’ at a moment of Time but nowhere in Space.  This, of course, ignores the neurophysiologic bases of thought but, as will be seen, consideration of this subsidiary base will cause the focal thought to be lost.


4.2 Noun

1.         A noun is “a word used as the name or designation of a person, place, or thing; the class or category of such words” (OED, noun, n, 1).  There are, therefore, different classes of nouns, e.g., proper nouns.  For my purposes, knowledge begins as a Platonic abstract or idealized noun like Beauty, Love, Truth, Justice, etc.  In effect, a Platonic noun describes an abstract concept that exists independent of any name it may be given.  As will be seen, such nouns do not exist in all human languages.  Where they do, however, they have an ‘awe’ factor, or what in analytic psychology is called ‘numinosity’ (Sharp 1991), hence the attraction of expressions such as ‘knowledge-based economy’.


4.3 Biology

1.         According to William James, arguably the first Darwinian psychologist, “unless consciousness served some useful purpose, it would not have been superadded to life” (quoted by Grene & Depew 2004, 337).  Arguably, the useful purpose is that “all knowledge is orientation” for “finding one’s way in an environment” (Grene & Depew 2004, 349 & 354).

2.         Every organism perceives, i.e., has sensory knowledge or perception of: (a) an active environment in which it must make a living or die; (b) information about invariants in that environment that enframe it; and, (c) “affordances”, i.e., opportunities and/or dangers presented by it (Grene & Depew 2004, 347).  Like Kauffman’s bacterium swimming upstream towards a


glucose flow (Kauffman 2000, 7), all organisms have a purpose, have the intention of surviving and reproducing.  This is what Kant called ‘natural purpose’ for which no divine intervention is required because life flows, according to Kauffman, naturally from chemistry, that is, “as the molecular diversity of a reaction system increases, a critical threshold is reached at which collectively autocatalytic, self-reproducing chemical reaction networks emerge spontaneously” (2000, 16).  For Kauffman, the implication is that life in the universe is “abundant, emergent, expected” (2000, 16).  In his observations he also hints at a fourth law of thermodynamics: “a tendency for self-constructing biospheres to enlarge their workspace, the dimensionality of their adjacent possible, perhaps as fast, on average, as is possible ...” (Kauffman 2000, 244).

3.         If all knowledge is orientation in an environment then two questions arise.  First, what is the nature of the organism?  And second, what is the nature of its environment?

4.         In this case, the organism is humanity, a most peculiar beast for a number of reasons.  First, unlike other species for which the nearest relative is usually another living species, “the nearest living relative of H. sapiens, the chimpanzee, is phylogenetically very distant from us” (Grene & Depew, 2004, 327).  Our closer relatives apparently succumbed, beginning about 250,000 years ago, to climate change and to our adaptive success achieved through “cooperation, communication, and cleverness” (Grene & Depew, 2004, 327).  Put crudely, we cannot find the missing link because we ate him!  This leaves “as Blumenbach had long ago suggested, an enormous hole in the phylogenetic continuum” (Grene & Depew 2004, 329).  This gap may have resulted because for our species:

Conceptual thought and language constitute, in effect, a new way of transmitting information from one generation to the next.  This cultural inheritance does the same thing for man that in the subhuman world is done by the genetic system...  This means that, besides his biological system, man has a completely new ‘genetic’ system dependent on cultural transmission. (Waddington 1960, 148-149)

5.         Second, unlike almost all other mammals, human beings exhibit “sexual availability and eagerness at every season” (Grene & Depew 2004, 325).  This has a number of implications.  On the one hand this means that carnal knowledge or sexual pleasure seeking can and often is separated from reproduction.  The result is a Sex Industry that has been, is now and likely will always be.  It is part of a wider Pleasure Industry of which more below.  In this regard, it should not be surprising that the Sex Industry is one of the prime ‘first adopters’ of new communications technology such as videotape, DVDs and the Internet.  On the other hand,

Whereas in other species … the relation between the sexes for the sake of reproduction is specified and particularly adaptive, in the case of humans we should find no determined and species-specific mode of relationship, but


rather generalized features from which it is necessary to define specific modes...  [This means that] an individual has little advanced information that will help him coexist with others on a predictable basis...  If the human individual is to coexist with other such individuals, he must arrive at some ground for expectation and reciprocation.  He must work out some common form of agreement about actions and reactions. (Wilson 1980, 43)

Definition of such “specific modes” of sexual relations is achieved through culture (“some common form of agreement”) rather than Nature.  The current clash between religious fundamentalism (Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, etc.) and secular society centres on the status of women – unequal, equal or separate but equal.  The first and the third reflect traditional ‘sexual apartheid’.  The second reflects Western secularism.

6.         Coevolution refers to reciprocal evolutionary change in interacting species.  For my purposes, it refers to our adaptive success resulting from the coevolution of culture embodied in what Carl Sagan (1977) called extra-somatic knowledge, or what I call codified and tooled knowledge, versus somatic knowledge contained in our genes, e.g., instincts.  It constitutes a completely new ‘genetic system’ (Waddington 1960, 149).  This is but a dynamic variation on the theme of nurture and nature but a variation in which cultural nurture (extra-somatic knowledge) mediates behavioural nature, e.g., from hunter gatherer to farmer to industrial to knowledge worker.  While some believe we are genetically adapted only to a hunter-gatherer Pleistocene environment, this is not the relevant timescale.  As Edgar Zilsel put it, to think:

that the biological rise of mammals during the tertiary period and the political rise of Germany since 1933 belong to one line of evolution is the same as to consider the transition from winter to summer a continuation of the dying away of the glacial period. (Zilsel 1940a, 121-122)

7.         As will be demonstrated in greater detail below, humanity, like other organisms, adjusts to its environment but it also adjusts the environment to itself.  In effect, following the Scientific Revolution, and especially in the last one hundred years, the human species has progressively enframed its own ecological fishbowl at the expense of all other ecologies on earth.  Two measures demonstrate.  First, nearly half of humanity now lives in cities.  In the developed world, it is closer to eighty percent (Population Division, 2002).  The city is the quintessential human built environment (Steiner 1976).  Second, according to a 1994-95 time use study, Canadians spent “the majority of their time indoors (88.6%) with smaller proportions of time outdoors (6.1%) and in vehicles (5.3%) (Leech et al 1997).  If one counts ‘a vehicle’ as a portable cave, then the average Canadian spends 94% of his or her life inside the human built environment.  The cave dweller lives!  Will space colonies be so different?


8.         The environment for the human organism is thus increasingly human-made, human-populated and one for which:

Our minds are certainly adapted to deal … by way of ideas… because the tie that binds us to the cultural world as agents, caregivers, competitors, speakers, and thinkers affords us direct (rather than representational) access to the environments in which we act responsively and, ultimately, responsibly. (Grene & Depew 2004, 339)

9.         The interaction, or coevolution, of culture and genes can be seen in the shorter gestation time for human beings evidenced by the immature human neonate without hair and requiring child care and a host of other social supports.  As Grene & Depew put it: “Many mutually interacting causes are at work here” (Grene & Depew 2004, 332).  Such post-natal care amounts to a social womb which, like a marsupial’s pouch, allows the infant to further develop before entering the real world.  Arguably, the length of this social womb has increased dramatically since introduction of compulsory education in the late 19th century.  At that time primary or elementary education was sufficient before the human neonate was ready to enter the world of work.  Then it became secondary and then tertiary education which, in the Anglosphere (Bennett 2000), is usually a university degree.  With the introduction of ‘life long learning’ it can be argued that the social womb now stretches from birth to death and the human being never grows up, never leaves home. 

10.        Grene & Depew identify three forms of indirect perception unique to the human species.  They are all cultural inventions: tools, language and pictures.  

From birth, the perceptions of the infant, then of the child and of the adult are saturated by these human and cultural ingredients.  But the fundamental structure of perception remains the foundation of these accomplishments… if not the foundation, at least the analogue, of all knowledge.  (Grene & Depew 2004, 357-8)

While I agree, I classify them differently, specifically as codified and tooled knowledge.  For my purposes, pictures constitute codified semiotic knowledge along with language while tooled knowledge is the physical technology with which the human species enframes and enables its environment thereby introducing more and more invariants into that environment.

11.        Even in biology, however, ideology is to be found.  While Conant was concerned about the ‘dirty hands’ of physicists and the atomic bomb, biologists are concerned about eugenics and its logical outcome, the Holocaust, as well as its application, until relatively recently, in liberal western democracies to the socially ‘unfit’.  In reviewing evidence from the modern evolutionary synthesis, Grene & Depew conclude, quoting Beatty:  “A diverse, panmictic


population, and the democratic beliefs necessary to sustain it, produce the most adapted, and adaptable, populations” (Grene & Depew 2004, 331).

12.        In summary, human knowledge literally begins with the dawn of consciousness.  It arrived in a phylogenetic instant of self-awareness with the appearance of our species homo sapiens (literally ‘the man that knows’) some 300,000 years ago and of our sub-species homo sapiens sapiens (the man that knows that he knows) about 20 to 30,000 years ago.  Subsequently each of us experiences an individual ontogenetic instant, repeated generation after generation, when we emerge out of infancy into self-reflective consciousness.  ‘To know’ is the defining characteristic of our species.  But to know what is the pragmatic question?  In a world of apparently ever increasing diversity and specialization ‘what’s to know’ is a big question for the individual and the Nation-State.  This urge to know is polymorphous and undifferentiated.  Put another way, it can lead to good or evil or neither.

13.        Furthermore, in spite of cultural inventions permitting indirect perception, ultimately only the individual human being can ‘know’.  Books, pictures and computers do not know that they know, nor does any other species, at least on this planet.  Companies, corporations and governments or, in Common Law, ‘legal persons’, cannot know.  Only the solitary flesh and blood ‘natural Person’ can know.  Furthermore, being organic, knowledge mutates, selectively feeding on itself, growing and developing.  Thus when two different streams of knowledge meet in a single individual they tend to interact, mutating into new knowledge or connexions.


4.4 Immeasurability

1.         The immeasurability of knowledge can be demonstrated by the distinction between information and knowledge management (Bouthillier & Shearer 2002) or between ‘bits’ and ‘wits’ (Boulding 1966).  Information theory involves storage and transmission of human knowledge in electronic rather than hardcopy or analogue format.  These remain the domain of library science and the Dewey Decimal System.  Electronic storage involves audio-video discs, tapes, databases, hard drives, e-books, etc.  Transmission and reception requires hardware such as computers, radios, television sets and the Internet.  ‘Analogue’ content is digitized for storage and transmission then reconverted into human-readable analogue format, e.g., sounds, pictures and words.  The unit of digitization is the binary on/off ‘bit’: (0, 1). 

2.         The ‘bit’, however, abstracts from the content of stored or transmitted information.  The same number of bits could emerge from a telephone conversation between two teen-age girls in Saskatoon or between the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation.  Bits don’t


discriminate.  Developed for the world of telecommunications and computers, the bit lends itself to quantitative analysis.  It does not, however, provide a homogenous unit of knowledge, or what Kenneth Boulding calls ‘the wit’ (Boulding 1966, 2).  The bit also makes no allowance for ignorance, i.e., the absence of knowledge.  Without a wit, we are restricted to qualitative or descriptive analysis.  Accordingly, in what follows no attempt is made to quantitatively ‘test’.  The argument stands or falls on logic and believability.  However, to again paraphrase Kenneth Boulding, “this is better than nothing” (Boulding 1966, 3). 

3.         Immeasurability has not, however, stopped economists, among others.  The ‘utile’ – Jeremy Bentham’s unit measure of pleasure and pain – is the foundation stone of modern economic analysis.  We cannot, however, measure the pleasure and pain of an individual, nor can we add it up across individuals using felicitous calculus to estimate ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’.  The measurement problem is finessed through reification by proxy.  That is, let us assume the utile can be reified, i.e., made concrete and calculable, specifically as money.  In this philosophy, one works (suffering disutility) to earn income to buy goods and services to consume them, i.e., extract utility.  The money price one pays on the market reflects the utility appropriated by the consumer.  Some day the ‘wit’ too may be reified but at the moment there is no obvious proxy on the horizon.


4.5 Incommensurability

1.         Beyond immeasurability, there is the incommensurability of knowledge.  Incommensurable is an adjective meaning “having no … common measure except unity” (OED incommensurable, a, 1b).  Thus while we have knowledge about the arts, sciences and society there is no common measure other than the word ‘knowledge’ itself.  The incommensurability of knowledge has been identified – explicitly and implicitly - by scholars in a wide range of disciplines including: Daniel Bell (sociology); Naom Chomsky (linguistics); Carl Jung (psychology); Stuart Kauffman (molecular biology); Thomas Kuhn (history, philosophy, sociology of science); Walter Lippman (journalism); Magorah Maruyama (psychology); Michael Polanyi (history, philosophy, sociology of science); Hans-Jorg Rheinberger (molecular biology) and, Adam Smith (economics).

2.         Incommensurability is emotionally most evident in the Arts where the Art-for-Art’s-Sake Movement, a child of the Industrial Revolution (Henderson 1984) is continuing to generate an ever moving, shifting and changing avant garde (Bell 1976).  It is spinning out increasingly esoteric aesthetic messages intended for ever smaller audiences, e.g., atonal music and what Tom Wolfe calls “The Painted Word”, i.e., when a painting is smaller than its exhibition label


(Wolfe 1975) to ‘egalitarian realism’ or the ‘poke-in-the-eye’ school of art (Chartrand Summer 1991).  The incommensurability of artistic knowledge can be summed up in the aphorism: “I know what Art is when I see it and that’s not Art!”  

3.         Noam Chomsky introduced to linguistics the analogy of language as a genetic but abstract organ.  Like the physical organs of the body, the language organ develops through the life stages of the individual.  Its capacity can be increased through exercise like the muscles of an athlete but genetic endowment and disposition can be taken only so far.  Chomsky uses post-Schonbergian music as a limiting case:

Modern music is accessible to professionals and may be to people with a special bent but it's not accessible to the ordinary person who doesn't have a particular quirk of mind that enables him to grasp modern music let alone make him want to deal with it. (Chomsky 1983, 172)

4.         Carl Gustav Jung, in analytic psychology, explicitly uses the word ‘incommensurability’ to define the rupture between reason and faith.  While both concern the same empirical world, their incommensurability represents “a symptom of the split consciousness which is so characteristic of the mental disorder of our day” and of modern society as a whole (Jung [1956]1970, 285).

5.         Stuart Kauffman, in molecular biology, using Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘language games’ notes the:

systematic difficulty … in attempts to reduce one language game to another for example, from a description of a legal event to a description in terms of mere human actions to a description in terms of physical events… descriptions of the doings of autonomous agents, even bacteria acting on their own behalf to get dinner - seem to involve a different language game than mere descriptions in terms of physical events.  (Kauffman 2000, 126). 

Kauffman uses this difficulty to illuminate a major difference between biology with its ‘language games’ of autonomous agents from physics and chemistry in which lifeless stuff is pushed and pulled by measurable forces.  Put another way, they are incommensurable.

6.         In his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn observed that specialization and puzzle-solving within the paradigm of normal science generates knowledge that is ‘incommensurable’ (Kuhn  1996, 103, 112, 148, 150) even to neighbouring specialties and, by extension to other knowledge domains, disciplines and society as a whole.  Semi-permeable barriers or paradigms separate specialties fostering specialization and generating dramatic growth in our knowledge and control of the physical world.  The very success of the natural sciences, it has been argued, rests on the axiom: “good paradigms make good neighbours” (Fuller 2000, 7).  This specialization by paradigm led Price to coin the phrase


‘invisible colleges’ to describe the forty or fifty people in the world who can understand what is being said or written in any given specialty of the natural and engineering sciences (Price 1963).

7.         If the invisible college symbolizes the incommensurability of specialized knowledge, then public opinion represents “the insertion between man and his environment of a pseudo-environment” (Lippman 1922, 15).  Knowledge of this pseudo-environment is incommensurable with immediate personal experience.  In a complex society, one’s immediate surroundings are a very small part of a much larger environment about which one can have only indirect knowledge or experience.  Knowledge of this wider world is derived not through the senses but through what Walter Lippman called Public Opinion in his study of propaganda and the mass media during the First World War (Lippman 1922).  In his introduction entitled “The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads’, Lippman uses the poignant example of a few English, French and German nationals living on an isolated island in 1914 where  “for six strange weeks they had acted as if they were friends, when in fact they were enemies” (Lippman 1922, 3).

8.         Psychiatrist Magorah Maruyama whose work includes design of human space settlements coined the term ‘paradigmatology’ to capture the incommensurability of knowledge between different professional practices confronting the same objective reality (Maruyama 1974).  Consider a social worker consulting a client family made up of an alcoholic father, a promiscuous mother and delinquent children.  This is an objective reality that can be shared using a language that permits communication between the professional and the client.  The social worker returns to an office where this ‘objective reality’ is discussed using another language with colleagues.  In turn, the case worker reports to an administrative supervisor (in yet another language) who, in turn, reports to a ‘political master’ using yet another language.  It is the same objective reality yet different paradigms come into play.  And these paradigms exhibit varying degrees of incommensurability.

9.         Michael Polanyi writes explicitly of incommensurability between what subsequently become known as codified and tacit knowledge in technical performance (1962a, 174).  Elsewhere he implies that: (i) knowledge obtained through belief defined by articles of faith and that derived through science are incommensurate; (M.Polanyi 1952, 217) and, (ii) scientific and technological knowledge are incommensurate reflecting:

the profound distinction between science and technology [which] is but an instance of the difference between the study of nature on the one hand and the study of human activities and the products of human activities, on the other. (M.Polanyi 1960-61, 406)


10.        Hans-Jorg Rheinberger (1997), a molecular biologist and philosopher of biology, has proposed that what scientists discover using “experimental systems” are not facts or truth but rather “epistemic objects” whose meaning changes and are incommensurable between experimental situations.  In a rather long quote he demonstrates his point with respect to the term ‘gene’:

For a biophysicist working with a crystalline DNA fiber, a gene might be sufficiently characterized by a particular conformation of a DNA double helix.  If asked, he or she might define a gene in terms of the atomic coordinates of a nucleic acid.  For a biochemist working with isolated DNA in the test tube, genes might be sufficiently defined as stretches of nucleic acids exhibiting certain stereochemical features and sequence recognition patterns.  The biochemist can reasonably try to give a macromolecular, DNA-based definition of the gene.  For a molecular geneticist, genes might be defined as instructive elements of chromosomes that eventually give rise to defined functional or structural products: transfer RNAs, ribosomal RNAs, enzymes, and proteins serving other purposes.  Molecular geneticists certainly will insist on considering issues in terms of replication, transcription, and translation and will require examination of the products of hereditary units when speaking of genes.  For evolutionary molecular biologists, genes might be the products of mutating, reshuffling, duplicating, transposing, and rearranging bits of DNA within a complex chromosomal environment that has evolved through differential reproduction and selection.  Therefore, they will rely on concepts such as transmission, lineage, and history.  For developmental biologists, genes might be sufficiently described, on the one hand, as hierarchically ordered switches that, when turned on or off, induce differentiation, and on the other hand, as patches of instructions that are realized in synchrony through the action of these switches.  Thus, developmental biologists are likely to refer to the regulatory aspect of genetic circuitry when defining a gene or a larger transcriptional unit such as an operon.  We could go on and add more items to the list. (Rheinberger 1997, S248)

11.        Incommensurability is also implicit in Adam Smith’s argument that public education is necessary to mitigate the damaging, or what Marx would later call, the ‘alienating’ effects of the division and specialization of labour on workers’ minds.  Of the worker, Smith wrote: “his dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues” (Smith 1776).  This is the shadow-side of the contemporary division and specialization of knowledge, a wraith that Adam Smith arguably foresaw. 


4.6 Language

1.         In the introduction to his essay “The Question Concerning Technology”, Martin Heidegger observes that “All ways of thinking, more or less perceptibly, lead through language


in a manner that is extraordinary” (Heidegger 1955, 3).  Trans-disciplinary induction can arguably accommodate the biological imperative to know as well as the immeasurability and incommensurability of knowledge.  It cannot, however, escape the meta-methodological dilemma presented by language.  Knowledge, excepting tacit and tooled forms, finds general expression through a human language, each of which, including mathematics (Boulding 1955), is subject to inherent conceptual and other limitations.  As previously observed, this is certainly the case with English, the language of this dissertation.  One verb, ‘to know’, etymologically veils four distinct meanings: to know by the senses, mind, doing and experience.  In this way, the English ‘knowledge’ is a linguistic or etymological monad.  In German, by contrast, there are four separate and distinct verbs to express each of these meanings.  

2.         A word, of course, is part of a language that in turn is the foundation of the traditional ‘nation’ or ‘people’, e.g., the Chinese, English, French, German or Japanese language, nation and/or people.  In addition to words or vocabularies, languages differ in their grammar including their syntax, i.e., the ordering of words, and, when reduced to writing, they differ in alphabet (phonetic) and/or script (ideographic), e.g., Cyrillic, Kanji, Mandarin, Roman, etc., and, arguably, mathematics. 

3.         Spoken and written language is a defining feature of our species.  It is the primary but not exclusive means by which human knowledge is expressed and exchanged between individuals and across generations.  Sometimes, however, as with the Logical Positivists, language is treated as synonymous with knowledge which leads to other forms of knowledge being ignored.  This has been called “semantic ascent” (Baird 2004, 8).  Nonetheless, “if language-in-use is this all-embracing sort of activity, stylizing most of our other activities as human beings, then man is best defined, not simply as a rational animal but as animal symbolicum - the language-using animal” (Aldrich 1969, 389).

4.         To cite an example: Kawasaki in his analysis of science education notes that in Japanese there are no proper nouns in the Platonic sense of ‘idealized forms’ (Kawasaki 2002).  Hence abstract concepts such as ‘the computer’ or ‘acceleration’ have meaning in Japanese only as specific experiential cases, not as abstract idealized forms.  He suggests this may explain why the Japanese have excelled in technological innovation but lagged in the pure sciences.  In contrast, the presence of abstract idealized nouns in English may explain why in my survey of seventeen sub-disciplines there was no etymology of the word ‘knowledge’ or ‘to know’.  In effect, knowledge is treated in discussion of the knowledge-based economy as a universal, as a linguistic monad, not a particular.


5.         In effect, language provides the web of understanding that holds culture together as an organism.  Put another way, “our symbol systems, especially language, allow us to pursue the curious mix of cooperation and competition that is our species’ ‘form of life’” (Grene & Depew 2004, 336).  The how and why of language acquisition by the human species, however, remains contentious. 

6.         No matter the how and why, the fact remains that we express most knowledge through language and each language has strengths and weakness.  Thus while French is a truly precise and beautiful language, all nouns are masculine or feminine with no neuter which in a world of gender politics is a weakness.  Alternatively, in English the word ‘knowledge’ is an etymological monad enfolding four distinct meanings that have their own separate nouns in German.  Similarly, as noted above, there are no abstract Platonic nouns in Japanese.   Even mathematics has strengths and weaknesses as noted by Kenneth Boulding in his 1955 essay “The Limitations of Mathematics: An Epistemological Critique”:

The delicacy or coarseness of a tool has an important effect on the task which can be done with it; we do not cut out cataracts with a buzz-saw or cut down trees with a scalpel.  Mathematics clearly has a bias on the side of delicacy and exactness.  Where the task requires delicacy, this is all to the good.  If however the empirical universe which we are trying to know is not delicate, too great a reliance on mathematics may be misleading, if it is not checked by good judgment about the nature of the empirical universe itself. (Boulding 1955

7.         In summary, I have demonstrated that knowledge can be characterized as an abstract monotonic Platonic noun by reference to the undifferentiated but polymorphous biological human need to know, the immeasurability and incommensurability of knowledge and its general expression through inherently limited and biased human language including mathematics and English.  

8.         Before turning to knowledge as a verb some final observations on its biological nature are in order.  Since publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 discussion about evolution has focused on natural selection and survival of the fittest.  Nowhere in the text do the words ‘cooperation’, ‘coevolution’ or ‘coconstruction’ appear.  More recent research reveals that Darwinian survival of the fittest must be complimented by an equally important test.  Specifically living systems are characterized by increasing complexity resulting from progressive division and specialization of autonomous agents achieved through mutuality, i.e., coevolution and Coconstruction (Kauffman 1990; 1995; 2000).  Put another way, life involves not just predator and prey but also symbionts and partners. 


9.         With respect to human knowledge coevolution and coconstruction take on additional significance because of a second human genetic code: codified and tooled knowledge.  As noted by Grene & Depew, the human neonate is, from birth, exposed to and interacts with both forms of knowledge Grene & Depew 2004, 332).  Development is patterned not just by the current generation of parents, siblings, cousins and relatives but also by the accumulated and surviving knowledge of past generations frozen into extra-somatic matrices.  Whether it is the history of the Roman Empire described in a book or the urban grid laid down at the historical founding of a city, contemporary human life coevolves with codified and tooled knowledge frozen in the past.  It is in this sense that, like Isaac Newton, we all stand on the shoulders of giants.  As previously noted, coevolution and coconstruction will play a critical role in my subsequent distinction between the competitiveness and the fitness of nations.



5. Knowledge as a Verb

The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy