Perception and a General Theory of Knowledge




Graham R. Little



© 1999 Graham R. Little




Table of contents
      Traditional epistemology and the alternative start point of this epistemology
      The problem of truth
      Key concepts from the first paper
The questions
Systematization of the flow of change
Understanding of ‘conceptual level’
On the nature of an abstraction
      Rule of relations
      Physiological abstraction
      Conceptual abstraction
      Attitudinal abstraction
      The difference between conceptual and attitudinal abstraction
      Seeing the world as it is
Creation of scientific knowledge
      Definition of scientific Knowledge
      Key definitions within the theory of science
      A system
      Interpretation of quantum physics and the question of the fundamental probabilistic nature of the universe
      A fact or piece of data
      Managing assumption and the rule of enforced incoherent complexity
      Selecting the system for study
      Variables, systems and their values
      Definition of empiricism in science
      Definition of a scientific theory
      Causal and descriptive explanation
The creation of non-empirical knowledge
The growth of knowledge
At the limit of knowledge
The growth of knowledge as an infinite regress
      Domains of science
The nature of understanding
The growth of understanding
The growth of knowledge without understanding
Creation of causal expectation
A theory of cause

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The first paper in the series offered a number of important ideas. First was that in any perception of the universe the nature of the universe influenced that perception. That being so then it is possible to ask what must be the nature and state of the universe for perception to be possible?

The paper then followed the following logical structure.

    1. Under what circumstances does perception fail?
    1. What do these circumstances tell us of the nature of the universe for perception to be possible?
    1. By converse argument, if the universe must not be undifferentiated for perception to be possible, then we conclude that it must be differentiated. We can now ask what nature of differentiation must exist for the normal perception of everyday experience to be re-asserted?

The above analysis gives immediate rise to the notion of ‘idea’ as the classification of events having similar properties. Thus ideas never occur, and are only ever evidenced in ‘instances of’, that is in events that have properties that have sufficient overlap with the accepted properties of the idea.

The current paper assumes the above position, then by following through the consequences of the philosophy there is derived a general theory of knowledge, a theory of scientific knowledge and a theory of cause.


Traditional epistemology and the alternative start point of this epistemology

Traditional epistemology has asked two questions: what are the types of knowledge? What is the nature of knowledge? There are many variations in the answers to these questions, with no general agreement(1). Typical of answers to the question on the types of knowledge is a priori knowledge, moral knowledge, memory and inductive. There are other lists and other systems and categories. But this list is effectively illustrative.

The question 'what is the nature of knowledge?' is usually answered in three parts. Knowledge is an idea that is true and able to be justified. From this analysis arises the problem of truth, for to some considerable degree the problem of what is knowledge is reduced to the problem of what is truth?

These analyses are interesting, and in as far as they succeed are helpful in exploring the topics in question. To some considerable degree the literature on these topics seems stalemated, that is seems to be making little or no progress(2). It was this that caused a pause and a review, coupled with the work of Karl Popper.

Popper argued that epistemology was not about some psychological state, but was about the relationship between knowledge and that described by knowledge, and that knowledge once created was independent of the verb 'to know'.

Now let us play 'what if'. What if that were right? What if knowledge once created was independent of the person, then it would seem reasonable that if it existed in and of itself it might have some form of structure. Now if it had a structure, how and where would that structure arise? An obvious start point is to examine the nature of the Reality giving rise to any knowledge, to identify what structures of that Reality contributed to the formation of knowledge and seek some clarification of how they contributed.

This approach suggests a line of attack on the problem of knowledge that does not begin with knowledge at all but begins with a scientific examination of Reality seeking any precursors of knowledge should they exist.

We can also approach the issues from a different start point. The problem is to unravel the nature of knowledge. Now it is reasonable to postulate that knowledge evolved that it did not leap miraculously into being. There is evidence that does support this proposition(3). It is also reasonable to propose that evolution of some aspect of any species does not or at very least typically does not arise in that absence of some environmental influence, that is it would normally arise in response to one or more aspects of the environment of the species. If we follow that argument we again end up asking questions about the nature of the Reality giving rise to knowledge, both now and in an evolutionary sense.

It was these types of arguments that initiated search in rather different place from the traditional epistemology. The start point was the investigation of the universe beyond our senses, asking what aspects of that universe contributes to the creation of our knowledge today and contributed to the evolution of knowledge as such a dominant feature of human psychology and society?

The process was to seek to answer this question, then to follow where the answer lead in relation to exploring the overall questions on the nature of knowledge and truth and understanding. The first paper was the beginning of the process. It is not that traditional epistemology is seen as wrong, or is being refuted or even argued against. It is simply that perhaps it is time to fully explore alternatives, and to pursue them to their logical conclusion. Then we can and must judge as to which is the best alternative, and which is the preferred scientific theory of knowledge.

The problem of truth

This problem will be revisited in the paper presenting a general theory of psychology. But I felt it important to present the solution now, that is the solution as it arises and is resolved in the philosophy that is here being unravelled and pursued.

The problem of truth is so important because of the traditional definition of knowledge, with knowledge being typically defined as justified true belief. Within the epistemological position developed here knowledge and truth are quite different issues, with knowledge, specifically knowledge of the universe being defined as the systematisation and classification of events. The 'truth' content of those events is not relevant. Elsewhere(4) I have also discussed how the problem of knowledge, the problem of a general theory of psychology and the problem of cause are all inter-related. The interrelation comes to the fore at this point, for to completely explain why the issues arise as they do requires I explain the role of Thought in the general theory of psychology, and the role of Thought defining the role and status of notions like knowledge, belief, values etc. In summary, Thought (capital T) is a variable, it is the grouping and classification of events with certain properties, that is the property of being conscious to a person. This has other considerations, namely 'how do I know you have thoughts?' But I do not wish to explore this at this point and it will have to await later papers. Thought is the variable, a thought is the value of that variable under particular circumstances within a particular person. That is the end point, but it is necessary to follow thought the progression to see the steps whereby that end point is reached. This is and can only be so because of the circularity I see in the system of questions involving psychology, knowledge and causality. Within the system of psychology as it arises, Thought is the variable, and no special details arise involving categories of that variable, that means that a false, invalid thought is of the same psychological status as a true justifiable belief. Noting that the whole thrust of the variable Thought is not as epistemology, but as causal in human behaviour.

We have then the proposition that the meandering thought of an idiot is of the same status within the theory that emerges, as the thoughts of someone deemed sane. How can this dilemma be resolved?

It is resolved by seeing 'truth' not as some problem in epistemology, but as a psychological problem. In short, there is no truth in anything other than the truth we afford it. Truth is an act of judgement. The mental person lacks judgement to tell sound balanced thoughts from unsound. So they ignore all the obvious cues and put their hand in the flame because they believe they cannot be burned. An overview of the answers to the questions of truth is summarised below in the following diagram.

Several points are important. First, truth content is not seen as something intrinsic to any proposition. It is a status we afford a proposition depending (typically) on a multitude of supporting data and understanding. Hence theories and philosophies seeking any intrinsic property of propositions called 'truth content' are simply seen as nonsense. This again relates directly back to the theory of psychology, the ultimate aim of these papers and to the proposition that emerges. Namely that Thought is a crucial variable in the causality of human behaviour, but that no particular thought (some particular value of the variable under some particular circumstances) is intrinsically differentiated from any other. Such differentiation is solely due the person ascribing greater importance to some thoughts over others. This does beg several important questions, for example is the differentiation deliberate or not? This is one of the ways in which questions of nature versus nurture arise in the theory. In short, humans are influenced by upbringing, which is to say that they grow in social systems where some thoughts are valued over others. Any individual can be influenced by this in ways they may or may not understand and in ways that may or may not be consciously available to them. This also clearly leads to questions of the nature and status of an 'unconscious mind'. Much more will be made of these issues in later papers, because to discuss them now would jump too far ahead and several crucial concepts have yet to be introduced.


The typical questions of truth

The answers as they arise in this epistemology

The general question: What is truth?


What is nature of truth?

Truth is a judgement made by a person or people of some thought or view of some situation. It is our own assessment of the validity of some value of the variable Thought as evidenced within us. When involving only one person I will typically talk of 'subjective' and when socially agreed I will typically talk of 'objective' (these generally after Karl Popper, namely that objectivity is shared and agreed subjectivity).

What is true of this situation?

The truth content of some thought (some value of the variable Thought) is functional to the effort we have expended in relation to exploring that situation and on the veracity of that effort. In simplest terms the truth content, what is true of this situation is proportional to the multiplicity of inputs to judgement about that situation. The greater the range and scope of the inputs to judgement the more accurate the judgement the higher the truth content.


A general philosophical position that emerges from these views can be put as follows.

People have only their energy and their judgement. It is best if energy follow where judgement leads.

May passion ever move me, but reason be my guide.

So there is what I call 'life philosophy' emerging from issues of technical philosophy. Where apparent boundaries of what is 'academic' and what is 'folk' become blurred, blending into a whole from which is distilled points according to purpose and ends. It is my contention that one of the important criteria for judging the validity of any theory of psychology is just that is achieves this merging. (Other inputs to judgement would of course include verification and falsification, see the note to web site, in the introduction on multiple inputs to judgement.)



This introduction is to summarise the main concepts introduced so far in the analysis. For detail, refer to the first paper and to the notes introducing the nature and purpose of this site.

Key concepts from the first paper

  1. The universe beyond our sense can and does play a role in the creation of knowledge and that it is possible to increase our understanding of the nature of knowledge by analysing exactly how the universe effects the formation of knowledge.
  2. The resulting analysis and understanding will be and is independent of the observer or as independent as any such analysis can be. Once the structures in the universe have been so analysed, then it is possible to 'add back' the observer and so build a complete picture of knowledge, both its nature and how it comes into being and how it came into being in an evolutionary sense.
  3. That it is very difficult to understand the elements or structures of the universe that result in knowledge by analysing normal, everyday circumstances, this is because in normal circumstances those factors are at their most complex and separating them will be difficult if not impossible.
  4. A better process is to reduce the role of the universe to the point where perception fails. The point is usefully found in clear air white out conditions that reduces perception to a flat white plane, and the observer can be unaware that it is so.
  5. This start point for epistemology is very different from traditional start points. Not the least of this difference is that the start point is scientific and not philosophical. This distinction is very important, in that the resulting propositions on knowledge are expected to be of the same status of any proposition typical of science.
  6. At the point of clear air white out, the universe provides perception with a uniform system of photons. Under those circumstances perception reduces to a flat plane. Further, the researchers who assessed and researched these circumstances concluded that the perceptual mechanisms seemed geared to a differentiated universe and in the absence of differentiation the system failed.
  7. It can now be asked what types of differentiation of the universe can be observed? A suitable thought experiment gives rise to three categories of differentiation. These are aesthetic, spatial and dynamic.
  8. In the absence of dynamic differentiation the universe reduces to a painting, with aesthetic and spatial features, but no change. Thus prediction of the normal universe is necessarily the conceptualisation of change, or the conceptualisation of dynamic differentiation.
  9. It follows that scientific understanding of the universe depends on the conceptualisation of change and how change travels through the universe. And that this result is general and universal and must apply to all creatures and all intelligent life. This is so because the analysis is independent of the observer.
  10. It follows that defining the change defines the observer. This is so because defining the nature of the change defines the nature of the perceptual systems able to be influenced by that change. Thus strictly defining the change does not define the observer but does define the perceptual system able to be effected which in turn defines at least the category of observers.
  11. We can now ask what does an observer perceive? Precisely, the observer can and does only perceive those aspects of a differentially differentiated universe relative to its physiology. For example, consider the situation of clear air white out, but where a sufficiently large percentage of the scene was of a colour able to be seen by one observer but not another. Then one observer would be subject to the loss of depth perception and see only a flat uniform plane whereas the second observer would experience no such loss of depth perception.
  12. We also understand the sequence of perception as universe, perceptual field and effect of perceptual field on the physiology of the observer. At this point there has been no interpretation of the image by the observer, this is merely analysing on the basis of the effect of the universe only. The consequence of this is that any observer perceives only a unique interaction between their physiology and the universe. If there is no change in the physiology of the perceiving species then for that species the universe did not change. This is a proposition of science, not philosophy. If it were ever refuted, this would mean that perception occurred without any interaction between the perceiver and that being perceived. In short, without any causality or mechanism. (Note that the term universe is used here in a very narrow form, meaning that beyond perceptual fields, when in fact a perception field is part of the universe. This noun confusion is clarified by adopting the system of definitions summarised below.)
  13. The conjoined system of changes in the universe, the perceptual field and the perceptual systems of the observer constitute the definition of an event. This follows from the analysis above. Thus an event is observer relative. It is also a totally unique system circumscribed by location in time and space and involving given photons and (in the case of sight) and given neurones of the brain (for say a human observer).
  14. All events have given properties. These properties arise from the previously understood differentiated aspects of the universe. This gives rise to an event having properties as located in space, aesthetic qualities, at some particular time as relative to the observer, and with some rate of change.
  15. Now if there were events with identical or similar properties then such events could be grouped and classified according to those common properties. This grouping and classification of events with similar properties is the formation of an idea.
  16. It follows that ideas are never observed only an 'instance of' an idea. That is, what it is that can ever be, are events that have properties sufficiently in common with some previously noted and classified events (the idea), such that the observed event could be said to be an example of that classification (an 'instance of' that idea).
  17. If certain objects are classified table, then in the event of using a chair as a table is due there being properties of the chair in common with properties ascribed to a table. The properties of the table arising via a multitude of events and experiences whereby the concept table was developed. In a society where knowledge is passed from generation to generation these experiences do not have to be uniquely experienced by each single individual.
  18. The above analysis is of all that is intrinsic to the universe. Thus time is not intrinsic, rather it is change and the human conception of change over extended periods, the lunar and solar cycles for example.
  19. Where events are linked then we have what Hume described as a constant conjunction, such events can be seen as related separate events or as a single system.
  20. Once formed, the idea (the classification of events according to shared properties) then becomes the orientating device whereby subsequent events are noted. This to the extent that any unique properties of the event may be lost as it is noted and classified and generalised according to the idea and the properties attributed to that idea. Thus ideas as arising in this theory of knowledge have the intrinsic property of bringing the observers history into the present every time the idea is applied. And where some idea has arisen from within the society then it carries the social history of the people and is not merely the experience of the individual at this time in this place under these circumstances.
  21. Any species able to interact with the universe in the manner outlined above must have some minimum system of physiology. This has been assessed as requiring (1) a system of perceptual and mental apparatus that is complex and multiple. Thus subsystems are able to act and interact and be able to be part of each other or the environment to each other. Only such complexity enables experiencing both events and ideas carrying previous understanding of those events. (2) A scratch pad, that is again an aspect of the multiplicity where one system acts as input to another and yet a third may note the result. Only a scratch pad enables noting of common properties and grouping according to some label, the label being the symbol for the idea, the idea carrying all the properties and attributes. (3) A memory able to record and enable retrieval of the ideas and properties and experiences of events.

Beginning with Reality or perceptual field three types of knowledge can be derived as being available to a perceiving species. First, aesthetic knowledge of colour, shape, form, texture etc; second, location of relative position derived from spatial differentiation; third, perception of the flow of change through the universe, this giving rise to dynamic knowledge, that is knowledge of the type ‘if A changes then B will change’.

These categories of knowledge are not dependent on the observer(5) they are derived from the necessary and sufficient conditions of the universe. From the point of view of the observer each of these types of knowledge can give rise to three distinct types of response. First there can be a habituated response. Second, there can be an emotional response. These can be a consequence of genetics or of behavioural learning. Finally, there can be knowledge in the form of ideas, concepts, etc(6).

The first paper in the series essentially reached this point. That is the understanding of an idea as the classification of 'instances of' according to various properties. Thus we have a 'table', but we never experience 'table', what we experience is an 'instance of' a table.

The properties of an idea arise from the types of differentiation of the universe. So properties of colour, form, texture, shape, etc arise from aesthetic differentiation and location in space from spatial differentiation. Dynamic differentiation gives rise to two types of properties of the idea. (1) Time and location in time; the central question can be stated is time intrinsic to the universe and if so in what way? I will discuss the question more fully in a later paper, for now will merely put as a working proposition that the basis of time is change, and that it is intelligence that introduces time by segmenting the flow of events. For example, the regularity of the solar system is one such system of events that is segmented, and this segmentation affording humanity with a framework within which other events can be noted and located. Time is not intrinsic to the universe without intelligent life, only change. (2) Once the events are located within the frame of reference, no matter it whether it is a fixed or relative frame, then those events can themselves have a rate of change. The rate of changes being the second property of an idea arising from dynamic differentiation.


There are a number of previously defined terms that enable more simple discussion of the issues. These definitions are summarised below.

The questions

There remain many key questions, such as those below.

These and other related questions are the main topics of this paper, which continues the analysis of perception and knowledge creation based on what can be derived by analysing Reality and perceptual fields. The questions addressed include the following. The questions are phrased to enable focus on the structures of Reality and perceptual fields and thus avoid the psychological question of ‘to know’. This question is important, but is viewed as a question of psychology only able to be answered from with a general theory of psychology.

How does knowledge come into being? How is it derived from Reality and perceptual fields?

What is scientific knowledge?

Why did knowledge arise? Does it have any evolutionary purpose (in the same way as legs have such a purpose)?

What is understanding and is it different from knowledge?

Is there a limit to what we can know? Is this limit general to all species and all potential intelligence?

If there is a limit to knowledge what does this mean? How do we understand this limit? What does this limit impose on what we can and cannot know?

Systematization of the flow of change

In summary: events are sets of interrelated change and every immediate perception is one set of the changes that constitute a unique event in World 1. Knowledge is then the product of a second, slower interaction wherein the events are attended to and classified according to their properties(9) enabling greater prediction of the environment(10). Knowledge is not part of physical Reality(11), but is part of the social reality of a species.

An event is a set of changes and without change there is no dynamic universe. The nature of the change must also be such as to effect the physiology of the perceiving species. Where that is not the case, then for that species there was no event. This also applies to machines, which merely are devices to translate changes that do not effect the perceiving physiology into changes that can.

If all change was random then classification of those changes would be impossible, but most change is not random. Two events A and B constantly associated are a constant conjunction. It is this that is the basic building block of perception. A non-random change relationship between two events is the ‘flow of change’. This flow of change can be represented Aè B, where the diagram means a change in A is followed by a change in B.

The constant conjunction is here offered as a fundamental of the universe, parallel to, say heat or light or chemicals. In evolutionary terms it represents another niche in the environment, another feature to which evolutionary factors responded. The result was that the evolutionary response by species was to favour those individuals and species that could perceive the constant conjunctions, recognise them upon repeated contact and respond in a manner that afforded greatest survival opportunity.

The question now is ‘how are the constant conjunctions recognised?’

All change has certain features and properties. That is, it has an aesthetic aspect in colour, form or texture, etc and a spatial aspect in that it happens in this or that part of space. And in the constant conjunctions, there is a sequence lag, that is for a species able to note the conjunction there is a lag between A and B(12). These features I call the properties of AB, or A or B(13).

All that is now required is a physiology that is able to note and record the properties of AB or A or B, record the consequences, and recall or respond to those properties and consequences when events with the same properties are ever encountered again. The argument here is that because constant conjunctions are a fundamental aspect of the universe, it is inevitable that if life exists then evolution will bring forth species able to utilise those conjunctions in predicting the universe and so improve the survival of that species.

Subsequent perceptions of changes with given properties tend then to be classified according to those properties. To do this requires a certain minimum physiological apparatus, and clearly humans have at least this minimum. This process is conceptualisation. In science, the process of conceptualisation is largely devoted to the systematisation of change to provide explanation and prediction of the universe.

We can now ask where and how do ideas arise? Imagine a species able to note and respond to constant conjunctions, but without labels for those conjunctions. The ‘knowledge’ of such a species is largely behavioural, of the form ‘in the presence of A do XY because B follows’. But the species cannot describe this, only act according to it.

If now there is a species who has developed a physiology which enables labels to be placed on events and on constant conjunctions, then not only can such a species do all that the first species can do, but it can also describe the events(14).

The discussion above has analysed the flow of change. There are two types of relation involved in the flow of change. First, where A can B are seen to be directly linked so that a change in A is followed by a change in B, second, where A and B are subsequently found to be the end result of underlying mechanisms or changes not immediately apparent. In both cases the fundamental unit of perception is of the form Aè B, and is, as stated and analysed by Hume, a constant conjunction.

Imagine a TV(15), now imagine there is no knowledge of it other than the effect of the knobs on picture and sound. These effects can now be described Kè P,S (where K is the position of the knobs, P the picture and S the sound) or as an equation P,S = ƒK. If electricity is then discovered as the ‘mechanism’, then the system can be reduced to Kè E è P,S, (E being the electrical state of the system) with two equations E = ƒK, and P,S=ƒE. The initial equation then emerges as the overall effect of a more fundamental set of equations. This overall effect being represented by the arrow from the tail to the head of two other arrows. Thus the first arrow Kè P,S , is a summary of the underlying mechanism whether known or not. This then is the two types of change relation(16), the first being Kè P,S being called an ultimate effect, the second, such as the equations involving electricity being called immediate effects(both terms after W. Ross Ashby(17) who first used them).

In terms of the creation of knowledge there are now a number of important questions. How can and do we create variables? What is a variable? And how can it be understood in terms of the discussion above? How can the two types of relation analysed above be systematised such that they can be used as tools enabling more efficient and more effect conceptualisation? What is this idea of conceptual level? What is the process of the reduction of knowledge? What in fact happens when knowledge is reduced? And what do we have when we get to the end of any reduction process? And among all of these questions, given that we are bounded, along with all intelligence to perceive constant conjunctions based on the flow of change, what is the status of cause and effect?


Understanding of ‘conceptual level’

From the previous discussion on scientific knowledge there arise two types of relationship, each of which classifies, and systematises the flow of change. The two are related in that the higher level is the summary of all the change processes in the underlying levels. It is this relationship that creates the notion of conceptual level. It becomes very important when we come to consider the growth of knowledge. In particular when seeking to create descriptions and explanation of events it is important to ensure that all the events classified are at the same conceptual level, for if they are not then this can make the situation very confused, and make explanation very difficult.

Imagine a television set and imagine that we had no knowledge of it. Experimentation would quickly establish a relationship between the position of the knobs and picture quality, sound etc. These relationships can be described Kè P,S (where K is the position of the knobs, P the picture quality and S, the sound quality). Or as an equation P,S = ƒK. This, then, is knowledge at a given conceptual level.

Now imagine variables such as voltage, amperage, photon, and electron are discovered and used to explain the workings of the TV. The mechanism can now be described Kè E è P,S (E being the electrical state of the system). With two equations, E= ƒK, and P,S = ƒE. There is now a set of classes of event at a lower conceptual level, and what was previously a black box has been defined and described by these underlying variables and systems of variables. This process can also operate in the reverse direction, when more objects become embraced by a broader, more inclusive theory.

The conceptual level of immediate perception, without technology, is physiologically determined. It follows that each species has a ‘natural’ conceptual level, this being at the level of classes of events that occur in the typical or normal circumstances of the universe as perceived by that species. It also follows that extension beyond this level, either to broader or to more detailed conceptual levels, will rapidly demand increasing conceptual understanding supported by technology enabling the species to extend its range of perception. That is, machines that convert changes not able to influence the physiology of the observer into changes that can. The only problem is to ensure that in the conversion there is a known and understood congruence between the systems of change, that is it is understood how the originating changes (in Reality) effect the perceptual field of the machine. How the changes in the machine effect the perceptual field of the observer, and how the perceptual field of the observer effects the physiology of the observer, and how the observer will interpret the changes in their own physiology. The number of machines does not matter, provided it is understood that with each level of machine a new set of significant issues of congruence and understanding emerge.


On the nature of an abstraction

It is accepted that knowledge is an abstraction, and it is generally understood that there are aspects left behind when knowledge is created. But what exactly happens? What do these words mean, how can we understand abstraction?

What is meant by this idea of ‘something lost’ or ‘left behind’, and can we make these ideas, that appear to mean something, more precise so as we can see clearly what it is that is ‘left behind’ and ‘how’?

To understand knowledge as an abstraction from Reality is to understand the relationship between knowledge and the reality it is abstracted from. This is only possible when we can clearly see both the knowledge and reality. I use the term reality and not Reality because the issue being discussed is psychological. The question is effectively "what do I know about that which I perceive?" Knowledge and immediate perception being quite different psychological phenomena, hence a relationship necessarily exists between them.

Rule of relations

Being able to 'see' an object and the knowledge of that object is governed by the rule of relations, which states that a relation between two objects is possible if and only if both objects are independently discernible. Imagine two identical wine glasses behind each other on a table, and no matter how you turned your head you could only see one wine glass. How could you know there were two glasses? It could be surmised perhaps from the mass distribution, but this would only be a speculative theory until both wine glasses were observed. Therefore it follows that to explore the relationship between knowledge and the object represented by that knowledge we must be able to simultaneously perceive both the knowledge and the object. Under circumstances where we cannot, then we are restricted by the rule of relations and can only speculate on the relationship that might exist.

The example considered is a motor vehicle, now imagine a relationship between the position of the accelerator and the speed of the front wheels. We could represent the relationship using a diagram as below(18).



Position of accelerator


Speed of front wheels



The arrow conveys the relation that a change in the position of the accelerator has the effect of altering the speed of the wheels. It is immediately apparent how and in what way this diagram is an ‘abstraction’ from the Reality ‘motor-vehicle’. This is because both the abstraction and the Reality are apparent to us, we perceive each separately hence we can understand the relation between them.

Consider now the case of a photon, it is knowledge and an abstraction, but an abstraction from what? The term photon groups and classifies certain events with definite and similar properties. But there appears to be no mechanism surrounding these exhibited properties. We can ‘see’ the accelerator and the speed of the front wheels and how that relates to the motorcar because we can see the abstraction and the full Reality. We have no such depth of understanding of a photon because we cannot ‘see’ it in the manner we see the relation between the accelerator and speed of wheels, etc.

Within the views developed here there arise immediately two fundamental types of abstraction. One, resulting from our physiology, the other resulting from our thought. In the case of our thought, it can arise in two ways. Each will now be considered in some detail.

Physiological abstraction

Properties of events are directly experienced. They are not inferred. They are mediated only by physiology. Hence a snake, rat and human will experience a cool day in the desert quite differently. Physiology orientates us to experience some properties of events and not others. Thus in the first instance it is our physiology that ‘abstracts’ from Reality by enabling us to interact with some perceptual fields or some aspects of a perceptual field and not others.

In the first paper the analogy of this form of abstraction was drawn with a mountain range swathed in fog. The peaks that protrude through the fog represent the aspects of Reality able to influence our physiology. Below the fog lie the mechanisms of Reality that result in those peaks, which are the aspects of differentiation of Reality able to effect our physiology. For some other species, they could view the exact same system, the same mountain range so to speak, yet see totally different peaks. Such as for example if their physiology was aligned to infrared.

Machines are then devices that enable observation of 'peaks' beyond that normally observable. Machines convert changes not able to influence our physiology into changes that can.

Conceptual abstraction

An abstraction is the selection of one system of classifications of event in favour of another. Once selected, these contents of thought, or ideas have the effect of shaping the psychology of the perception of subsequent, similar events. The fundamental uniqueness of every event tends to be overlooked. What is immediately perceived is a unique event, this then typically lost in the subsequent psychological processes where it is classified, and generalised according to pre-existing classifications. These are two different processes within the model, immediate perception involving the immediately effected physiology, and the subsequent, slower classification involving thought and attention. There being always ‘something lost’ in that some events are noted and classified and then become the way the event is ‘seen’, thereafter. A unique event may then have unique properties overlooked because it was too quickly classified, and what was ‘seen’ were only the expected properties.

Much abstraction occurs unconsciously(19), generally, in humans, based on the acquisition of ideas from the society in which the person developed. This framework of ideas being the orientating devices whereby the person explicitly and implicitly classifies the events they experience. In science, widely accepted orientating ideas are called paradigms. Paradigms are most helpful as orientating theories, but their power to become self-fulfilling must equally be avoided. As yet, science has not wrestled comprehensively with the ethical conflict implied in this contradiction. This is a more telling problem for science than positivism, verification or falsification(20).

Attitudinal abstraction

The final way in which we abstract is well illustrated in research(21) in which people were asked to look at a house with a view to buying it and another group asked to view the house with a view to burgling it. When asked to recall what they saw of the house each group produced quite different lists. Such is the relationship between what we think what we see and what we recall. The group looking to buy the house simply did not see the open downstairs window or the wallet on the bedside table, etc. Keeping our mind open to SEE is very difficult, for it requires we suspend the simplicity, the comfort zone of the given classifications already in our mind.

The difference between conceptual and attitudinal abstraction

Conceptual abstraction results from seeing the properties of some event a consequence of the concept and conversely, not seeing other properties of the same event. Whereas in attitudinal abstraction we see some things and not others the result of having certain views. For example, having the view that all houses are to be burgled would result in 'seeing' those aspects of a house that related to the attitude toward it. In the one case the bias is a consequence of labelling, and seeing the universe a result of the label. And in the other, the bias is the result of holding certain views, and these views acting as a filter.

In many instances however, the distinction between conceptual and attitudinal abstraction is not clear-cut. This is of little or no practical consequence because within the theory of psychology and of knowledge there is no significance placed on categories of thought.

Seeing the world as it is

The final point is whether we see the world as it really is or not? It is generally accepted that we ‘see the world through a veil of ideas’, however this notion is quite inadequate to describe the complexity of the relationship between Reality and our interpretation of it. First, there is the relationship between Reality and the perceptual field being generated by it. Are we to naively assume a simple and perfect congruence that we fully comprehend and understand? Second, there is the relationship between the perceptual field and our physiology. Are we to assume that the subtleties of changes in the perceptual field are faithfully reproduced by our physiology? Finally, we have the issue of the ‘veil of ideas’. Are we to assume that the ideas we have and use to classify events do so accurately and without limiting our insight or understanding or ability to predict future events? This is a complex chain of change relationships within which we are forever embedded, and from within which we must create concepts that describe and explain Reality and decide upon the truth of those concepts.

Creation of scientific knowledge

By ‘scientific’ is meant knowledge of the universe intended to provide understanding and prediction. Such knowledge is derived from dynamic differentiation since without change the universe is static as in a painting, whereby aesthetic and spatial differentiation provides descriptions. The term scientific also embraces various alternatives such as objective knowledge or empirical knowledge.

Knowledge is the classification of events according to the properties of those events. We can ask what exactly is classified? It is precisely the effect of the perceptual field on our own physiology. It can then be asked do we perceive the events themselves? Let us talk about sight to make the discussion specific. Do we see actual events or the effect of those events on our physiology. I argue we 'see' both. The effect of a field of photons is to alter the physiology of our sight perception. This is a direct effect happening within the confines of our body and is part of 'us'. In addition we then may classify those changes as a sunset, this classification is of the effect of the changes on our physiology. This response leaves unanswered many questions on how this occurs. But to address these issues now is to move too far ahead in the development of the philosophy. What is emphasised is the circularity kin the relationship between a general theory of psychology, a theory of knowledge and a theory of cause. To begin discussing any one inevitably brings forth questions on the other two(22). This whole intellectual structure was developed in relation to the understanding of the circularity and inter-relatedness of these issues, which were dealt with by adopting an iterative process, with no solution being accepted until it was followed through all the questions and resolved them all.

Every event is a unique experience, thus an observer does not perceive a ‘wedding’, they perceive an ‘instance of’ a wedding. The same applies to scientific phenomena such as photon, atom, and even such apparently static variables as length is also an event, in that unless the universe is differentiated, and unless that differentiation produces changes in the observer, there can be no length. It also follows that every act of perceiving length is not ‘length’, but an instance of.

The ‘properties’ of an event are used to classify that class of events. The sun rising and setting has certain properties, namely, in the immediate instance, coming of light and the coming of dark. Now a sunset can have many other properties, and we have all experienced variations from the nondescript to the incredible. For sunset these are variations on the overall property of ‘coming of darkness’. Similarly, something on which we write, or place food, etc, is typically classified a ‘table’. It has a range of properties, difficult to pin down, but none the less people know and understand this subtlety and cope with it without effort. This subtlety and complexity of thought exists in all societies in all known times. We only have to explore the notion of ‘kin’ from modern, supposedly sophisticated society to one supposedly primitive to see subtlety and complexity and variation on what ought to be a simple idea.

The ideas grow within the society based on the most primitive of classification of events, and elaboration of those classifications over thousands of years. The elaboration occurring as specific ‘ instances of ‘ that stretch and add subtlety to the core property that defines the event.

The model leads to the notion of ideas. These are the classifications of repeated unique experiences of the observer that have similar properties. Hence the idea ‘length’, arising by repeated observation of a spatially differentiated perceptual field. Or the idea colour arising from a aesthetically differentiated perceptual field, and the idea change arising from a dynamically differentiated perceptual field.

An idea in the theory is of the status of a Platonic form. It has no existence in Reality or only that existence as is evidenced in the collective properties of the multitude of ‘instances of’. Ideas arise from ‘instances of ‘, but once arisen provide the means to classify other experiences of the observer.

Definition of scientific Knowledge

Knowledge, scientific(23) knowledge can now be defined as classes of events (a class of event being defined by its properties). It is simply an aspect of all knowledge, only that for it to be 'scientific' there must be clearly identifiable events that have been classified. The fundamental remains change, both in World 1 and in the psychological factors of the observer, a class being a type of event, with any actual event being an ‘instance of ‘(24) . In this way, scientific knowledge is distinguished from say, mathematics, which is not a system of knowledge derived from observation and subsequent classification of events of the universe. Within this structure of definitions and concepts scientific knowledge is intrinsically rooted in empirical noting of the universe.

Several issues come to the fore, for example (1) what of events that are not noted but inferred, such as black holes? They are just that, postulated systems of events remaining as hypotheses until able to be established conclusively(25) as being actual events of the universe. (2) What of events only noted by one person, such as unidentified flying objects? Such remain speculative, clearly the person 'saw' something, but without corroboration accepting they 'saw' an alien space ship remains highly speculative and not scientific on the grounds that there are numerous alternative explanations able to account for the events noted.

The effect of these definitions is to provide a definition of (scientific) knowledge before science came into being. What is called scientific knowledge is the classification of the dynamics of the universe such as to provide prediction of it. It has obvious survival value for the species. Particularly when combined within written and social traditions, which meant each generation did not have to relearn what the earlier had discovered. This type of knowledge required language. But once begun, and once the species grasped the advantages, then this type of knowledge also pushed forward the development of language. Understanding this, the evolution of this process and its social formalisation into active science was inevitable.

The definition of this knowledge remains today an effective definition of the role of science in the affairs of humankind, especially if taken across the perspective of generations. What is here stressed is that the process of creating scientific knowledge is the essential unique advantage of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, and is what differentiates humanity from all known species. Animals simply do not have university libraries(26). And this difference is not a matter of degree. It is absolute.

Knowledge can now be defined in terms of the understood necessary and sufficient conditions for perception to be possible, that is as classes of sets of interrelated change. It would seem that this was achieved without a theory of psychology. This, however, is an error for already major assumptions have been directly and indirectly made as to what such a theory must contain. For instance, it must contain ideas or thought in some manner, also it must contain some manner of rather rapid direct interaction with the environment – at least a perceptual field; and a slower, more reflective system where what is noted from immediate perception is classified. It must also contain some manner of observing the changes in the perceptual system if any classification is to occur. These are all major issues in a theory of psychology, several of these contain issues of debate and contention in even the modern literature on psychology and psychiatry. Developing this model would not have been possible without having simultaneously developed a theory of psychology.

Key definitions within the theory of science

To complete the understanding of science as it arises from within the general theory of knowledge we need to define and make precise several important concepts including variable, fact, theory and the idea of reductionism.


A variable is first a concept or idea, and we understand how these come into being. They are of the status of Platonic forms, the properties of the idea existing in Reality in the multitude of ‘instances of ‘, the idea bearing some particular relationship to each ‘instance of ‘. Thus a chair may be used as a table, with the idea table bearing a particular relationship with this particular instance of a table while simultaneously the idea chair also bears a particular relationship with this specific instance of.

The proposition arising with this theory of knowledge is that the ideas grew from the experiences of the ‘instances of‘, the ideas being classification of those experiences (each such experience being an event, the terms experience and event being largely interchangeable). The system of ideas we have today being the result of tens of thousands of years of evolution.

What is proposed is to tighten this process. That is to begin with the general and somewhat vague notions of a variable that we have, and to define the properties. The properties of the idea 'variable' then used to produce a clear test to establish what is and what is not a variable. Then, if any instance of does not match the properties, we do not have a variable. In the example of the table and chair above, both ideas, of a chair and a table, match the object in question because the object has some of the properties of both. In normal circumstances of everyday life we seldom precisely define the properties of the ideas we use. This lack of precision is unsatisfactory for the purpose of science.

What do we need as properties of a variable for us to use the idea with confidence to produce knowledge of known characteristics? In simple terms it is any concept within any system which varies. I do not mean this simple definition. What is meant is a concept of known and precise characteristics. Furthermore, one that involves certain qualities of description that is lost if the variable is altered or reduced to any other system of variables.

For example, the variable length has the single property of extension. Nor can length be reduced to any more fundamental concept. The concept length cannot be reduced to the concept point, for a point is the absence of extension. Thus to make such a reduction the quality of the description is in fact lost. In a similar manner space cannot be reduced to systems of coordinates, for coordinates are an absence of space. Thus we have length and space as interrelated but independent variables not able to be reduced to other, more fundamental variables.

If a variable were an idea that exhibited a single property, then this would provide great precision to our thinking. We can then define a variable as a concept exhibiting a single property. And if it is reduced to any underlying concepts or variables, this property is lost. I call this ‘coherence’ thus a variable is a coherent concept. This is important because further in the discussion I will show that coherent concepts define non-reducible domains of science.

The difference between the use of the properties of the idea ‘variable’ and the idea ‘chair’ is solely in the degree to which the properties are to be applied in determining what is and is not a variable. Thus, to continue the analogy, there is no labelling a chair a table. It either is or is not a variable. This does lead to a strengthening of precision, and is very helpful in theory creation, however making the judgement in practice as to what is and is not a variable is not easy(27). The importance of the decision lies in the question whether or not we are dealing with any fundamental theory or whether we are dealing with an intermediate theory able to be reduced to more fundamental components and explanations.

A system

Any concept not a variable is a system. It exhibits more than one property but can have specific states (see definition of a fact below), and can interact with other systems or variables. Systems contain two or more variables by definition, although it is not necessarily known what those variables might be. Hence the term ‘system’ is to be read ‘system of variables’. Within any domain of science all systems are at a higher conceptual level than the variables, and any such systems can in principle be reduced to those variables.

Interpretation of quantum physics and the question of the fundamental probabilistic nature of the universe

An example of the application of this process would be to the concept photon. Because it exhibits multiple properties, including the issue of whether or not it is an ‘object’ with extension in space, the photon would be defined within this theory as a system. And because it is at the current limit of knowledge, we do not know the nature of the variables implicated within this system, or if the variables do exist, and are currently understood variables, then we do not understand how those variables relate to the system photon. The implications are that a photon consists of several variables, that it does have an internal structure. Therefore treating it as if it did not, such as using quantum electrodynamics is legitimate if it gets the correct answer, it is an approximation that works but the form of the mathematics in no way is able to be interpreted as the fundamental structure of the universe. In short, this theory of knowledge calls directly into question the application of Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory as a mechanistic explanation universe.

The understanding and interpretation of quantum theory is one of the key issues that any theory of knowledge must face and explain. This is so because if physics is knowledge, and if that knowledge is different from the events explained by the knowledge, then the interpretation of quantum theory is a problem of epistemology and not a problem of physics. That is it is a particular issue of the relationship some particular knowledge makes with Reality, and is and must be fully bounded by the general solution to that question, that is by the general solution to the problem of the relationship of all knowledge and its relationship to Reality.

A fact or piece of data

A fact or datum is the particular state of a variable or a system under particular circumstances. It is that which is measured, and as such it is the specific ‘instance of ‘ either a variable or a system of variables.

Managing assumption and the rule of enforced incoherent complexity

Incoherence is not strictly the opposite of coherence rather it is an adopted state of mind to avoid introducing assumption into the analysis of systems. This is to avoid ‘borrowed knowledge’(28).

Thus when studying any system it is assumed in the first instance that the system is 'incoherent' and that we do not know or understand how the variables or systems that comprise the system interact. And the initial system is 'complex' in that it is assumed to contain multiple systems or variables and we do not know what these might be.

A degree of assumption is always present, particularly over the selection of variables with which to conceptualise the system. But the enforcing of the idea of a system under study as an incoherent complexity is a discipline able to assist a more rigorous analysis.

Selecting the system for study

The selection of a system and variables is determined by setting the boundaries. First, the boundaries of a system circumscribe all that which is part of the system, everything beyond is then the environment of the system. Note: these boundaries are not fixed and can be changed as more is learned of the system. Variables or concepts involving systems of variables(29) are then selected that are judged or found to best describe the system. It is at this point that pre-existing knowledge, ‘borrowed knowledge’, is most likely to be influential. Variable selection is most likely to be via the application of pre-existing variables, and it thus not strictly free of prejudice. (In the sense that any prior conceptual framework applied to a situation is implicitly prejudicial in that the situation may have uniqueness not evident or overlooked by applying the existing concepts.)

Variables, systems and their values

The difference between a variable or system and its value is now evident in that a variable or system is identified and defined through repeated observation of its properties. A singular occurrence is the value of the variable in a particular instance. It follows that both a variable and system are classes of concept that bear a particular relation to perception, but are not immediately perceived. What we perceive are singular occurrences and we come to understand them by conceptualising and classifying them. The singular occurrence, the set of values, is the Reality(30), bearing in mind all the issues implicated in achieving any understanding of Reality.

The concepts of variable and system can be symbolised as empty boxes abstracted from reality, the boundaries of the box representing the properties used to define the class of singular perceived occurrences. The contents of the box represent the values of the occurrences. This understanding of a variable becomes extremely important, for instance, it precludes the use of variables that cannot be directly noted and classified from singular regularities. At very least it demands that such variables be used with caution and scepticism(31).

Definition of empiricism in science

We can now clearly understand empiricism in science as the perception of events that clearly fall within the class of events being considered. That is, the events are observed and do not have to be inferred. Where there are no such observations or ‘instances of’, then the classes of events must be taken as speculative(32).

Definition of a scientific theory

We can now define a scientific theory as a system of variables(33) that by inserting specified values can provide prediction of events or sets of events(34), that is the theory will provide the value for the unknown variable by inserting the values for the known variables. The formula for the period of a pendulum is the perfect example. Thus if we know the time for the period we can calculate the length of the pendulum, and vice versa. Every theory of science can only have this precise quality and relationship with Reality.

Causal and descriptive explanation

When the flow of change was systematised there was produced two types of change relationship. These two types then giving rise to the idea of conceptual level. To enable the relating of variables and systems in theories it is important that they all be at the one conceptual level. A diagram of systems and variables or a system of equations that so relate systems and variables at one conceptual level thus describes how a perturbation will travel through the system. I call such diagrams descriptive explanations. This leads to the question of the source of any perturbation, and whether or not a system can be its own source of a perturbation(35). Perturbations can arise from outside the system, but also a system can have its own inherent tendencies, the concept of entropy seeks to grasp one such. Also, variables within a system are often measured as mean values, no matter the level of accuracy, with some intrinsic variation about the mean. With the existence of any multiplier effects within the system, this alone could be sufficient for perturbations to occur. This is most important when considering theories of the universe, where by definition there is no environment.

Because the relations between classes of events are classified into two types, the epistemology produces a second type of explanation existing as the relation between those two types. This I call a causal explanation, and is described as the relation between classes of relation between classes of events(36). It is causal because such diagrams explore and describe the mechanisms whereby the perturbation travels through the system.

By considering the sun rising tomorrow we can see the influence of this on belief. Mere repeated observation is, as known, insufficient. However, we have an in-depth understanding of the mechanism of the solar system. We also have a rather good picture of the immediate environment, this comprehensive model involving a system of ultimate effects (the sun rising and setting) and a system of immediate effects, gravity, relativity, etc all providing accurate predictive value. But it still offers no guarantees. Within this epistemology there is always the possibility of an event in some distant part of the universe effecting this solar system via mechanisms we have not conceived nor previously observed. No matter the extent or level of understanding, this must always be the psychological and emotional state of affairs(37).


A major issue is to what extent and in what way is this system of knowledge ‘able to be reduced’? The process of exploring the mechanism underlying any set of constant conjunctions is a ‘reduction’ if, and only if, the systems/variables are changed. For example, in Aè B, the system can be analysed into Aè A1è A2….B2è B1è B, but this does not reduce A or B to anything more fundamental. It is solely the elucidation of the mechanism whereby A effects B. If, however, in the system Aè B, A or B or both are sub-divided into components, say Xa,Ya and Xb,Yb, such that A was a consequence of Xaè Ya, and B, Xbè Yb, then the original system has been ‘reduced’ to more fundamental components (Xaè Ya) è (Xbè Yb).

The actual system has been reduced, not merely the sequence whereby A effects B. Thus the notion of mechanism involves two related but different concepts and diagrams. First, the sequence Aè A1è A2èè B2è B1è B, which is the sequence of changes of a system whereby Aè B. For example, in organic chemistry the loss of an electron from a carbon atom to form a carbonium ion. Then there is the relating of this sequence to the detailed quantum mechanical events the 'true' underlying mechanism. This immediately implicates understanding and knowledge at quite a different conceptual level. In this second case, the system is indeed reduced.

The creation of non-empirical knowledge

The above theory offers an account of how knowledge of Reality arises. The theory of knowledge being based on classification of immediate perception means that the knowledge is empirical.

However, a class of events, once created, can then be manipulated in many ways. For instance, a given class may have features in common with another, and so a third class may be created forming a hierarchy. In turn this could have features in common with some other class, so a yet higher class could be created in the hierarchy. This process could go on, limited only by the creativity of the species and the vigour with which it sort to order and classify. For example, the classification of mammals follows this process.

Conversely, some class of events could be seen to have components in common with other classes. Thus people have heads, as do many other species. This has the effect of extending downward the classification into components and sub-components.

Once created, components may be combined to create things that could be, but have never been seen. So a horn could be put on a horse to create a unicorn. These features can then be combined, if not already, with the conceptualisation of aesthetic and spatial relations, such as creation of perspective in drawing. Given these elements, a species this far will eventually create wholly original ideas, not depending on any empirical components. A species come this far is bounded by its imagination, not its perception.

The growth of knowledge

Precisely, from the model and discussion, knowledge is the classification of events (particularly so for scientific knowledge intended to provide prediction of the universe). It follows that any increase in the range of events able to be classified is a growth of knowledge. This may or may not afford increased understanding(38).

It is perhaps surprising that an issue involving such discussion elsewhere can be treated so succinctly. It is important to understand that within this theory of knowledge the growth of knowledge is not an issue of psychology, or is only so to the extent that any classification of some events implicates our psychology. Nor is it an issue of truth content, nor an issue on the nature of propositions and how proposition 1 is selected over proposition 2.

Within this theory the growth of knowledge is the wholly technical act of identifying new events, then grouping and classifying those events. All events grouped and classified by way of the commonly exhibited properties. The events may be unique, and no other examples are ever encountered again. None the less, their identification and classification would still constitute a growth in knowledge (albeit not a very exciting one, perhaps). The identifying and classifying of new events does not necessarily mean they are universal, or of regular occurrence.


At the limit of knowledge

By ‘limit’ is meant the current base, the end of the reduction process. At this limit, what is the nature of the knowledge and what relationship does it make with Reality? The discussion can only proceed by way of the process emphasised previously. The process is one of identifying a well-known situation where there exists a depth of knowledge and understanding. Then by imagining that we know less of the situation than we do, we can understand how knowledge relates to Reality. Only within this understood and constructed process do we maintain the rule of relations, and so we can understand and ‘see’ the knowledge that is abstracted and how it relates to the object from which it is abstracted.

Imagine the TV, and again see it as if nothing is known of it other than the relations between the knobs and picture and sound. The situation can be visualised because we have so much more knowledge of the TV.

The TV can be considered as a black box for which there are change relations across it (of the type Kè P,S) providing descriptive explanation at that conceptual level. It is a black box because we know the relations to be the result of other more fundamental factors. However, if we did not know this, if we did not know that the TV had an electronic set of systems inside, all we would perceive is a box, and by manipulating certain features of the box we could get different results. We would simply have a set of constant conjunctions at a certain conceptual level. We may not even understand the conceptual level we had. For example, imagine an experimenter working with a TV, and elsewhere another was working with electricity. It could be quite some time before the connections were made. This, because they saw themselves as working in different fields, and did not communicate, and when they did, each thought the other spoke a foreign language. This is a somewhat facetious, but does aptly convey what has and does happen. A growth in understanding would occur when it was finally uncovered that the TV functioned by way of electricity.

Now, imagine for example that analysis and study produced the descriptive explanation Kè E è P,S. That is, it describes how the perturbation travels through the system, when the knobs are altered, the state of the electrical system is altered which in turn alters the sound or picture. If, now, the reduction is continued until it can be taken no further. The explanation would be in terms of the most fundamental units possible. Let us say that that is quantum theory. This then is the limit of knowledge. By definition there is no lower conceptual level. What do we have? There would be a large number of change relations such as those used above. They would describe the flow of change, and would be of the status of constant conjunctions. The change relations would describe ‘what knobs to fiddle to get what result’, but we would not understand ‘how’ the result was achieved. What we would have are relations identical to our imagining the TV as a black box and conceptualising the change relation K è P, S. There is no knowledge of the content of the black boxes, and there is thus no embedding of these black boxes in the overall structure of knowledge.

All events and classes of events above the limit of knowledge have an underlying mechanism. And the hereto history of science has been the elucidation of those mechanisms. It is possible that at the current limit of knowledge, quantum theory, that there are no underlying mechanisms. But on current evidence from the history of science, that is a big decision, counter to all previous experience. Second, current quantum theory explicitly assumes a photon, for instance, has no internal structure and then proceeds to make input – output calculations across it. The third point is the complexity of a photon, exhibiting characteristics that confound current concepts of what a wave or a particle should do. Within this theory of knowledge a photon is seen as a system because of this complexity. The final point is that there are many classes of events yet to be explained at this conceptual level, radioactivity, for instance, or a fully developed theory of the atom.

This theory of knowledge proposes a photon as a system of variables. The unravelling of these variables will provide understanding of the photon in the way the TV is understood.

At the limit of knowledge what is perceived are change relations, constant conjunctions unable to be explained because there is no knowledge of the intervening variables. The constant conjunctions can only exist as black boxes across which we can manipulate the properties to achieve predictable outcomes. As has been repeatedly stated, Hume analysed constant conjunction and found it wanting as causal explanation. It follows that constant conjunctions at this fundamental level, including the mathematical treatment of those conjunctions, cannot be regarded as final and causal, no matter what level of accuracy is achieved with the mathematics. We cannot be sure that our ability with the mathematics does not in fact hide our real ignorance and a lack of understanding.

This argument is supported when it is understood that what I have called change relations, that is perceived relations of the type ‘a change in A is followed by a change in B’ are fundamentally mathematical. That this change relationship is the very basis of perception and without this base there is simply no perception of a dynamic universe. In short, the congruence between mathematics and Reality is a result of the necessary state of a perceptual field for perception to be possible. This also must apply to any and all species. Mathematics may or may not be part of Reality, but it is certainly integral to our perception.

The growth of knowledge as an infinite regress

The question faced here is whether or not there is a fundamental base to all knowledge? That is, whether or not there is some system of ultimate knowledge and no further reduction is possible?

The growth of knowledge is defined as the identification and classification of events. The growth of understanding defined as the ordering of existing knowledge into conceptual levels (a conceptual hierarchy) and into descriptive explanations at each level.

Consider the event of an electron being in some atomic shell, about to drop to a lower shell with the ejection of a photon. At this conceptual level the events available to us are photon and electron. We do not know the precursors to this event. We do not know nor can predict the exact timing of this event. This event is at the limit of existing knowledge. And while we can record the event, and have a ‘sort of ‘ theory for it, there is much missing.

The question of the existence of ultimate knowledge thus becomes a question of the necessary existence of precursors to every change relationship. Thus the question becomes, is there an event e’ such that eè e’ make e + p inevitable? Currently, in the history of science, there have always been such events. Now given our lack of understanding at the conceptual level below the electron and photon, given also that this understanding would necessarily involve knowledge of the internal structure of an electron and photon, and any combination of them, proposing that there is no such e’ appears hasty. For now all we note is the change e è e + p. There being no known nor understood sets of events at a conceptual level lower than this means that there is no known e’.

If there is an e’ then it is not distinguishable from e and the fact that we cannot distinguish between them does not prove that e’ does not exist.

The primary argument is that thus far in the history of science there has been no change relationship Aè B, where A, B and Reality have each been independently observable, such that there was no A’ as an intervening variable between A and B(39). In short, where A, B and Reality are independently observable, then in all the history of science there has always been a mechanism. At the limit of knowledge where A and B are not independently observable from Reality, where there is no known conceptual level below A and B, theorising that there is no precursor to events at this level is then premature.

To propose that there is no precursor is to propose that there can never be any knowledge of the internal structure of A or B. Further, that any such new knowledge can never be integrated with existing knowledge such as to provide mechanistic understanding of Aè B.

That is, if we were to accept that what we know today is the ultimate limit of knowledge, we are saying at no time in the future will the internal structure of p and e be known. And we do know they do have an internal structure, because they exhibit more than one property. That means we are able to create a variable that has that property as its only property.

What if all the necessary knowledge and understanding of e and p is acquired, and there are events the mechanism of e è e + p? Call these events W. Then W will be the level of the limit of knowledge, and the only understanding of W will be equivalent to the TV as a black box. And in some transition, say W è Z, it can be asked whether or not there is some W’, such that Wè W’ makes Wè Z inevitable.

In summary, based on the experience of all science to date, at the limit of knowledge, where there are events A, B, then in any transition Aè B, there is always A’(40) a function of the state of A, such that at A’, Aè B is inevitable.

It follows that the growth of knowledge becomes an infinite regress, and for modern physics, appears to be determined by the technical ability(41) to measure and record events that are ever smaller in space-time(42).

Domains of science

Domains of science are defined by variables. Variables, by definition cannot be further reduced, or if they are they lose the quality of description of the domain they define. It could now be asked is this not ‘ultimate knowledge? That is knowledge not able to be further reduced? The response is that when a domain of science is finally fully reduced to core variables and relationships between those variables then no further reduction is possible within the domain. Any further discussion of, for example the mechanism of how one variable influence another must invoke discussion of events not embraced by the properties of the variables of the domain. For example, if the science of psychology was such that all events were able to described by the core variables of psychology, then further reduction would not be possible without discussing events not seen as 'psychological'. For instance, discussing neurological events, these events would be the details of the mechanisms underlying the arrows between the variables that define the domain of psychology, but these events themselves, while the mechanism of psychology would be neuro-physiology not 'psychology'. It follows that both knowledge and understanding within a particular domain of science is not an infinite regress and an ‘ultimate level’ of knowledge and understanding is achieved when a domain is fully reduced to its core variables. All events within the domain can then be reduced to and understood in terms of those variables. By ‘ultimate level’ is meant that no new knowledge, or new understanding is possible, the domain of science is complete. This does not, however mean that science overall is complete, for there is always mechanisms underlying the domain. And while knowledge and understanding may be complete within the domain, the domain embracing the mechanisms whereby the variables are manifest may not be complete. And where it to is complete, the domain of science embracing the mechanisms underlying it may not be complete. And if it to is complete…

Knowledge and understanding within a domain of science is bounded. However knowledge and understanding of all science is not.

In the case of modern physics, application of this view implies that there are indeed two domains of science involved. 'Traditional physics' and an emerging new domain of science dealing with the detailed mechanism at the atomic and sub-atomic levels which are the mechanisms whereby 'traditional physics' is manifest. This view is supported by the dramatically different nature of the qualitative descriptions within this emerging domain. A change in the qualitative properties that the discussion is of something quite different provides an immediate clue that we have crossed the boundary from one domain of science to another.

The nature of understanding

Given our understanding of understanding, and given that understanding grows, then we can ask how does it grow? And what are the main issues involved in understanding the growth of understanding?

The hypothesis is that understanding grows when knowledge is ordered and related into appropriate systems that convey and describe the flow of change. As part of this process, the growth of understanding ranks knowledge into conceptual levels where new knowledge is integrated into the structure of existing knowledge and understanding. Only when new knowledge is so integrated into existing can it be said that we understand it.

Achieving understanding demands crucial acts of judgement and creativity. For example, determining what is a variable and what is a system of variables. What variables and system of variables occupy what conceptual level; and what variables are best for describing a system? Also, particularly at the limit of knowledge, both knowledge and understanding may be impossible because we do not have the concepts that enable either. For example, we seek to ‘understand’ a photon by using analogies of a wave and particle. And these concepts seem to be irreconcilable. The difficulties are due to the concepts we are applying, the photon simply being in accord with the mechanisms of the universe, which define it and determine what happens in any situation.

At the limit of knowledge we cannot assume that existing knowledge will apply beyond that limit, and we must be prepared to accept the necessity of classifying events to create new concepts to achieve further understanding. In psychological terms, we cannot assume that how we currently think and classify events in the universe will necessarily apply beyond the current limit of knowledge.

Scientific theory is primarily concerned with the growth in understanding, research is primarily concerned with the classifying events, that is classifying the flow of change through some system. But at certain critical times both theory and research come together in the struggle to surmount the limitations of our pre-existing knowledge and understanding and to create knowledge that moves us to a new level of insight into the universe. In the language of W.Ross Ashby we must be cautious in using ‘borrowed knowledge’ to describe and explain situations at and beyond the current limit of knowledge because of the pre-existing assumptions this knowledge carries. Analogy is not the essence of science, nor a certain tool of science. At best it can only be a temporary convenience to be dispensed with as soon as possible. And where analogy persists it needs to be the primary focus of scientists to build understanding based on the classification of the actual events. At and beyond the current limit of knowledge, all existing knowledge must be assumed as analogy until it is thoroughly established that the events are the same and that pre-existing classifications are then applicable.

This paper is an example of an attempt to achieve greater understanding, but does not involve a growth in knowledge. This distinction separates the experimenter from the theoretician. The experimenter seeks knowledge, the theoretician uses existing knowledge to seek greater understanding. The one is the pursuit and classification of new events, and the testing and reclassification of old. The other is the overview of current knowledge, and the selection of those classifications overlooked, or not popular, or incorrectly classified at one conceptual level when they ought to be at another.

The growth of understanding

The discussion has been focused on identifying the precursors that must be for knowledge to be possible. And this approach has proved valuable and enabled a definition of knowledge not based on human psychology but based on the necessary state of a perceptual field for knowledge to be possible. It has also been shown that once created this totally empirically knowledge readily leads to categories and subcategories able to be combined to create imaginary objects. And further, a species able to come this far will quickly reach beyond classifications that are so easily based on perception and be bounded only by its imagination. All of this, without any reference to the problem of what it is ‘to know’. The discussion is drawn from the epistemological tradition of Popper, reaching beyond his analysis to seek the actual structure of knowledge based upon his argument that knowledge had existence independent of any individual. The psychological issues within this theory of knowledge come to the fore mostly in the questions: how do we understand? What is understanding? And how can we understand understanding?

Consider the example of a person seeking to understand a theorem in mathematics, what do they need? And how do they do it? Below is a partial analysis to explore the concept of understanding as applied to this example.

  1. Knowledge of how and where the theorem stands in mathematics.
  2. Knowledge of mathematical technique and logic.
  3. Knowledge of the importance of the theorem, its significance in relation to the rest of mathematics.
  4. Knowledge of the use of the theorem, and knowledge of where the theorem could or does lead.
  5. Knowledge of the language and an ability to read the theorem as written.
  6. Knowledge of previous attempts at this theorem and so knowledge of what has and has not worked in the past.
  7. Knowledge of the solutions to other mathematical problems, hence a knowledge of mathematical form and balance leading to knowledge of the right sort of ‘feel’ to the solution.

Understanding is rooted in knowledge, and the relationship some set of knowledge makes with all knowledge. It follows that we can have knowledge without understanding. This point will be considered in more detail in a following section.

The growth of knowledge without understanding

This theory proposes more, namely that with the volume of knowledge at the conceptual level of a photon, that is with the number of events classified at this level, it seems most likely that there exists a surplus of knowledge and a lack of understanding (43). In this instance, the problem is precisely determining the interrelations between the parts and to the rest of knowledge. It could also be speculated that the current interpretation based on probability and ultimate propensities will hinder a drive to creatively conceptually clarify, and to so identify the mechanisms.

The growth of knowledge without understanding is, precisely, the classification of events at the limit of knowledge without understanding of the conceptual level to which the events belong. The result is that there is a high likelihood that events at different conceptual levels are seen as at the same level, this confounding understanding (it is important to note that physical size or smallness in space-time is not necessarily indicators of conceptual level).

Creation of causal expectation

Causal expectation is the classification of events and the association of classifications such that when A is observed B is expected to follow. This expectation may be intellectual, then the association is knowledge. Or it may be emotional whereby the physiology of the species is preparing for some response or it may be behavioural whereby upon A, the expectation of B causes some behaviour. Finally all three or any two may be jointly involved.

A theory of cause

The concept of cause can be defined as the relation between the two types of relations arising from the systematisation of change. That is, those that are perceived as A immediately effecting B, and those that are the consequence of A effecting C then effecting B. These are classes of relations between classes of events. Hence cause is a relation between classes of relation between classes of event. (Note: the term event can be replaced by ‘sets of interrelated change’, thus the definition of cause is a linear concept beginning with the understanding the change is the base of all knowledge.)

The theory separates the operation of the universe from our knowledge of it. The universe merely IS, embracing its own inherent tendencies represented by the notion of mechanisms. It is the mechanisms of the universe that give rise to change. Thus cause becomes a concept in answer to the question: what caused that? We answer: the mechanisms represented by these theories and equations. For example, we can ask ‘what causes the sun to rise and set?’ The answer: ‘the mechanisms of the solar system understood in these equations and concepts’.

Causal expectation is established by the perceived conjunction of events. But as is well known, this is not sufficient for a theory of cause. What then are the circumstances, if any, under which the statement ‘A causes B’ is valid?

The theory developed here separates change in Reality from events, which are observer relative. It can be stated another way, namely that there is no cause in Reality, only change. And that change is determined by physical circumstance and in principle is predictable, depending on and determined by the mechanisms. An observer can perceive the changes only via changes in the relative perceptual fields. This is then an event. The observer can then classify the changes and learn how to predict Reality. The accuracy of the predictions determined in part by the congruence of the changes noted by the observer in their own physiology with the changes in the perceptual field which in turn need to be congruent with the changes in Reality.

It is the Intelligence that introduces cause, first as a concept, asking the question ‘what caused that?’ Then in action as the Intelligence, by predicting Reality, deliberately causes events to occur that otherwise would not and conversely causes events to not occur that otherwise would. Certainly Reality often surprises, but this is a statement of an observer’s ignorance, not a statement about Reality.

The first set of circumstances determining when a causal statement is valid can now be defined. It is when the observer is identified and defined. For example, the question of the tree falling in the forest, and whether or not there was a noise when there was no one there. What if a bear was present? Could a bear ask ‘what caused that noise?’ Is a bear a legitimate observer? Bearing in mind that the term bear can be replaced with any term of one’s choice provided it is not a person.

Cause is first, observer relative. Thus the question can be developed to read, under what circumstances is a person able to state ‘A causes B’, and for that statement to be valid? Consider the events of the sun rising and setting. It is caused by the earth’s rotation and the structure of the solar system, but such a statement is embedded in modern understanding of gravity, theories of the universe, and extensive knowledge of the immediate surroundings of the solar system, the environment of the system in question. Also it is known that there is nothing immediately apparent that will stop the mechanism from working so that the sun does indeed rise again in the morning right on schedule.

It follows that the second condition for valid causal statements is when there is understanding of the underlying mechanisms of a system, including possible environmental influences, such that prediction of the system is possible. Today, there exists vast knowledge on the solar system, which is very well ordered into extensive understanding. It is this that affords us validity of causal assertions on the system(44).

Causality is precisely, the relationship between a descriptive explanation at one conceptual level, and the descriptive explanation at lower conceptual levels and can be said to be a function of our understanding.


  1. For an introduction to traditional epistemology see Common Sense, Science and Scepticism: A historical introduction to the theory of knowledge, Alan Musgrove, Cambridge UP: UK, 1993.
  2. See The Monist, vol.81, No.3, July 1998. Specifically Moser, Paul K. Epistemological Fission: On Unity and Diversity in Epistemology, pp 353-370.
  3. See Marshack, Alexander. The Roots of Civilisation. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1972, for a discussion on the roots of modern knowledge.
  4. See the notes supporting the web site
  5. The types of differentiation enable these three types of knowledge. The reality for each individual or species is quite different. Thus an animal will see form, shape, colour, space and change quite differently from humans.
  6. For example, E=mc² is knowledge. A rabbit flashing the white of its tail when it spots a fox is a behavioural response. A chimp showing young how to extract terminates using a stick is both behavioural and knowledge in that one surmises the chimp understands what it is doing.
  7. In this sequence the arrows are taken to mean ‘has an immediate effect upon’. That is, if the perceptual field changes, then this immediately effects the physiology of the perceiving species and if no such effect occurs then for that species or individual in that situation there was no change.
  8. Popper, Karl. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1972.
  9. This implies psychological processes. In fact this philosophy could not have been developed unless simultaneously was developed a theory of psychology.
  10. This has obvious survival value and could be postulated to be an aspect of the evolutionary thrust toward homo sapiens and modern humankind.
  11. Knowledge is not part of World 1, but is a crucial aspect of Popper’s Worlds 2 and 3. Note that these terms are largely convenience, grouping certain events into clear categories for ease of discussion.
  12. This may not be noted as knowledge, but could be a genetic or learned response that upon encountering A the individual must do XY immediately in order to avoid the consequences of B.
  13. There may be properties of A, B and of AB and they may each be different. This is not crucial to the argument which merely requires there be some set of distinguishing properties able to be noted by the species.
  14. Humans clearly describe events and place labels on them. We may not understand all the neurophysiology that enables this, but that it happens seems to me to be irrefutable, and that is all that is required for this argument.
  15. This process is very important, it is the process of visualising a well known object, then visualising how it is if we only had limited knowledge of the object. It is only via this process that we gain insight into the relationship between knowledge and Reality. Bearing in mind that a perceptual field mediates all such knowledge. If we do not have knowledge of the object beyond the knowledge we are examining, then we cannot see how the knowledge we are examining in fact relates to the object.
  16. These two types of change relation are congruent with the ultimate and immediate effects of W. Ross Ashby, Design for a Brain, London: Chapman Hall 1960. More will be made of this congruence in subsequent papers.
  17. W. Ross Ashby, Design for a Brain, London: Chapman Hall 1960.
  18. The diagram is strictly scientific knowledge as the systems are sets of clearly defined events, the arrow representing the mechanism whereby the accelerator position effects the speed of the front wheels. In this simple examples, it recognised that the motor must be running and the car moving and in gear, etc.
  19. In Colin Turnball’s(The Forest People and The Wayward Servants) account of the pygmy he provides a delightful and insightful anecdote that illustrates the formation of ideas and thought in societies. He is on a hill with a pygmy who has never before been beyond the confines of the forest. The pygmy enquires of the swarm of insects some way off. It took Turnball some time to establish that what the pygmy was looking at was a herd of wilde beast on the plain some kilometres distant. In the forest, with visibility so restricted, something so small had to be insects.
  20. Little, Graham R. Creativity and conflict in psychological science. UNESCO: impact of science on society 134/135. 203-210.
  21. Anderson,R.C. and Prichert, J.W. Recall of previously unrecallable information following a shift in perspective. J.Verb.Learn.Verb.Behav. 17, 1-12.
  22. See the introduction to the web site for a more detailed discussion on these issues.
  23. I add the term ‘scientific’ to define a certain type of knowledge, namely knowledge of the universe about us, including knowledge of how others of our species may act. This then distinguishes this knowledge from processes that imagine and create objects that do not nor have ever existed nor ever will – unicorns, for example, or minotaurs.
  24. As an example of the literature’s treatment of these issues, the following quote from Hardcastle, Valerie Gray. Locating consciousness. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Publishing, 1995. .." we translate data into idealised variables and then calculate the theory’s postulates from the physical system, boundary conditions, and idealised parameters. The first move is fundamentally counterfactual and always involves pruning away some aspects of the phenomena actually observed. Here is where we would lose something from our first person accounts of phenomenological experience." This quote is consistent with the discussion above, it lacks in that it discusses the issues without following through to account in detail for them.
  25. See the introduction to the web site for further comment on validation in science, this topic will also be covered in the next paper in the series.
  26. The key quality of a university library is the range and quality of conceptual knowledge, of ideas therein contained, particularly ideas on how things can and do work, etc. This socialisation of ideas is thus far unique to humanity.
  27. This point will not be explored any further in this work. It will be discussed in subsequent papers that deal with the practicalities of advancing science.
  28. W. Ross Ashby, Design for a Brain, London: Chapman Hall 1960.
  29. Note that it is common currently in science to use systems of variables as a variable. Often as well, the actual nature of the true variables comprising the system is not known. This creates no major problem, bearing in mind that the object is to provide prediction and explanation of the universe. As I will show such theories do provide prediction, but to provide full explanation the variables must be identified because only by so doing will the mechanisms implicated in the system be fully elaborated.
  30. This is extremely important in social science where the variable must be distinguished from the experience. For example, the narrative (to use the psychoanalytic term) is the ‘reality of the experience’ for a person. It is a singular occurrence, within this epistemology, of consciousness and as such has no necessary general validity. It is unique to the extent that every event is unique.
  31. In psycho-dynamics ego, id, superego are such variables, and in physics, ultimate propensities.
  32. This is of importance when considering, say Freudian ideas of ego and id. These are concepts proposed to exist, but are and can only be inferred. Under Ockham’s razor, any theory offering explanation that did not involve these concepts would be preferred.
  33. A complex theory may contain within it sub-theories themselves systems, or it may contain a system able to have specific values. Thus the theory of the atom as consisting of protons etc is a system containing systems.
  34. We can also go further and define the purpose of science as the creation of theory. It is extremely important not to take this statement out of the context of definitions within which I place it.
  35. This has interesting historical roots in the search for ultimate cause and the role of God as the prime mover.
  36. There is no further regress without adding additional classes of relation between events. And to do this would require justification as with the addition to any scientific theory, for the epistemology described is a scientific theory of knowledge.
  37. I argue, in the section on truth, that there is no Truth. Merely better theories based on better conceptualisation and better judgement providing better predictive value.
  38. The distinction must also be made of collection of data, which is not a growth of knowledge, merely the collection of possible values of existing variables and systems of.
  39. The intervening variable is the conceptualising of the mechanism whereby A influences B. It is this mechanism that is the cause of the change in B once there is a perturbation in A.
  40. A’ as a state of A, A being at the limit of knowledge, then A’ is not discernible as an event independent of A. This being the definition of A being at the limit of knowledge.
  41. It is technical ability because the events are far beyond physiological perception.
  42. A corollary of this is that at each new level of the ability to subdivide space-time there will be new ‘elementary particles’. This theory positing that there is no ‘fundamental unit’ of matter. In practical terms, this has political consequences if current multi-billion dollar accelerators are being constructed to uncover the fundamental unit of matter.
  43. At the Sir Douglas Robb Lectures at Auckland University in 1979, first lecture, Professor Richard Feynman made the observation "it’s not the complication of the rules – but the multiplicity of the parts and interconnections" that is the problem.
  44. This immediately implicates all the issues and problems on validation of scientific theories. No amount of knowledge or understanding can overcome the fundamental of this theory, namely that the basis of all knowledge rests on black boxes. The inner workings of those boxes, the content or internal structure, being unknown to us and thus always able to surprise by changes that generate events that we did not see coming. This merely requires circumstances that we have not precisely encountered before.


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