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0 - Knowledge Tools and Affordances

Page history last edited by roy williams 1 month ago

Resonant Knowledge Resonant Knowledge Resonant Knowledge Resonant Knowledge Resonant Knowledge Resonant Knowledge


see below for Contents

as well as further links ....


Knowledge-generating tools and machines


Systems of Differences

Interaction within Physical and Social Ecologies

Practices of Abstraction




This is, actually, a response to Deleuze and Guattari's last book, What is Philosophy, in which they write that philosophy is creating concepts, and is not: reflection, contemplation, or communication.  Or, more extensively: "Philosophy is the art of forming, inventing and fabricating concepts, palpating the differences that disrupt all projects of identification" and "Matter and life are dynamic: we should see being not in terms of stable identities, but in terms of difference," (see here ...).


Very interesting, but not too informative, unless you have a particular interest in Lacan, and in rather esoteric intellectual gymnastics.


It is also a response to the question raised in the Philosophy of Education Reading Group, namely: what are the implications of this book for the practices of education?


To which my response is, briefly:


As teachers / lecturers (I have been both), we regularly introduce new concepts to students.  We expect them to somehow 'understand' them, and to be able to define, use, and even compare and contrast them with other concepts.


However ...


To be honest, I think I often present concepts to students and assume (for some reason) that they not only understand them, but also understand them in much the same way as I do. That's actually asking a bit much. I guess that most students, when presented with concepts (like the sign, in semiotics, or the Brownian motion theory of heat, as opposed to the Calorific theory of heat, do attempt to do what Deleuze and Guattari would like them to do, namely to philosophise, or 'create/construct concepts' anew, for themselves.  


But I also guess that most students, by force of circumstance, actually just "philosophise in the dark", without much of a clue as to what they are doing. It strikes me that we really should approach the matter far more seriously, and present a number of similar or related concepts to the students - if for nothing else, just to establish the possible meanings/uses of these new concepts by specifying what particular concepts are not. So a dog is ... not a marsupial, not a cat, not a wild animal, not a great ape, not a hominid, not cold-blooded, etc. Furthermore, it might be instructive, in these days of climate collapse, that we go back to examine not only the benefits of being warm-blooded, but also the disadvantages - the fact that being warm-blooded (rather than cold-blooded, like crocodiles and snakes) uses up to 800% more energy, just to get by, than our cold-blooded cousins do. We are, in other words, ridiculously high-consumption animals, long before we make our first Gucci or Dior purchases, or fire up our SUV's.


And a Google search on the disadvantages of being warm-blooded yields little or no hard data on comparative energy consumption - it's not clearly not even an 'issue' for the Google search algorithms. Happy days - not!


Exploring concepts in such a '360 degree' analysis might satisfy two requirements - to get our students used to the activity of concept formation, or creation - in short to become apprentice philosophers, and on the other hand to equip them with the beginnings of a methodology to explore, understand, create, and hopefully to use concepts - particularly 'powerful concepts', in the full knowledge of who we 'are', and the ecological consequences of continuing our business-as-usual lives (let alone our lives as serial hydrocarbon energy guzzlers too). 


Moving on ...


My response incorporates De Sausseure's (and other author's) semiotics; J.J. Gibson's notion of affordances; as well as Tim Ingold's Lines, and his recent update and extension of anthropological affordances


This is, however, written from the particular perspective of practical epistemology - the practice of finding out how language, communication, knowledge and value is created, and how it works (including but not limited to concepts - my initial academic training was in 'conceptual analysis', and from there I developed a fascination with semiotics as well as critical discourse analysis).  So this is based on the beguilingly 'plain' statements by Barthes ("every use becomes a sign of itself"), Wittgenstein ("meaning is use"), and Eco ("a sign is something that can be used to lie"). 


And although I have a long-standing interest in philosophy, and how concepts work (in practice), I am also interested in how animals use or respond to signs (zoo-semiotics), in non-verbal semiotics, and how all these relate to the ways in which humans use signs amongst themselves (i.e. socio-semiotics)


I am particularly interested in how humans use signs to create all manner of abstractions (not only philosophical concepts), and what happens to the way abstractions transform the way people relate to other humans, as well the way they relate to the broader environment and ecology.  


In short, I am more interested in how humans 'use' signs than in what signs 'are' (which seems to me to be an unhelpfully abstract way of going about one's business). I guess that makes me more of an anthropologist than a philosopher (in Deleuze or Guattari's terms). My interest also includes a curiosity about how humans (right from birth) learn to use signs and concepts - building on the work of Ed Reed, for instance. 


And ...

although I use quite an extensive set of (De Saussurian) semiotic concepts to do this, I think of signs, first and foremostly, as just another set of rather practical 'tools' - even if they can always be 'used to lie' - rather than as some sort of esoteric philosophical concepts. So, tools with ironic potential then - quite a special type of 'tool'!


To do this, I need to sketch out an 'ontology', an 'epistemology', a map, a network, if you like, of the key concepts I use to explore these issues. This, hopefully, provides an organising system - a conceptual framework, for the generation of knowledge and the dynamics of (cumulative) abstraction.


These include the following (and then some) ...  please add, to taste ... And, for further discussion, links, and details, follow the linked texts below.  I have written this in a mixed format - part text, part table of contents, and part hypertext-linked pages...




Contents and Links 


0.    Systems of difference: ecologies of signs: 

        inter-related and inter-dependent networks of meaning. 


1.    Basic Communication functions

1.1  Indicative (pointing at, looking at, things, places), as in ‘here!’

1.2  Predicative (being, doing, action), as in ‘sit’, or ‘down’, or ‘side’ / ‘saied’


2.    Social Semiotics 

2.1  Phonemes: systems of differences of forms, (e.g. speech sounds, gestures, colours, shapes, etc)

2.2  Monemes: systems of differences of meaning (in a physical or social ecology)

2.3  Signs: systems of differences linking particular phonemes with particular morphemes (or, more often, linking sets, or          combinations, of phonemes and morphemes). 


Phonemes and monemes (aka 'morphemes') are finite, but arbitrary-and-conventional, and re-combinatory. Signs are, in principle, infinite, but also arbitrary-and-conventional: e.g. 'Dog' is just 'God' spelt backwards. 


3.    Texts 

3.1  Texts, traces and threads.

3.2  Grammar and syntax: templates for (playful, flexible) combinations of signs.

3.3  The dog as text 


4.    Meaning machines 

4.1  Signs, sentences, syllogisms 

4.2  Machine learning / AI 

4.3  Replicators


5.     Knowledge

5.1   Commoditised knowledge:: subject-and-context-stripped.

5.1.1  Predictable knowledge, suitable for infinite exchange across all contexts.

5.2  Complex Adaptive knowledge - descriptions of emergent events.


6.     Affordances

6.1  Anthropological Affordances (Ingold).



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