an attribution made by an observer

What is this “thing” we refer to as “knowledge”? 

Once again, if one changes the question from asking what knowledge IS to what we DO when we claim someone  “knows” something, what we see as an answer shifts.  Instead of looking at the result, we are looking for the process.  Instead of looking outside ourselves, we are looking at what we do; namely we are taking a responsible stance.

This is just one of the things I deeply appreciate from my learnings with Humberto Maturana.  He said (paraphrased from lecture notes) that: “Knowledge is an attribution made by an observer who claims that he or she sees adequate conduct in some domain of relations and actions.”

Thus when we look at the robin in our garden, we can claim that it knows how to fly, how to find its food, how to build a nest and raise its young.  Its conduct is adequate for this.  Similarly if we want to know whether a child can add, we observe what he or she does.  You can’t tell without observing, and further, it is you who is responsible for making that attribution, whether or not you phrase it or in your emotioning live it as an “evaluation”.     This understanding of what “knowing” comprises as a relation is what led Kathleen Forsythe to develop the concept of “Observing for Learning” ... way back in the early 90’s.

how i know you

We attribute knowledge without explicitly thinking about it all the time. 

We consider ourselves as capable in some ways, that is we “know” how to do some things, and don’t know how to do others.  When someone is able to do something with apparent ease and with great subtlety, then we attribute them with “expert knowledge.”  And often we require dimensionality in their knowledge; a doctor with only textbook knowledge, or even only clinical knowledge is not considered as “knowledgeable” as one who makes people well; taking into account the whole person and how they live their lives.

This is another reason, of course, that “tests” can be so inadequate; they are always constrained as to the dimensionality that is being considered.  And this is why modes of learning from others such as apprenticeship and mentoring enable so much more dimensionality, and integration among dimensions.

Wikimedia commons

the story of Hans

the counting horse