The knowledge argument


In order to set the foundations of knowledge management one needs to have a clear definition of what is the knowledge that is being managed.
On what concerns this blog I will treat knowledge as a mental phenomena, with its implications on its definition, the definition of knowledge management (KM), and the strategies that come afterwards. In this article, I will try to justify why I chose this approach.
Imagine Mary, a scientist that studied everything concerning light waves, their impact in our eyes and the structures of the brain that are affected by the visual stimuli. She could explain to you that a certain wave-length range correspond to something called "red", tell you which cones in the retina are stimulated by that and where in the visual cortex a neural activation is expected; and the same for any other colours. Mary knows everything that is and can be written about the physical elements determining colours. However, Mary has lived all her life confined to a black and white house and never experienced any colour herself. One day, Mary gets to go out of her confinement and sees a red rose for the first time, learning how it is like to see red.

The knowledge argument is based on the previous thought experiment and supports the idea that there is more to know than all the physical facts of the universe. In other words, in the realm of existence there are some properties that do exist and yet they cannot be described objectively. That is, no matter how complete an explanation I give you about the color red, you will never know everything there is to know about it unless you experience it first hand. In the though experiment, Mary would have some new knowledge from that of an identical scientist who never experienced any colour. As the knowledge argument claims, the properties in this phenomenal realm, the qualia, are the subjective sensations we mostly access via our senses.
I claim here that the experience of accessing truths is also a type of qualia, and it can be triggered via analysis and reflection upon information or existing knowledge. This particular experience is what we call understanding and it is what matter to the foundations I pose here.

I would argue that understanding is a qualia because the awareness of a fact is also a purely subjective experience comparable to visual or auditory stimuli. Your understanding is only yours in the most subjective sense: you cannot transfer that understanding but only via indirect means (explanations, metaphores, stories, etc.). Moreover, we see this idea already implicitly represented in the popular culture. Whenever a cartoonist represents some character in the process of getting to know a new idea, they use the sudden appearance of a light bulb as the means. As if by some random event or reflection, the character gets the necessary light to illuminate facts in the phenomenal realm that were previously hidden.

In this blog I start by defining what is knowledge relying on the knowledge argument proposed by Jackson. Other definitions of knowledge may be valid as well, however, I prefer to take this approach, since there are several benefits that will impact positively in the proper definition and strategy of knowledge management:
  • The first advantage is that by defining knowledge as a phenomenal element, we differentiate it clearly from data and information.
  • It follows that knowledge management would be the discipline to elicit knowledge in the individual, which helps to avoid the overlaps between information and knowledge management, in many cases due to an unclear definition of what knowledge is.
  • The focus on knowledge management is then set on the process of understanding by the individual and the metrics of a successful KM programme can be set accordingly.
Following articles will further explore the consequences in the corporate scope of defining and treating knowledge as a qualia.

References

"Mary the colour scientist", by Frank Jackson.

"What is it like to be a bat?", by Thomas Nagel.


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