The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

On Methodology



a) Definition

For my purposes, Transdisciplinary Induction (TI):

a)      involves movement from the general to the specific back to the general;

b)      where specifics are arguments, findings and theorems developed by specialized researchers and scholars working in a growing and evolving population of disciplines and sub-disciplines constituting what I have classified, under the term ‘pragmatic epistemology’, as the three primary contemporary knowledge domains (NES, HSS and the Arts); and,

c)      the general is both an initial working hypothesis and a final argument, finding or thesis of a transdisciplinary researcher.  Specifics are collected and compiled and used to refine and develop the initial hypothesis into a final thesis.   Selected specifics then serve as evidence for the hypothesis. 


b) Rationale

Adam Smith suggested that division and specialization of labour is limited by the extent of the market.  The market for knowledge, i.e., the knowledge-based economy, has grown dramatically – in fact, globally - and the resulting division and specialization of knowledge has become extensive.   Smith also suggested there were dangers associated with the over-division and -specialization of labour including what Marx would later call ‘alienation from the means of production’.  In the case of knowledge this has meant a narrowing of breadth and an increasing of depth so that the individual has become increasingly alienated (or dis-interested) in all but a narrowing horizontal range of the knowledge spectrum.  To mitigate these dangers and to foster the integrity of human knowledge, various scholars in various disciplines have proposed varying methodologies.  Six whose works have inspired TI include:

i – John R. Commons: whose ‘historicism’ draws upon the evidence and evolution of the Past – economic, legal, philosophical, psychological, social and technological – to construct an integrated institutional view of the Present.  He also highlighted the critical role of intellectual property rights in the evolution of what has become known as the knowledge-based economy;

ii – Fred Emery & Eric Trist: whose concept of ‘overlapping temporal gestalten’ requires the Present to be viewed as being a fabric woven out of values and behaviours rooted in and growing out of different points in the Past.  In addition, their concept of ‘emergent processes’ governing the appearance of new institutions through the stages of concealment, parasitism and overt competition with a host highlights a likely mechanism for both the Zilsel and Merton Hypotheses (vi – below);

iii – Eric Jantsch: whose ‘systems philosophy’ requires a trinary perspective - mythological, rational and evolutionary – of ‘Big R’ reality and implies a ‘trialectic’ rather than a dialect methodology.  Trialectics requires thesis and antithesis to be viewed through the eyes of an active participating ‘subjective’ observer so that the resulting synthesis is reflected in three rather than two dimensions;

iv – Carl Gustav Jung: whose complex psychology requires the circumambulation of a phenomenon from a range of differing views and at progressively higher stages of development, reminiscent of the ‘pedagogic spiral’;

v - Magorah Maruyama: whose concept of ‘paradigmatology’ requires one to become adept at manipulating and rotating disciplinary lenses to gain a broad spectrum view of situational reality;

v – Jean Piaget: whose concept of inter-disciplinary research encourages the extraction of ‘thematic models’ from one discipline and their application in others, e.g., from physics to economics, and vice versa; and,

vi – Edgar Zilsel: whose concept of the coincidence of class interests at a key point in time – high artisans, humanists and university scholars – giving birth to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and, at least in that knowledge domain, resolving  the ancient Western schism between the Mechanical and the Liberal Arts – between head and hand.  To this Zilsel Hypothesis must be added the Merton Hypothesis that it was the coincidence of interests of a Puritan Protestant English Commonwealth between 1640 and 1660 with those of emerging natural (as opposed to moral) philosophers that also allowed the Natural Sciences to become successfully embedded in Western culture.  If such coincidences of class interests have occurred in the past then they may well do so again in the Present and Future. 

To these six, I now add a seventh, Thomas Kuhn’s Pelican Brief.

What all seven share in common, in my opinion, is recognition of what I call Pascal’s Third Infinity.   In the ancient and medieval worlds, there were the macro- and micro-infinities of ‘As Above, So Below’.   Anywhere, however, along the continuum between micro- and macro-infinity, one can chose any one of an infinite number of places from which to move off horizontally – left or right - into the Third Infinity of Complexity.  Like a moving transept on a Christian Cross, the Third Infinity defines Modernity.  TI, and each of the seven methodologies defined above, is intended as a means to bring some order to the chaos which is the dynamic complexity of contemporary human knowledge.


c) Limitations

In a way TI is like the sophistry of the Law in that one builds the strongest case possible from available evidence and argument while ignoring or deflecting refuting evidence.  TI is therefore inherently subjective and dependent on the skills and defects of the advocate.

In another way TI is like medieval scholasticism relying on authority as evidence.  Phenomenologically, I do not believe there is currently another choice.  Each TI researcher will be strong in some fields, weak in others.  True polymaths appear extinct.  Experimenter expectation can also be expected.  And in this regard, Kuhn suggests that even the choice by natural scientists of specific normal science puzzles to solve is influenced by their culture, experience and language.   



TI is to be applied in three ‘overlapping temporal gestalten’:

a) in the short-run, in my written comprehensive Thomas Kuhn’s Pelican Brief - that serves as the focus of this interrogation;

b) in the intermediate run, in my thesis: the Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy that contends it is the unique dynamic tension and the resolution of this tension between the NES, the HSS and the Arts that determine competitiveness in a new economy ; and,

c) in the long run, as a tiny step towards the re-integration of human knowledge following a near ‘apocalyptic’ schism between Marx and Markets and in the face of rising ‘troubles’ as an older, more elemental, schism surfaces to again bedevil humanity – secularism & theocracy – both at home and abroad. 

On a somewhat lighter note, I like to call myself a ‘secular humorist’, that is, one who laughs at human pretensions, including one’s own, in the face of an infinite eternity beyond which may well lay manifold others in what has been called the Multiverse by Astronomy - the Queen of the Natural Sciences while wearing the Crown of Astrophysics on her head.  The King, of course, remains Physics with the Pretender Biology nipping at his heels while the Jester, Chemistry, proudly prances in the sure and certain knowledge that all three must fall at his feet when confronted with any constructivist application.  This leaves undefined, of course, the role of the Court in which this dramatic comedy (sometimes approaching farce) is played out – including the Barons, Dukes and Earls of the HSS and the Arts as well as the gapping Commoners who pay the bill for this play as both consumers and taxpaying citizens.



a) Appropriateness

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was chosen as an appropriate object of my written and oral comprehensives for four reasons.

First, Structure has reshaped the academic landscape becoming “…one of the most cited works in the humanities and social sciences, and one of the few major works in these fields that have been received sympathetically by natural scientists.” (Fuller 2000; 1).  Structure is therefore so widely known that it could, I hoped, be safely assumed that all members of this Committee – an international political economist, a geneticist, a marketer, a philosopher, physicist and sociologist would have some working knowledge of its contents.   As such Structure has attained transdisciplinary status and is an appropriate object for TI investigation.

Second, Structure provides an entré to the history, philosophy and sociology of science that appear to be the dominant contemporary epistemological sub-disciplines within their respective host disciplines and sub-domains – the Humanities (history and philosophy) & the Social Sciences (sociology).  In turn, this makes Structure an appropriate object for TI investigation.

Third, a detailed analysis of Structure lays the foundation for the third epistemic strand of my thesis – the NES.  Previous work provides me with such a working foundation for both the Arts and the Social Sciences.  Additional work is being conducted concerning the Humanities.  It is my thesis, of course, that it is the interaction or, more accurately, the interphasing of the three primary knowledge domains that determines the competitiveness of nations in a global knowledge-based economy.

Fourth, Structure permits an assessment of the applicability of the “normal science” paradigm to all three primary contemporary knowledge domains – the Natural & Engineering Sciences (NSE), the Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS), and the Arts.


b) My Assessment

Structure proved an appropriate object for TI investigation.  Its many ‘barbed’ references – succinct yet pointed - to aesthetics, economics, history, psychology, philosophy, sociology as well the Natural Science disciplines of astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics provided multiple ‘hooks’ upon which to hang TI findings.  Aesthetics, psychology and sociology were the non-NSE disciplines most used by Kuhn – especially the latter two.  In the process of investigation, Kuhn’s argument was neither falsified nor verified but rather, I believe, amplified by appending views derived from these and other disciplines.  In conclusion, the strengths and weakness of Kuhn’s normal science of puzzle-solving was assessed when applied to the other knowledge domains, i.e., the HSS and the Arts.



Having completed and submitted Thomas Kuhn’s Pelican Brief as my written comprehensives, three significant findings have subsequently emerged.


a) Circular Causality

In the Brief, I drew thematic models from physics and biology to compare a Kuhnian normal science paradigm respectively to the quark field effect and metabolism.  I have been searching for a more succinct or elegant term for this ‘whole, greater and different, than the sum of its components’ effect (synergy seems dated).  I believe I have found it in the work of neuroscientist Walter J. Freeman.  The term is ‘circular causality’ defined, at the neurophysiological level of brain function. “…Circular causality expresses the interrelations between levels in a hierarchy: a top-down macroscopic state simultaneously influences microscopic particles that bottom-up create and sustain the macroscopic state. The state exists over a span of inner time in the system that can be collapsed to a point in external time. Events in real time are marked by changes in the state of the system, which are discrete.” 

This causal principle may allow me to convincingly deal with ‘transcendent’ or ‘unconscious’ forms of social knowledge.  These include such unplanned, i.e., arational, institutions as the price system in the tradition of von Hayek in economics, and power in the tradition of Bertrand de Jouvenel in political science.  It may even permit a reasoned linkage to be made between the archetypes of complex psychology and ‘unplanned’ social knowledge structures.  


b) Economics as ‘Normal Science’

Almost in passing Kuhn suggest that of disciplines in the other knowledge domains – the HSS and the Arts, economics comes closest to being a ‘normal science’. I believe I now understand why.

First, economics is taught, at the introductory and intermediate levels in universities around the world, using text books that present a standard Neoclassical Model.  The texts are so similar that to my knowledge they sometimes share the same chapter titles and illustration numbers.  Furthermore, this standard model can be taught, separately or together, graphically, verbally and/or mathematically.  And, as in the revisionism of normal science, this economic model is presented as the logical outcome of all the efforts of all economists since before the beginning of the formal discipline itself. 

Second, the ‘gestalt’ nature of graphic modeling in economics, for example the Marshallian scissors of supply and demand, comes near to the Euclidian perfection required of ‘Big S’ science by Descarte.

Third, economic unlike other social processes generate quantitative data as part of their normal operation, i.e., prices and quantities bought and sold on markets.  This provides the highest caliber quantitative evidence, flawed though it is for numerous reasons, of any of the social sciences, humanities or arts.  Socially, it comes closest to the unmediated sensory data provided by physical instrumentation in the NES.


c) ‘Tooled’ Knowledge

The OECD in assessing the knowledge-based economy identifies two specific forms: tacit and codified.  After completing the Brief, I can now add a third: tooled knowledge. 

Codified knowledge refers to books, journals, libraries and data bases from which someone with appropriate training can extract knowledge.  It corresponds to what Carl Sagan called ‘extrasomatic knowledge’, i.e., knowledge embodied in material form and transmitted outside of the human body from individual to individual and generation to generation. 

Tacit knowledge, which is identified by Kuhn as deriving from Polanyi, is experiential knowledge such as ‘lab bench knowledge’ in biotechnology.  It involves ‘know how’. It is knowledge possessed by an individual but that can not be codified.

Tooled knowledge refers to knowledge embodied in instruments and capital equipment.  It addresses and resolves one of the longest running controversies in economics: the labour theory of value.  From Adam Smith to Marx, the value of a good or service was to be measured by the labour value it contained.  Marshall and the Neoclassical School rejected the labour theory in favour of a modified theory of exchange involving the resolution of:

·         constrained utility maximization (subject to price and income constraints) by the consumer measuring ‘willingness’ to buy, a.k.a., demand; and,

·         constrained profit maximization (subject to cost and technical constraints) measuring ‘willingness’ to provide, a.k.a., supply.

Marx did not accept this ‘new’ theory and the labour theory of value played a central role in the hot and cold war conflicts between Marx and Markets during much of the 20th century.

Related to the labour theory of value is the theory of capital, specifically what constitutes capital?  While some commentators suggest there is no theory of capital (and hence no economic science) others (specifically the Austrian economist Bohm-Baverk) suggest capital formation involves what is called ‘round-about-means of production’. In this view an existing piece of capital equipment is seen to embody successive generations of labour leading to the current ‘state of the art’.  The impossibility of measuring that historical accretion of labour has been demonstrated by, among others, Professor Dooley of USAK.

If one, however, replaces labour as the input by knowledge, then capital becomes not hours of labour but rather specific knowledge - protected by IPRs or in the public domain - and embodied in instruments and capital plant & equipment.  In this view, if scientific instruments have extended the human senses along the micro-macro-continuum, then capital plant and equipment have extended the human grasp horizontally out into the material world.  At the push of a button, a machine or mechanism does work that untold generations of humans did by hand.  Of course, tacit knowledge, i.e., a living breathing human being, is required to activate tooled knowledge, to know which buttons to push and in what order.  Similarly, tacit knowledge is required to decode codified knowledge so that it becomes operational.  In this sense, without the active mediation of a human being, codified and tooled knowledge remain dumb artifacts like a recording without a playback device.  It is for this reason, the need for the tacit knowledge of an individual to unlock codified and activate tooled knowledge, that I am completing a background article to my thesis: A Labour Theory of Knowledge: Reason, Revelation, Sentiment and Sensation.

Accordingly, knowledge takes three ‘economic’ forms, i.e., forms that can be bought and sold, in markets:

·         the tacit knowledge of an individual hired as proprietor, employee or contractor;

·         codified knowledge transformed temporarily into marketable property through intellectual property rights like copyright, patents, registered industrial designs and trademarks but destined to become part of the public domain; and,

·         tooled knowledge embodied in scientific instruments and capital equipment.