Knowledge Versus Language

November 17, 1996

"Die philosophie ist ein Kampf gegen die Verhexung

unseres Verstandnes durch die Mittel unserer Sprache"

... Ludwig Wittgenstein

There is a sloppiness in how we map "knowledge" into a linguistically articulated version of itself. This note suggests that such sloppiness has given birth to, amongst other things, the early Christian God concept and an "aberrant normality" described by R. D. Laing as a state of being "radically estranged from the structure of being".

The etymology of the word "knowledge" suggests that it is a "recorded" perception. It's root meanings associate with the word "recognition" and this seems to fit with the current connotation that knowledge is a "cognition" which has been stored and which can be voluntarily and repetitively re - cognized by our consciousness.

Elsewhere on this web page, a "Mathematical View of Consciousness" has been proposed, which describes consciousness as a complex entity born of bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is the process of building mental imagery or "experience" through recursive interaction with others (i.e. other systems), which are likewise adapting their experience and behaviors through bootstrapping processes.

This sounds pretty complicated, so it's not surprising that we might run into a few problems in the mapping of "knowledge" to language. Wittgenstein, who spent his life struggling with the limitations of language, said; "What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." His statement is not inconsistent with the concept that "knowledge" is a complex, dipolar entity comprised of real and imaginary components, exhibiting phase and harmonic qualities.

While this statement may sound radical, that is perhaps more due to its "counter-cultural" flavor than to any lack of supporting rationale. For example, poets have consistently told us that they have a sense of "sounds or music or rhythms" from which poems emerge through a kind word alchemy. Psychologists such as Laing remind us, by showing us ambiguous symbols or drawings, that how we initially perceive something determines our subsequent dealings with it. (e.g. a classic case is the sillouette of two faces looking towards one another which can also be interpreted in the negative space as a vase). Thus, we may look on another person as an "organism" rather than a "person", or vice versa, depending on the manner of attraction etc.

Apparently, "knowledge" is higher dimensional and cannot be mapped, fully and unambiguously, onto language. As the world becomes more complex through the accelerating interaction of knowledge and information, improving our understanding of this "complexity" seems increasingly relevant.

One can approach the definition of complexity [1] from the domain of language, for example, "crude complexity" is defined as; "the length of the shortest message that will define a system, at a given level of coarse graining, to someone at a distance, employing language, knowledge and understanding that both parties share (and know they share) beforehand."

In view of our prior discussion, it is clear that such a measure of complexity is impossible to achieve since one cannot achieve shared "knowledge and understanding" let alone "know" they have achieved it. For this reason, there are other definitions of complexity, such as "cultural complexity" which takes a less reductionist, more evolving-pattern-oriented look at complexity. Thus there can be a significant gap between language-oriented and knowledge-oriented views of complexity. Nevertheless, most attention seems to focus on language-based analysis as it can be reduced to questions of bit streams and algorithmic complexity etc. (or can it?)

The problem with this direction of analysis, as pointed out by Gabor, is that if one is going to comply with the findings of Quantum Physics, one cannot fully rely on the linear formulations which give rise to the concept of "true or false" bit sequences. In other words, the information theory which this type of linguistic complexity analysis is based on, is inadequate. The reason we continue to deny this inadequacy is probably because of the huge investment we have made in this theory. It permeates just about everything we do and those most influential in the world today, in some way or another have built their positions upon this binary logic foundation.

So, we are not only faced with the problem that there is a huge gap between "knowledge" and "language", but we have the situation where much of the world's expertise which is currently focused on an understanding of complexity, is attacking the problem from the language (i.e. binary logic) side. As Wittgenstein and many other philosophers have observed, you cannot completely understand and describe a system, unless you can get beyond it. This is the essential message in Goedel's Theorem [which was captured in descriptive form in Wittgenstein's 1921 Tractatus and presumably shared with Goedel through their discussions in the "Vienna Circle"]. Thus, conjecture on the nature of complexity starting from the incomplete linear informational theory of Shannon and operating on language instead of on "knowledge" seems unlikely to yield any comprehensive insights on the fundamental nature of complexity.

What then lies in the unavoidable gap between information construed as a binary bit stream and the knowledge it is attempting to convey? As proposed elsewhere on this web page, information (in its conscious form) appears to be "dipolar" and thus it possesses not only a real component but also a latent component and, phase and harmonic attributes. And since we live in an interconnected world, it is not possible to isolate this dipole and view it as a discrete and separate entity. It must be viewed in the context of its relationships with other information. Thus, knowledge seems to be characterized in the same fashion that consciousness is characterized by psychologists such as Laing.

This argument probably sounds pretty weird and preposterous at this point. This is because it is being presented in a bottom-up reductionist form (the culturally accepted format for "scientific" discussion). However, this proposition emerged out of a top-down bootstrapping approach in the process of inducting a natural consistency and coherency amongst a diverse suite of observations on knowledge, language and communications.

A short foray could be valuable, at this point, into the philosophy of how one exposes scientific truth. While physicists are suggesting that the "bootstrapping" approach may lead to a more unified view of nature, it is still not culturally acceptable, even in scientific communities to present the rambling type of argument that "bootstrapping" involves. Wittgenstein was one of the original "bootstrappers", and he put it this way; "What I am trying to teach today is the transition from what is not obviously nonsense, to what obviously is." [2]

How was Wittgenstein's "bootstrapping" approach received by his critics? In much the same way as most scientifically trained people would receive a bootstrapping argument today. Here's what two different reviewers of Wittgenstein's (posthumously published) "Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics" had to say [2]; "But perhaps the most serious problem is the lack of structure, and the failure to work out in detail what looks like a very promising approach to a coherent, or comprehensive account of mathematics. There are valuable insights into the nature of mathematics, but little attempt to cash in on them, and the result is what sometimes appears to be a rather inchoate mass of disconnected commentary." (Virginia Klenk, 1970).

Compare this to comments on the same work by Frank Ramsey, "a mathematician of comprehensive learning who has had a lasting influence on modern mathematics" [2]. Ramsay says; " From his work more than that of any other man I hope for a solution of the difficulties that perplex me both in philosophy generally and in the foundation of Mathematics in particular", (1959).

What we see in Klenk's commentary is a typical reaction to a bootstrap type of presentation, while Ramsey opens up and "tunes in" to the Wittgenstein imagery. In most "scientific" and business management forums, "bootstrapping" is not accepted. Very few people seem to see the value in listening while one spins a web of thoughts out of which an insightful mental imagery is "supposed to" emerge. Managers typically rise out of their chairs after about 60 seconds of this tale-spinning, and say in irritated tones; "get to the point", "spit it out, man". I have been fortunate to work in Petroleum Exploration where the old "prospector -managers" love to hear the bootstrapping tales which slowly but surely spin imagery of black treasure buried deep within the earth. Their accounting and engineering superiors are not such patient listeners, however.

Returning to our main thread, there is a proposition "on the table" that knowledge is complex (i.e. it has dipolar wave properties) and that the mapping of knowledge into unipolar language is troubled by "drop out" of the phase and harmonic attributes of knowledge. As has been implied earlier, this strange sounding proposition emerges from a "bootstrapping" approach, a progression which moves in on the issue by crossing from the nonsense to the no-nonsense view of knowledge. This is in marked contrast to attempts to build up understanding from the linguistic bits and bytes which have already suffered a huge amount of information dropout and contortion in their non Quantum physics compliant linear binnings.

Support for the "dipolar" proposition is implicit in the study of languages, and particularly from understanding coming out of attempts to decipher ancient scripts (see also "Holons and Glyphs"). For example, in "The Decipherment of Linear B" [3], the author briefly reviews the three symbolic methods employed in language, pictographic symbols (conveying an idea), syllabic symbols (conveying a syllabic phonetic sound) and alphabetic symbols (conveying a more basic consonant sound).

As has been observed elsewhere on this web page, the stewardship of language in the West shifted from the spiritual gurus in the community to the business gurus in about 500 BC, due to the value of standard phonetic-alphabetic Phoenician and Greek in Mediterranean trade and commerce. It seems clear that the commercial requirements in language were much less demanding than the spiritual requirements. That is, the primary need was to describe "real" products and causal transactions. There was no need, in the commercial sector, to deal with the higher order aspects of nature as have been described by Bohm and other physicists. Thus, there was no problem, from a commercial viewpoint, in neutering "dipolar" knowledge in the process of mapping it into a phonetic, transaction-oriented language.

The pictographic languages, though they may have been difficult to use because of the complexity and large number of symbols required, nevertheless conveyed full complex "ideas" rather than simple sounds. Here again is a self-similar tradeoff to that which is being made between knowledge and language as a whole. We abandon the top-down "idea" representation of the pictograph, and we attempt to rebuild it, bottom-up, from the mechanical assembly of reductionist phonetic parts. We have already lost much in the general process of mapping from knowledge to language, in going to a phonetic language base, we now incur further loss by the substitution of phonetic symbology for idea symbology. No wonder Wittgenstein made the comment, cited in his original words at the top of this note, that; "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitching of our rationality through language". This is precisely what R. D. Laing [4, 5] alludes to, as discussed elsewhere in this web page bootstrapping exercise. That is, where do the harmonics go when we strip them out of knowledge in our linguistic communications processes?

Reviewing what we lost in going from pictographs to a phonetic alphabet may shed some light on this "dipolar" to "unipolar" proposition. To set the stage, it is worthwhile to give further consideration to Wittgenstein's work. According to Michael Nedo [2], "Wittgenstein's work does not consist, as publications hitherto have suggested, of discrete elements. Rather, it resembles a complex system, an organism in which each part is related to every other, and in which each can serve different functions. This intricate set of relations produces the impression of a constantly developing work: ...", and, "Wittgenstein, rather than achieving the meaning he is striving for in a single sentence, very often writes complexes of variant sentences, so that his manuscripts can come to resemble an orchestral score, where the desired result is obtained only when the different parts are played in harmony."

It seems obvious that Wittgenstein felt that complex "knowledge" could not be conveyed via direct, literal, "real" bullet statements, and that "interference effects' were needed for the completeness of communications (see also Gabor's "Theory of Communications"). This is not inconsistent with the concept of a complex, dipolar nature for knowledge. It is definitely consistent with the known fact that we can handle higher dimensional order in our minds, than can be represented in a real bit stream, or even in equations (i.e. we resort to "geometrization" to visualize or "comprehend" the nature of nonlinear problem solutions). Where does this leave the simple on/off bits of Shannon with respect to the conveying of information in a "knowledge" context?

Returning to the "Decipherment of Linear B", it is interesting to note that the key approach in the decipherment of this combined ideographic-phonetic script, was through combinatory context. For example, where the ideogram for MAN and WOMAN were found next to lists of other ideograms or words, this provided a clue that perhaps the list was of male and female animals traded in a market. There are many instances of such cross-referential, contextual relationships in language. Chadwick observes that these type of "combinatory" deductions are valuable "...because they are completely independent of the syllabic values." Hmmmm.

What Chadwick appears to be saying is that there are two distinct conveyors of meaning in language; the literal "bit"-oriented conveyance mechanism, and the latent or virtual "interference-oriented" conveyance mechanism. The image emerges that "knowledge" like "nature" has dual "tangible-causal" and "wave interference" oriented aspects.

Economic drivers, in Phoenician times and all the way through to the beginning of the "knowledge economy" have focused popular language use on "real" "causal" transactions; the making and moving of real products via manual or mechanical actions. The insistence on a "unipolar" view of "knowledge", is what orients us to a literal view of reality based on "behavior" which denies us our far richer "experience" (i.e. to paraphrase Laing).

As we look back on the denial of the "dipolar" aspect of knowledge (some may call the latent interference aspect, the "spiritual" aspect), one can surmise that the concept of a controlling God was an artifact of this denial. My recent discussions with religious individuals, including a Catholic priest in West Ireland, indicate a current recognition of the strength of the Celtic consciousness and concepts, relative to many aspects of Catholic (i.e. Christian) dogma and doctrine.

It should be pointed out that this is not a rejection of the spiritual value of the religious ritual etc., simply of aspects of the "mental models" which have been utilized in the church. Most of the people I conversed with have not left the church but are working to downplay the dogma and restore a "Celtic Consciousness" within the church.

For example, the following statement by Caithlin Matthews [6], would seem to find favor with the majority of the population of Western Ireland (on the basis of my brief exploratory samplings), although this statement is far more consistent with Quantum Physics and Shamanism than with the formal doctrine of the Catholic Church; "Myth and magic are generally conceived to be false and misleading doctrines in our society, things wrought of fantasy or of evil. As we have seen in this book, the primal Celtic world, like all native traditions, derives from both myth and magic its life and continuance. Myth describes the patterns of ordering of the world, while magic governs the regulation of daily life in conformity with this primal order. How we came to lose this insight is the history and cause of our present misfortunes, of our fractured and fragmented existence which is out of harmony with the natural laws. For the gods are nothing but the forces of those laws in manifest form, and the magic of the aos dana is their gift and means of communication between themselves and humankind."

In view of the current understanding of physics and "plectics", this statement on Celtic consciousness does not appear at all unreasonable. In fact, it appears far more reasonable than many religious assumptions, such as creation, heaven and hell, devils and angels etc. In other words, philosophies, such as the Celtic philosophy, which preceded the pervasive reductionist use of a phonetic transactional language seem much more on track with modern nonlinear science.

Similar views have been previously expressed, such as those of William Blake in the 18th century, however, their perceived counter-culture nature has not exactly facilitated their acceptance; e.g.

"Then old Nobodaddy aloft

Farted and belched and coughed,

And said, "I love hanging and drawing and quartering

Every bit as well as war and slaughtering."

William Blake 1757-1827 Poems [written c. 1791

Blake's reasoned view on how God and the Priestly occupation were popularized is approached in a less abrasive fashion in his engraved work.

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or

Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the

properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations,

and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city &

country. placing it under its mental deity.

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of &

enslavÆd the vulgar by attempting to realise or abstract the

mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from Poetic tales.

And at length they announced that the Gods had ordered such


Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

Plate 14, from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"

Blake's view of religion, as expressed in this engraved plate from "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", is essentially the same as that expressed above by Caitlin Matthews. Blake's overall argument, like the argument in this web page note (which emerges from a homologous type of bootstrapping), was that we have tried to do what nature does not allow, to split the dipole into two unipoles. In so doing, we are destroying the natural harmony in the world.

Let's begin to summarize where we are here. In deifying the forces of nature, the poets created Gods in man's image. Meanwhile, economics drove us to invent a transactional, unipolar language which lacked the interference effects needed to convey the "virtual" nature of this deification. Thus, we began to mix up metaphor with matter, building up a collective projection that saw these Gods as conscious centers of control and influence, i.e. as omnipotent versions of ourselves. This is what elicited laughter from Brennus, the Celtic leader in 279 BC when he saw that the Greeks had put the Gods into human statue forms in the temples of Delphi.

Now there is an obvious problem of metaphorical balance here as the forces of nature are dipolar and the Greeks had only taken care of one half of them in the God concept, leaving the other end of the "dipole" flapping in the breeze. Worse than that, "...opposites in nature are unified through oscillation." [7], so you never really get to "hold one pole in your hand", so to speak. Good and evil, if viewed as "strange attractors" can be seen as "what makes the world go round" rather than as being isolable qualities. Unfortunately, once you personify one of them and remove the oscillatory dynamics, you are pretty much forced to personify the other, so our lagniappe from the creation of God in man's image is, what else, but Satan!

Up until and including the time of Heraclitus, nonlinear dynamics (i.e. the "logos") and a continuing metamorphosis were a natural part of reality models, however, with the advent of Aristotle's syllogistic logic, the West slipped into a linear causal view of reality. This was aided and abetted by the emergence of a linear transactional phonetic language, thus we transformed the "virtual" "strange attractors" of "good" and "evil" into pseudo real entities. Clearly, there was all hell to pay for this, and Milton's "Paradise Lost" kind of put that into context.

Both Blake, in his "Heaven and Hell" build on Milton's poetry and later C. G. Jung, in rejecting religious instruction from his preacher-father, came to the conclusion that God was also "in the shit" and that we were denying an important aspect of ourselves by splitting up the dipole and attempting to keep only one end. Over time, this has had a significant corrupting effect on our consciousness, prompting R. D. Laing in 1967 to observe; "What we call "normal" is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience."

Clearly, trying to wrestle a "strange attractor" into submission has about the same payout as a moth trying to call a flame's bluff.

It seems that in the opinion of Blake, Matthews, Wittgenstein, Laing, Capra, Irish Celtic-Catholics and many others (including yours truly) it's time to crank up the nonlinear oscillations once again so that we can "re-connect" our fragmented world, "re-harmonize" both ourselves and our society, and let God and Satan re-assume their virtual "strange attractor" positions. In this respect, Gabor's "cells" (where this sequence of notes started) may have been more liberating than they initially appeared.

[1] Gell-Mann, Murray, "The Quark and the Jaguar", 1994

[2] WIttgenstein, Ludwig, "Wiener Ausgabe", 1993 by Michael Nedo

[3] Chadwick, John, "The Decipherment of Linear B", 1958

[4] Laing, R. D., "The Politics of Experience", 1967

[5] Laing, R. D., "The Divided Self", 1959

[6] Matthews, Caitlin, "The Celtic Tradition", 1989

[7] Capra, Fritjof, "The Turning Point", 1982