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10 Mar The Context of Knowledge

What Is Knowledge?

Knowledge About KnowledgeJust like the beautifully structured organization of all things in the physical universe, there is a hierarchy or taxonomy of knowledge. The levels and organization of the hierarchy, as I see them, are shown in the illustration below. Being fascinated by the concept of context, I have decided that, in this model, “context” includes “everything” because there is nothing in the universe that is completely out of context. Abstract things such as words and ideas can be confusing when they are taken out of context, but, from a logical perspective, they still belong within a context. Consequently, this thing called context, is at the root of all useful (for my purposes) taxonomies.

  • from Latin contextus: an assembling or putting together,
  • from contexere: to interweave more than one thing,
  • from com-: together + texere: to weave or braid
Understanding Context Cross-Reference
Click on these Links to other posts and glossary/bibliography references


Section 5 #14

Fuzzy Logic Icon


Table of Context


In my prior posts I spoke of personal space and our place in the universe in which I attempt to show that “self” is at the center of all knowledge. Today, I want to address the hierarchy of knowledge, and knowledge about knowledge itself. The things humans and computers can remember and use as a basis for thinking (if computers will ever be able to think) can be described in terms of several levels of ascending complexity. As I mentioned before, everything in the hierarchy is context.

Knowledge HierarchyThe second lowest level of the cone, noise, describes observable things in the environment that are less meaningful than data. We must have the ability to process noise because it is omnipresent. Thus, we must have knowledge that enables us to sort out the noise from the salient data, though this may be more of an attention function than actual knowledge. Once the noise in the environment is filtered out, all that remains is data.

Data elements that humans process are input in the form of perceptual stimuli to the five senses. The specific types of data available are tactile sensations, tastes, smells, sounds and images. These perceptual inputs are processed in specialized areas of the brain, correlated in parallel, then used as the basis for cognitive processing. Processing is what we do to climb the knowledge hierarchy.

The Knowledge Hierarchy

Information is the result of correlation and does not exist solely in the environment. That is, until the interaction of data elements in the environment is cognitively determined, the information value of the data is negligible. For example, if several data elements such as “crosswalk”, “cars” “speed” and “intersection” are taken individually, the information value is low to null. Taken together, however, they constitute valuable information. The level of facts that we can learn and describe in simple phrases is called existential knowledge or information. Information is the kind of data, linked to categories that we find in almanacs.

The following information may suddenly occur in the mind of a person who has been strolling along a downtown street in a state of reverie:

  1. I am in a crosswalk;
  2. The crosswalk is at an intersection;
  3. The intersection is uncontrolled;
  4. Cars are approaching rapidly;
  5. High speed impact hurts.

Deja vu! The data elements in the sample include perceptual data (1-4) and learned data (5). A cognitive process is needed to convert each level of object to the next, establishing the context of knowledge.

Knowledge Cycle

The transition from meandering, broad or diffuse cognitive activity to very narrowly focused attention may be a little jarring, but it’s a good thing. We are all equipped to make such transitions very quickly. The experience of such transitions may even serve to sharpen our ability to make such transitions in the future. Knowledge exists within the context of experience, binding together physical things like objects, velocity, collision and intersection, with abstract things like danger, personal responsibility, quality of life and inconvenience. At the complex top of the knowledge hierarchy is one or more levels of meta-knowledge or knowledge about knowledge.


Motion of the MindConsciousness of thinking, which is often referred to as our reasoning processes, constitutes meta-knowledge. In addition to our awareness of thinking processes, there may be one or more less accessible levels of meta-knowledge. In automatic simulations of reasoning, the levels of noise, data, information, knowledge and meta-knowledge can all be simulated. When multiple levels of meta-knowledge are simulated, the complexity of the system inevitably increases dramatically.

Storage of data in the brain is often divided into specialized areas of memory. Here is one convenient way to divide areas of memory:

  • Declarative memory contains existential knowledge of concepts developed as the result of repeated or high exposure. Declarative and procedural memory are long-term but mutable.
  • Procedural memory contains causal knowledge of information we use to act and drive the motor systems of the body including those controlling speech production, visual selection…
  • Episodic memory stores information derived from events in our lives. It can store information for long periods of time. It can also be erased.
  • Working memory stores information of immediate importance for immediate use in communicating or in performing actions. It is short-term memory.

In the next posts, I’ll focus on understanding the characteristics of existential and causal knowledge. This focus will help us develop models of mechanical systems that can imitate or perform brain tasks.

Click below to look in each Understanding Context section


2 Responses so far.

  1. Hans Cools says:

    Is it permitted to reuse the cone-figure?
    I’m teaching about the Semantic Web at the ICL of the University of Zürich.

    Hans Cools
    Arlesheim, CH