Vocabulary of Knowledge, Thought, and Reason

This informal paper attempts to clarify the meanings and usages of the terms related to knowledge, thought, and reason. Too frequently, public discourse is horribly marred by really sloppy vocabulary and misuse of terms.

Part of the problem is that traditional definitions are somewhat vague and sloppy, even in a decent dictionary.

Actual usage has been even sloppier, with a lot of these terms treated and used as synonyms.

It is not the intention of this paper to give a full treatment of thought and reason, but only enough to support the full treatment of knowledge, since knowledge, the primary focus of this paper, is so dependent on thought and reason.

Meaning

Knowledge, by definition, includes meaning, at least basic meaning and various levels or layers of meaning.

There may be additional levels or layers beyond those included in knowledge per se, such as subjective meaning that is not shared by everyone who shares the basic, objective meaning of particular knowledge.

Or layers of subjective meaning that are shared by some individuals or groups but not by others.

This paper takes the position that all of those layers or levels of meaning are still by definition part of knowledge, even though they may not be shared by all who possess that same knowledge. That may feel a little odd, but the simple fact of life is that knowledge possessed by more than one person is not necessarily exactly 100.000% identical for each of those persons. Even if they all read the same exact definition, they may each interpret it slightly differently.

Truth

Truth itself is a very slippery topic. It is indeed touched on in a variety of ways in this paper, but not in great depth. At best, beliefs, facts, and knowledge seek to approximate truth, but frequently fall short or even entirely miss the mark. In any case, aspects of truth are included in this paper to the extent that they hinge on knowledge itself.

Various theories of truth, such as correspondence, coherence, realism, and pragmatism are not covered per se, but elements of all such frameworks that have filtered into everyday and professional discourse will of course be covered, just not tied directly to any particular framework of truth.

It is worth noting that truth and knowledge are not strict synonyms. The nuances are beyond the scope of this paper. Sometimes ultimate truth is not accessible by even the best of human intentions. And sometimes interpretations are more important in human discourse than actual reality.

Reality

Reality refers to all that exists, the physical world, the natural world, life, human life, human social structures, and any artifacts created by the efforts of humans.

Technically, reality would include human knowledge, but simply as any other physical artifacts, rather than asserting that the ideas embedded within human knowledge are real per se.

Imagination or the products of imagination would not be considered reality unless or to the extent the imagined products are actually created in the real world.

Truth and reality are not strict synonyms. There are a number of theories concerning the relationship between truth, knowledge, and reality. The nuances are beyond the scope of this paper, which is focused on knowledge. But certainly elements of truth and reality will be included as they relate directly to knowledge.

Generally, the best we can hope for is that our knowledge approximates reality. Sometimes we can get very close or even occasionally happen to be exactly correct, but very frequently we are far off base.

Popper’s three worlds for reality

Philosopher Karl Popper had a three-world model of how we relate to reality:

  1. World 1. The physical world. Reality. Animals and people exists in the physical world, but merely as objects which happen to move around and their knowledge exists only as electrical signals and markings on objects, devoid of any meaning in World 1 pr se.

Knowledge exists in our minds, in World 2.

Knowledge can be represented, communicated, and shared as World 3 knowledge artifacts and media artifacts.

Relation to intelligence

Knowledge, thought, and reason are inexorably intertwined with intelligence. As such, a fair amount of terms related to intelligence are included in this paper. But not all terms related to intelligence will be included here, only those which reasonably intersect with knowledge, thought, and reason per se.

Relation to logic

Knowledge and reason certainly relate to logic. A modest amount of terms related to logic are included in this paper, but not all terms related to logic will be included here, only those which are reasonably necessary to understand and discuss knowledge and reason per se.

Relation to science

Knowledge, thought, and reason and science are also very intertwined. A modest amount of terms related to science are included in this paper, but not all terms related to science will be included here, only those which are reasonably necessary to understand and discuss knowledge, thought, and reason per se.

Relation to epistemology

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge. The terms discussed in this paper will certainly overlap with epistemology, but there is no intention to fully explore epistemology here, just to the extent that it hinges on the vocabulary of knowledge, thought, and reason.

Relation to metaphysics

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of existence. The terms discussed in this paper will certainly overlap with metaphysics, but there is no intention to fully explore metaphysics here, just to the extent that it hinges on the vocabulary of knowledge, thought, and reason.

Deeper discussion of existence and essence are contained in a companion paper, Model for Existence and Essence.

Relation to ethics

Ethics is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of human nature and social interaction. The terms discussed in this paper will certainly overlap with ethics, but there is no intention to fully explore ethics here, just to the extent that it hinges on the vocabulary of knowledge, thought, and reason.

Relation to communication

Communication is essential to the sharing of knowledge, but the means and methods of communication are neutral with respect to the actual knowledge and meaning transmitted and received via communication. A subset of the terms related to communication will be included in this paper, but only to the extent that they directly hinge on the knowledge, thought, and reason itself.

Relation to media

Media and communication are tightly related.

Media has only one real purpose, to enable and facilitate communication.

Actually, media has two roles, to communicate knowledge and to record knowledge, but the recording of knowledge is for the purpose of communicating that knowledge.

Books, papers, audio recordings, and videos simultaneously record and communicate knowledge, content, and meaning.

This paper does not endeavor to provide a full treatment of media, but simply to cover it enough to discuss its relationship to knowledge.

Relation to language

Language is clearly essential to sharing of knowledge, but it is meaning that is most relevant here, not the syntax, grammar, punctuation, or spelling and pronunciation of words. A subset of the terms related to language will be included in this paper, but only to the extent that they directly hinge on issues related to meaning and knowledge.

Relation to knowledge representation and knowledge artifacts

Knowledge representation is an important, even essential, matter.

Knowledge is commonly represented as knowledge artifacts such as words in language and imagery and other forms of media, embodied in media artifacts.

Communication requires knowledge representation and knowledge artifacts and media artifacts.

But a full treatment of knowledge representation and knowledge artifacts is well beyond the scope of this paper. Knowledge representation and knowledge artifacts are treated here only to the degree needed to provide a full treatment of knowledge.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

The notions of human knowledge and intelligence intersect with machine intelligence, also known as artificial intelligence or AI. The intersection is explored in greater depth in a companion paper, Untangling the Definitions of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Intelligence, and Machine Learning.

To be clear, the vocabulary of knowledge elaborated here is equally applicable to the human and machine domains.

Domains of truth

There are many distinct domains of knowledge, each having its own distinctive concepts and vocabulary, even if they all still share the same basic natural language (English or whatever.) Truth and meaning in one domain don’t necessarily mean the same thing in different domains.

This matter is discussed and detailed in much greater detail in a companion paper, Domains of Truth.

Entities

This paper takes an expansive view of entity, treating the concept as referring to anything that could be referred to in the propositions of knowledge. More than solely tangible objects, entity is used to refer to intangibles as well, including ideas and concepts — anything someone might seek to refer to in a statement or proposition.

A partial list of things that would be considered entities in the vocabulary of this paper include:

  • Object

Generally, an entity is anything that would be referred to using a noun.

All of that said, the term entity has a more strict meaning for entities which have a significant sense of independence, in contrast with subsidiary entities which have a significant meaning only within the context of a larger, umbrella entity.

Short of details

The goal here is to define the vocabulary needing to talk about knowledge, thought, and reason, but not to detail knowledge about anything other than knowledge, thought, and reason themselves. As such, the vocabulary stops at the level of the concept of detail, so that language needed to elaborate detail is excluded, such as:

  • Color

Deeper discussion of existence and essence are contained in a companion paper, Model for Existence and Essence.

This paper does not delve into:

  • Specific entities.

The goal here is to be as general and abstract as possible.

Entity details — metadata

Details of entities are referred to as metadata or entity metadata in this paper.

The point of this paper is not to define the details of entities, but to treat such details in an abstract manner and simply to acknowledge that entities have details which themselves are referred to as entities and that those details are referred to as entity metadata in an abstract sense — no detail to be described in this paper.

Sapient entity — people and robots

This paper aims to address knowledge, thought, and reason from both the perspective of people or human beings, and intelligent robots or artificial intelligence (AI) as well. The common term for both people and intelligent robots is sapient entity. Sapient meaning intelligent or wise, and entity meaning a person or object.

Many terms defined in this paper will use this term, sapient entity, rather than human being, person, people, or individual.

Sentient entity — animals and dumb robots

Not all perception and communication strictly requires human-level intelligence. Animals and dumb robots can both perceive, sense, feel, and react to the world around them. That ability is known as sentience.

People and intelligent robots are sapient (intelligent and wise) as well, but some forms of perception and basic information about the world only require sentience rather than full-blown sapience.

Your personal robot could whip out an umbrella for you when it starts raining, but that requires only sentience rather than sapience.

Why not simply quote from the dictionary?

As stated in the introduction, many terms in the vocabulary of knowledge, thought, and reason are vague, sloppy, and frequently misused. The raw dictionary simply adds to the confusion. This paper attempts to correct the flaws of the dictionary and common usage by providing term definitions that are tailored and streamlined to focus on the needs of engaging in concise and accurate discourse about knowledge, thought, and reason.

Basic terms for knowledge, thought, and reason

Before diving into the full, detailed list of terms, here are the basic terms for knowledge, thought, and reason, in alphabetical order:

  1. Assertion. An assumption that is strongly believed to be true.

Terms related to knowledge, thought, and reason

The terms related most directly to knowledge, thought, and reason are listed here in alphabetical order:

  1. Accept on faith. Acceptance of a belief on the word of another with absolutely no reliance on evidence, proof, reason, or justification. See also: faith.

Work in progress

The analysis described here remains a work in progress. It is as complete as I know at this time, but it will be enhanced and revised as I become aware of new information.

For more of my writings on artificial intelligence, see List of My Artificial Intelligence (AI) Papers.

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