Knowledge Recombination

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Marijuán, Pedro  pcmarijuan.iacs@aragon.es
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Pena, Ignacio (June 26th 2020, within the course "A Journey through Philosophy and Information", facilitated by J.M.Díaz during SS2020 at the Hochschule München)

Contents

Abstract
1. Introduction to the topic
2. About Knowledge
3. Knowledge Recombination
4. The Axes of Knowledge Recombination
5. Applications of recombining knowledge
6. Conclusion
References

Abstract: The following article aims to to give a glimpse of Knowledge Recombination as a tool. First understanding in the epistemological context the types and how knowledge is present in our mind. In contexts when it is not possible to access new sources information and the elaboration of new theories is needed, this article proposes Knowledge Recombination as a way to expand our understanding


1. Introduction to the topic

Imagine you do not know what the concept of epistemology means. But you do know that every concept that ends in “-logy” that comes from “logos” and means “the study of”. So in a following step you will find out that “episteme” means “knowledge” so now you know that epistemology is the study of knowledge. 

Now that you have acquired new knowledge, in a later stage you might encounter another new concept, for example “psychology”. This times you already know the components of this concept separately, but until now not together. Your intuition will tell you that if “psycho-“ comes from “psyche” - which refers to the conscious and unconscious totality of the human mind - and you already know that “-logy” refers to the study of a subject. Therefore you brain will assume that the term psychology is the study of the human mind.

Knowledge recombination is also what happens in those “Eureka” moments. When we have no new possible inputs of information and we are anymore consciously reasoning about the topic. Our brains continue to work unconsciously and at a given point an idea will be triggered, 
Bringing all the stored knowledge (old and new) recombined in a form of a new thought. That can come as a new idea, a new understanding, a new way of doing something. It therefore is a brain activity that also happens unconsciously, our minds are constantly working.


2. About Knowledge

In order to understand about the possibilities of knowledge recombination, we will focus on the different kinds of knowledge and ways of knowing that are mostly recognized among epistemologists.

Kinds of knowledge
Knowing by Acquaintance (like someone you know)
Knowledge-That (for example that in Germany people speak german)
Knowledge-Wh (whether, who, why, what)
Knowing-How (to do something)

Ways of knowing
Innate Knowledge (knowledge that comes with us into life)
Observational Knowledge 
Knowing Purely by Thinking
Knowing by Thinking-Plus-Observing

It is important to understand how knowledge can be categorized and how it can be integrated in our minds in order to find ways of how we can repurpose it. Recombining knowledge is an inevitable first step in thinking about new ideas.

We can only start wondering about an idea based on what we already know and what already exists in the world and in our minds. Otherwise it would be impossible to think, ideas are always attached to a context, either theoretical or practical.

It happens naturally when we wonder about new things, our brains always follows an internal logic. And that logic is based on what we already know and the information we have access to.
A logic that is true to us but not necessarily logical, this means that each one of us can think logically about something and that does not mean that the reasoning that originates the thought follows the same logic for every one of us. That is probably one of the reasons why people make mistakes. Nobody is wrong on purpose, everyone follows a thinking pattern that they believe to be logical and makes sense in their minds. A person who is crazy is not necessarily likely to recognize the mental condition, in their mind they could feel just as right as you and I. What these people experience is the consequences of a corrupted thinking pattern that is not recognizable as such to them.


3. Knowledge Recombination

The main goal is to expand our understanding when there is no other way for us to access new knowledge, as if the goal would be to multiply the knowledge that we have up until that point. It is important to highlight the difference between understanding and knowledge. Understanding how something works does not necessarily mean knowing how something works. And recombined knowledge is not necessarily and instantly true. The result of knowledge recombination is a prediction that must be later analyzed, researched and proved to be right or wrong.

To make full use of this concept, it is important to understand what can we do with knowledge. Imagine knowledge is malleable and if in the right context and with the right timing we reassemble, combine or modify it correctly, recombined existing knowledge has the potential to make us wiser.

It can happen spontaneously, but also can be trained as a way to jump into new topics with a standpoint. Key to this is being able to recognize the conceptual structure of what we know and that what we want to know. If we are able to see and understand that invisible structure, we can recombine it in ways that will bring us to new understandings and theories.

In nature there are structures that repeat themselves like a pattern or a kaleidoscope, regardless of their scale, but filled and dressed up with completely different contents and elements which differentiates their functions, size, materiality and role in our universe.


4. The Axes of Knowledge Recombination

In this article I want to propose four different axes in which knowledge can be recombined. It can be affected by only one or all of this factors at the same time. Imagine we have knowledge about something that can be subdivided into 5 parts. Next is an example of how we can work with those subdivisions using the four different axes:

  • Rearrangement axis:
    The sequential aspect of knowledge is here what’s important. The subdivided knowledge can have a specific meaning in one state, but rearranged can be representing a something different. Each topic can be deconstructed, the resulting parts have a logical connection between them and that sequence is what makes our original knowledge what it is and its recombination could give us knowledge of what it also can be if arranged differently.

  • Simplification axis:
    We would be simplifying that concept by maintaining only a specific part of the information. The same way jpeg compression facilitates the storage of image data in our computers, we can use knowledge recombination to partition knowledge and access it sequentially. This allows us to not necessarily have everything about a topic simultaneously in mind about a certain topic, but giving us access to the deconstructed parts of it while putting them in correct order based on our reasoning.

  • Complexity axis:
    In this case we would be integrating parts of other knowledge that we possess and the result is our prediction of this new factor effect in the knowledge that we previously started working with. It works contrary to the simplification axis.

  • Scale axis:
    As mentioned before, there are similarities in the structures of nature at all scales and across all species and systems. This means in knowledge recombination that if we can recognize the conceptual structure of what we know, it could also apply as the conceptual structure of what we do not know for now.

The sequence of knowledge components is as important as the knowledge itself. Like we saw before, the rearrangement of knowledge components leads to a different set of information which can be valid or not. We can find examples of this in computer programming. Imagine node programming in C++, it uses an interface which simplifies the programming language, making it follow a possibility of sequentially compatible elements. This means that a specific node can be connected and will only work if combined with a compatible second node (and so on) and thus the result will only work and be the desired one, if the correct nodes are connected in the right order to the right nodes.

The importance of sequence can also be observed in how the same tools are used by different people. Imagine the use of a 2D drawing software, it includes the same tools for everyone. Yet its use varies from person to person and each one uses it for different purposes and if the purpose is  the same, most likely they will be using it in a different way. Some people might even be using the exact same tools and even in the same order, but with completely different results. Knowledge recombination is a great tool to be creative.


5. Applications of recombining knowledge

As mentioned before, the result of recombining is not necessarily new knowledge, but it gives us a more solid starting point in a field that is new to us.

Knowledge recombination should be used as a tool that enhances our common sense. Imagine a ruler. Generally rulers are divided in centimeters and those in millimeters. But we know that we could subdivide it further into micrometers, nanometers, pico-meters and so on. Philosophy can also be applied and used the same way: from everyday situations to very complex and strongly meaningful human aspects.

For example, if we are going to take measurements of a table, we are probably going to do it in centimeters and millimeters, although we could use other measurement units (like micrometers or even kilometers), it is impractical and would make our job harder instead of focused to the goal at task which is to know the measurements of a specific object. But we can and will need these other measurement units to better measure the distance between two cities for example.

The same way we use the ruler, we should use the tools of philosophy for the correct situations, even the ones that are so adaptable like this one.
  • Knowledge recombination in learning:
    Imagine following a recipe for cooking at home, it may be structured in parts that individually you already know, but are combined in a way or sequence that is new for you. Or imagine following a tutorial which has a missing part between two steps. If enough contextual information is provided before and after what is missing, you could likely figure it and try it out. If you test what you came up to and it failed, even then you will have gathered new information which you can use to build up on and continue elaborating on the missing section until you succeed.

  • Knowledge recombination in chemistry:
    The periodic table of elements is a great example, it did not always exist in the form we know it now and probably it will continue to expand and evolve. Its structure allowed the prediction of specific elements that scientists knew existed but were unable to proof yet and it was even possible to predict the properties of those elements.

  • Knowledge recombination in inspiration:
    Citing references in an article is a form of knowledge recombination. When writing, our ideas are often a mindful reaction to what we read. In the build up towards our topic, we are putting pieces of information together in a new way, combining them to elaborate on new ideas. Other forms of inspiration also follow the same pattern, take an artist for example who might take inspiration from a past experience to create an abstract piece of art, or a designer who might take from nature the inspiration the develop the concept for a new product.

  • Knowledge recombination in communication:
    Communication is based on understanding, and understanding is an exercise needed each time we communicate. At the heart of that is knowledge recombination, be it a simple conversation of people from two different countries, or two people with a common mother tongue but with deeply divided opinions. Understanding each other requires to recombine the associations of ideas that we have (and consider to be true) in the way that the other person has combined them, each in their own mind. This does not mean to abandon what we believe to be true, it means that each person needs to build a two way bridge: our side with our way of reasoning and the other side with the reasoning logic of the other person. Only then we will find a connection between what each one of us is saying, from which point of view that comes from and from which context this is coming. And this needs to be done by both parties, only then there will be understanding, only then real communication is possible.

  • Knowledge recombination in languages:
    Let’s imagine we speak a second language. Thinking in different languages may lead us to different and new ideas. Each language has its own rules and brings with itself cultural aspects, idiosyncrasy of its habitants and elements of the folklore. All this combined will lay out different reasoning paths in our minds, shifting slightly the way of thinking in each language.

While reading a text in the learned language we could find a new word that we did not know before. Our brain will automatically try to understand it and find in our native vocabulary any similar word that makes sense in the context of that sentence.

In what language we think can also rearrange our knowledge. For example “knowing” is a term that is not used the exact same way in other languages. You can say I know someone but for example in spanish you say conozco a alguien, which means the same, but there is a distinction between “to know” and “conocer”. “Know” in spanish means “saber” (and viceversa) but you would not use to refer to someone. In that case in spanish you would say you know something about someone. In the case you want to translate the concept of knowing someone, in spanish you would say “conocer a alguien”, which translated to English would mean to meet someone.

Knowing two or more languages is a great way to train our brain to recombine knowledge, it will happen more naturally. Imagine we have a basic knowledge of a second language and we travel to that country and try to communicate with the locals. During a conversation we will eventually hit the limits of what we know in that second language. If we are not shy we will try to communicate anyway and maybe we will transfer grammatical sentences structures of our mother tongue and fill it wit words from the new language, recombining what we already know in our mother tongue and the second language.
Of course the grammatical rules of our mother tongue will not correspond to the ones from the other language, but it will give us a head start when trying to communicate. If we are lucky, the person we are talking to might recognize patterns in our speech and gestures that correspond to words and body language that he or she knows. If that person understands us, we will be witnessing a simultaneously parallel recombination of knowledge, happening on both sides of the conversation in each persons minds.


6. Conclusion

The reasoning process that involves Knowledge Recombination also leads us to important questions

Where do ideas come from? 
How much of the ideas that we consider to be our own are really our property?
Is there such a thing as originality? Are we confusing it with authenticity?

Knowledge recombination is a practice that happens naturally in our mind whether we recognize it or not. It starts when we hit the limits of our knowledge and the sources to expand it. It has its place together with what rationalists would consider a priori knowledge.

It can makes us wiser if the recombined knowledge is true. But even if it is false we should be able to learn why our assumption is wrong. Understanding that reason will teach us something that is true: the logic of why we were wrong before.

Actively recombining knowledge is a tool that helps us be more aware of the context we are in and be more mindful of our environment and the people in it. If we are smart enough, everything is information, everything is part of a major context. If we are aware of the context in which we are and the events that are happening, we should be able to understand the reasons why an object, a conversation, or even a look between two people is taking place at that certain moment, in that certain location.

No person should dare to affirm that their ideas are 100% original and their own. We are humans, from the moment our senses activate as newborns -or even before-, we are learning and we will act and think based on the knowledge acquired. We cannot escape the fact that we are always part of a context that influenced us first. And will always continue to mold and influence our ideas. 


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