The Echoes of the Mind – Knowledge


“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours.” ~ English writer Arnold Bennett

Knowledge is mentally organized information believed to be true. In other words, knowledge is a related body of facts in one’s mental grasp. Knowledge is not so much an amassing of facts as it is a contextual compendium of entangled information.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” ~ Socrates


The proper object of unqualified scientific knowledge is something which cannot be other than it is. ~ Aristotle

A fact is recall of an experienced event. Having gone through perception, most notably the pruning process of categorization, a fact is necessarily a subjective interpretation, its recall a sketch.

Knowledge is rooted in fact. Fact and knowledge are both invariably wrapped in a worldview. Knowledge may be refutable, as it is rather easy to get facts wrong. Beyond factual error, knowledge as truth is a chimera.

The notion of objective is something having independence in its existence. Because all we ever experience is subjective, we have no way of knowing whether something is objective. That others agree with us is a shared subjectivity, not objectivity.

Knowledge is an informed perspective, not an unalloyed truth. Most saliently, the purpose of knowledge is not truth, but utility: information which may put to some use, even if only enjoyment.

The Aristotelian ideal of scientific knowledge is a fiction. The truth is never what appears before us: we do not experience the entanglement of energies which emergently fabricate Nature, which is the exhibition of existence. Instead, we’re stuck in a world of objects, pretending them to be real.

All this is the play of concepts. It is all mental entertainment. Truth is the state beyond concepts. ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj


People are terribly gullible. It stems from being social creatures who get an innate dose of trust to be gregarious. Cynicism is not a social grace.

1st, people have a general bias to believe that things are true. (After all, most things that we read or hear are true.) We initially process all statements as true and it then takes cognitive effort to mentally mark them as false. 2nd, people tend to accept information as long as it’s close enough to the correct information. To maintain conversations, we need to go with the flow – accept information that is “good enough” and move on. ~ American psychologist Lisa Fazio


Broadly, there are 2 types of knowledge: phenomenal (knowing what) and procedural (knowing how).

Knowledge is structured in schemas. A schema is a malleable mental model based upon experience and other learning. Schemas describe general characteristics which vary in particulars.

A script is a schema for events. Mental procedures that translate into “how to” are scripts. Scripts foretell what behaviors are appropriate in situations.

A script is a hypothesized cognitive structure that when activated organizes comprehension of event-based situations. ~ American psychologist Robert Abelson

A frame is a schema about an environment, including its experienced or anticipated variants.

A frame is a structure for representing a stereotyped situation. Think of a frame as a network of nodes and relations. ~ American cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky

Frames and scripts combine into schemas which form the basis for adept cognition and behaviors, including creativity.

Illusion of Knowledge

The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge. ~ American historian Daniel Boorstin

Almost everyone thinks they know more than they do. The illusion of knowledge is strong.

An easy experiment proves the point. Participants are asked to rate their understanding of something, then to write a detailed account of it; then rate their understanding again. Self-assessment invariably drops.

Instruction is the elucidation of known concepts to someone who does not know them, a process which necessitates mentalizing a specific state of ignorance. One of the difficulties in teaching is the curse of knowledge: people who know something have a hard time imagining that someone else does not know it too. The illusion of knowledge is the converse: people think they know something because someone else does.


We apprehend only what we already half know. ~ American author Henry David Thoreau

Learning is the process of acquiring information and depositing it into memory. Learning is the process of acquiring information and conceptualizing it, which involves correlating patterns that stem from phenomena. Information which is valued is termed knowledge. Knowledge is commonly acquired through observation or inference, but one may directly apprehend via intuition. While learning often results in new concepts, it may alternately fortify or disabuse existing concepts.

Abstract knowledge is built analogically from more experience-based knowledge. ~ Belarusian cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky et al

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Ours is primarily a visual and visceral world. Primates more readily learn from visual and tactile experiences than from audition.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. ~ Chinese proverb

This bias partly owes to these media convincing us that the world is ‘real’ (as opposed to an elaborate ruse). Contrastingly, sounds are not experienced as embodied.

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Intent to learn does not directly compel memory encoding. Facts must be pounded in by repetition, but not repetitively. Lessons are best learned by being mixed in with other activities. Forgetting reinforces learning.

Forgetting is the friend of learning. ~ American psychologist Nate Kornell

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With motor skills, trial and error is an integral part of human learning.

In learning a new motor task, there appear to be two processes happening at once. One is the learning of the motor commands in the task, and the other is critiquing the learning, much the way a ‘coach’ behaves. This second process leaves a memory of the errors that were experienced during the training, so the re-experience of those errors makes the learning go faster. ~ Iranian cognitive scientist Reza Shadmehr

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All learning has an emotional base. ~ Plato

A key to learning is attaching import. Even very simple pieces of information may be beyond recall if there is no expectation that they will be needed again.

We learn through our senses, even if the experience is only seeing written symbols. Tangible expression facilitates retention.

Learning represents an incremental evolution which accumulates through experience: at first, in relation to already-known concepts, but which then may be refined through usage and application, such that once-novel ideas become self-standing.


Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning. ~ American writer William Arthur Ward

Curiosity is key to knowledge acquisition, as it recruits the reward system, sparking enough emotion to grease the gears of memory.

Curiosity is the lust of the mind. ~ Thomas Hobbes

Curiosity is an innate exploratory drive, known to be common in other animals. Curiosity is an essential tool for understanding the world.

Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect. ~ English writer Samuel Johnson

The limits of curiosity are sometimes constrained by cultural and moral considerations. But humans do not necessarily hew to cultural norms, nor let morality stand in the way of their own curiosity. The science of anatomy would have never got far without dissecting corpses, which contravened mores in many cultures.

There are 3 types of curiosity: diverting, technical, and empathic. Each is driven by a distinct desire.

An urge for the new and novel is diverting curiosity, which is the curiosity that propels us in trivial pursuit of stimulation. Diverting curiosity is the font from which mass media draw in entertaining their audiences.

Propelling science and technology, technical curiosity is the desire to understand how things work. Jean Piaget proposed that technical curiosity is provoked when perceiving an incongruity between what is expected and what happens. According to Piaget, curiosity correlates with surprise. Curiosity reaches an apex when a violation of expectation causes considerable surprise, but not so much that the implications of discovery are scary.

In 1994, George Loewenstein combined the theories of curiosity as innate and motivated by surprise to suggest that curiosity arises in response to an information gap. We become curious about something when there is a gulf between what we know and what we want to know.

Curiosity is the gatekeeper of the knowledge we choose to absorb. ~Celeste Kidd

Information gaps are not just recognized rationally. Hence, curiosity has been called “the knowledge emotion.”

It’s not just incongruity that grabs our attention. It’s the desire to learn what we do not understand. Information fuels curiosity by creating an awareness of ignorance, which builds the desire to know more.

Uncertainty – when you think you know something and discover you don’t – leads to the most curiosity and learning. ~ Celeste Kidd

Adults tend not to be curious about things of which they know nothing. A glimmer of familiarity is needed to spark curiosity.

Even a tiny, initial clue which, by allowing us to imagine what we do not know, stimulates a desire for knowledge. ~ Marcel Proust

Overconfidence, which is widespread in adults, dampens curiosity. Hence, children are more curious than adults for more than just information gaps.

Empathic curiosity is about the nature of mentation. Aiming to understand psychology comes from empathic curiosity, motivated by a desire for control (both to rid oneself of internal dissonance and to bend others to one’s will), and out of compassion.

Empathic and technical curiosity are closely related. Whereas technical curiosity is “hard” science, empathic is “soft.” Yet, of the two, empathic is more important, as it is the basis for essential social skills. Technical curiosity leads one to know about stuff. In contrast, empathic curiosity impels understanding the stuffing of which we are made. Together, empathic and technical curiosities bring meaning to life.

The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care much. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is. ~ English writer Stephen Fry

The strength of curiosity may be kindled or tamped down during upbringing. It is an essential characteristic of good parenting to engender curiosity, despite the toll on patience that such a course may take.

Curiosity is contagious. So is incuriosity. ~ English writer Ian Leslie

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To be curious about that which is not one’s concern while still in ignorance of oneself is ridiculous. ~ Plato

In ancient Athens, curiositas was esteemed for parching the thirst for knowledge. Plato aside, satisfying curiosity for its own sake was considered a worthwhile endeavor.

Roman philosophers inherited this purist conception of curiosity. Cicero saw curiosity as “an innate love of learning and of knowledge.”

From the Dark Ages for centuries to come, the Catholic Church was apprehensive about inquisitiveness. Augustine of Hippo referred to “this disease of curiosity.” Augustine considered curiosity pointless, perverted, and prideful.

900 years later, Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas, under the sway of Aristotle, was more lenient. While agreeing with Augustine that “a superficial dwelling on the object” was sinful, curiosity aimed at “knowledge of the truth of Creation” was laudable.

However much it abounds, knowledge of the truth is not bad, but good. ~ Thomas Aquinas

The spark for the Age of Enlightenment came from Gutenberg’s 15th century printing press, which was essentially a curiosity machine: corroding old certainties by facilitating the spread and exchange of ideas.

The Uncanny

That which is “uncanny” is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar. ~ Sigmund Freud

We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere. ~ American psychologist Travis Proulx

The mind savors security. Anomalies are demanding invitations to the mind to play its favorite game: making sense of the world which presents itself. Facing the uncanny, the mind ratchets itself into a higher gear: looking for patterns in which to fit the discovered oddity. Because of this, learning is facilitated by indulging in a bit of absurdity. Experiment participants do better finding difficult-to-discern patterns when the task is interrupted by reading an absurd text, as contrasted to a sample of sensible prose.

In the meantime, the mind reassures itself. When affronted with the unfamiliar, the mind seeks solace in the comfortable.

The Collective cling to their personal biases when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, people become more patriotic, more religious, and less tolerant of outsiders. Those insulted profess more loyalty to friends. Students who do poorly on a test identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.

People in the grip of the uncanny tend to perceive patterns where none exist (apophenia): becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, among other inclinations. The internal urge for order satisfies itself, regardless of evidentiary quality.

Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. ~ Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard


Intuition is the clear conception of the whole at once. ~ Swiss poet Johann Kaspar Lavater

Logic is linear. Circumscribed by conscious information, logic has limited bandwidth and runs off the road at the curves of inconsistency. In contrast, because it can incorporate implicit memory, intuition is knowledge at its fruition.

Sometimes we intuitively feel what we do not know we know. ~ David Myers

Along with cognitive information, emotions and biases filter into intuitions, particularly when appraising other people or social situations. Harnessed to desire, intuition is a primary driver of social behaviors.

With woman the powers of intuition are more strongly marked than in man. ~ Charles Darwin

With empathy coming naturally, women are typically more comfortable relying upon their intuition than men, who often prefer to think things through (or at least make an attempt at doing so). This is a major reason why females are more cooperative than males.

Intuition supports cooperation in social dilemmas. Reflection can undermine these cooperative impulses. ~ American psychologist David Rand et al

Assessments and actions relating to moral judgments are guided by intuition. Visceral reaction – gut instinct – is intuition in flash form.

An innate sense that logic is somehow lacking means that people often heed spontaneous thoughts over reasoning.

People believe, precisely because they are not controlled, that spontaneous thoughts reveal more meaningful insight into their own mind – their beliefs, attitudes, and preferences – than similar, deliberate thoughts. ~ Carey Morewedge

Insight is intuition. Comprehension of the associations among concepts is a fruit of intuition, especially those that seem logically disparate.

The mind of man is more intuitive than logical, and comprehends more than it can coordinate. ~ French writer Luc de Clapiers

Experimental evidence indicates that intuition often provides correct answers to challenging problems; or, at least, is more likely to be correct than deliberate reasoning.

The operational point is that the best way to solve a complex problem is to consciously give the mind a specific assignment, and then let it chew away subconsciously until it comes up with the answer. In contrast, conscious deliberation is 2nd-rate.

Don’t try to comprehend with your mind. Minds are very limited. Use your intuition. ~ American writer Madeleine L’Engle

Reliance on intuition has moral ramifications. As cognition is the road to rationalization, those prone to trust their intuition are more trustworthy.

Moral judgments are intuitive. ~ American social psychologist Richard Patterson et al


Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. ~ Aristotle

To know oneself requires understanding the proclivities of one’s own mind, and how they relate to the inner environment (worldview), and the outside world (social behaviors).

Living is, at its best, an interactive exercise of entertainment, albeit with incurred responsibilities. All that one needs to know about oneself is what further education is needed, and what limitations and fallibilities one has. By comprehending these, enjoyment may be maximized, by averting or overcoming inner obstacles. Focus upon the self as a being of some significance is nothing but ignorant arrogance.

As an altricial, gregarious species, our lives are filled with conspecific encounters. Solitude is an island of social respite in an ocean of interpersonal interactions.

Yet most people find solitude unsettling rather than solace, as nattermind preys upon them. That is because their inner self is unmastered; the most essential skill unacquired.

All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. ~ Blaise Pascal

Comprehending mental ecology requires disciplined silence in watching oneself: to become a dissociated witness of the mind.

The most important encounter in life is the encounter with oneself. ~ French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent

One can only hope to understand others after discovering what makes oneself tick and finding decent clockwork. A moral compass and recognition of living as a work in progress is both necessary and sufficient.

If you can get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. ~ German guru Eckhart Tolle

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Most people readily acknowledge the importance of self-knowledge. Few attain it.

Given that many important choices and decisions are based on people’s beliefs about what they will do in the future, errors in self prediction can be costly. ~ Canadian psychologist Connie Poon et al

Psychologists examine self-knowledge and psychological biases via correspondence between stated prediction and actual behavior. Though some people are consistent, most are not.

When people predict their future behavior, they tend to place too much weight on their current intentions, which produces an optimistic bias. ~ Connie Poon et al

People typically think that they know who they are. This supposition of self-knowledge is belied by innumerable studies that show otherwise.

Overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or master, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought. ~ American psychologists Shelley Taylor & Jonathon Brown

People generally think that they are more altruistic than they really are; the same applies to behaving according to announced moral standards.

Even cooperation is overestimated. In one experiment where participants could make money, 84% predicted that they would cooperate for mutual gain, but only 61% did.

Like fine wine, most people believe that they have improved with age. Alas, the dust on the bottle is of scant value to being more interesting, competent, tolerant, or socially-adept. That dust clouds reliable memory for the sake of self-esteem in the face of decline.

People can maintain their typically favorable self-regard by disparaging their distant and complimenting their recent past selves. ~ Canadian psychologists Anne Wilson & Michael Ross

Another esteem-enhancing bias is believing in one’s own consistency in character and beliefs.

It is all too common for caterpillars to become butterflies and then to maintain that in their youth they had been little butterflies. Maturation makes liars of us all. ~ American psychiatrist George Vaillant

Internal incongruity creates a paradox for the mind. To preclude this needless vexation, memories are massaged to maintain continuity with present attitudes and beliefs.

The tendency of the mind to conform memory recall with the present applies to emotions. Under the nostalgia effect, emotional memories of positive events become rosier over time. Romantic relationships may flourish or wither in the mind. Either way, the past is painted to conform with one’s current status.

The worse your current view of your partner is, the worse your memories are, which only further confirms your negative attitudes. ~ American psychologists Diane Holmberg & John Holmes

If asked to pick snacks for several weeks ahead, people choose a variety. But if asked week by week, they select their favorite most every time. The difference between the two is uncertainty over future preferences.

People do not realize that their self-knowledge is a construction, and fail to recognize that they possess a vast adaptive unconscious that operates out of their conscious awareness. ~ American social psychologist Timothy Wilson

Only 15% of occasional smokers predict they will still be smoking 5 years hence. Even people who have smoked for 20 years, or tried quitting 10 times or more, think they will quit within the next year. Behind the self-deception of their convictions is the addictive drag of nicotine, which is underestimated, despite knowing better.

People are worse at making specific predictions about how they will behave than they are at predicting how other people will behave. ~ Timothy Wilson

People suffer a dissonance in knowing themselves: between what they are and what they wish themselves to be. Recognizing the weaknesses and inadequacies in oneself can be a bitter pill. Self-delusion is self-esteem self-protection.

We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves. ~ Blaise Pascal

Chronic repression is the fuel of the psychology business. Freud was simply an early appreciator of the checkered flag that waves us through life, driving a psychic beat-up old Ford while thinking we are behind the wheel of a shiny late-model BMW.

We sometimes delude ourselves that we proceed in a rational manner and weigh all the pros and cons of the various alternatives. But this is probably seldom the actual case. Quite often, ‘I decided in favor of X’ is no more than ‘I liked X.’

We buy the cars we ‘like,’ choose the jobs and houses we find ‘attractive,’ and then justify these choices by various reasons. ~ Polish American social psychologist Robert Zajonc


Doubt everything or believe everything: these are two equally convenient strategies. With either we dispense with the need for reflection. ~ Henri Poincaré

That psychology as a discipline exists testifies to the fact that the mind itself is subject to self-examination.

Mindfulness is ongoing awareness of one’s own mental states. More probing than self-witnessing is metacognition: the process of reflectively examining one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Our moment-to-moment judgments of the outside world are often subject to introspective interrogation. Insight into our own thoughts, or metacognition, is key to high achievement in all domains. ~ English cognitive scientist Stephen Fleming

How recent an evolutionary adaptation introspection is for hominins remains uncertain. We know next to nothing about the introspective abilities of other organisms beyond that animals and plants possess proprioception, which is the physiological analogue of introspection.

Aristotle pondered metacognition. Understanding that the conscious mind is the tip of the mental iceberg, Sigmund Freud found that excavational introspection could unearth hidden motivations.

Introspection provides an intimate look into the deepest parts of ourselves, apparently revealing truths about our mental processes that simply cannot be identified any other way. ~ Nicholas Epley & Adam Waytz

Introspection is useful for examining one’s knowledge shortcomings, and comprehending the bases for decisions, thereby improving decision-making. Metacognition can also be used to suss motivations, via honest inquiry into the nature of desires.

Witnessing is natural and no problem. The problem is excessive interest, leading to self-identification. Whatever you are engrossed in you take to be real. ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

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That introspection is even possible is controversial.

People have no direct access to higher order mental processes. ~ American social psychologists Richard Nisbett & Timothy Wilson

One reason to deny that introspection is possible is that people are often unable to accurately report on the stimuli and factors that led to decision-based behaviors.

Ask someone why they did something, and a truthful response is seldom forthcoming. Rather than acknowledge a lack of insight – or worse, admitting socially-unacceptable motivations – confabulations that serve as plausible explanations are common. There are 2 reasons for everything: the reason people give, and the real reason. (This observation has been variously attributed to American financier J.P. Morgan, American president Teddy Roosevelt, and others.)

A causal theory is a guess about the thought process behind an act. Causal theories may serve to justify a behavior to avoid cognitive dissonance.

There is a strong motivation to believe in introspection, as it provides a sense of self-control and predictability. It is a frightening prospect to consider that one cannot know one’s own mind.

An unexamined life is not worth living. ~ Socrates

Many people do live unexamined lives: their motivations a mystery to themselves. But to conclude that introspection is impossible because some people are not practiced at it goes too far.

To regularly witness one’s one thinking – mindfulness – requires both will and skill, and a relatively quiet mind. A cluttered mind cannot hear itself, because there is too much ruckus. Most people have noisy minds; hence their discomfort with solitude.

Metacognition is non-trivial in its implications. People generally tend toward a degree of selfishness, self-indulgence, and cognitive dissonance that would be unsettling to discover. Only those willing to accept their foibles and change the concepts which control them are fruitful candidates for introspection when the need arises. (Mindfulness is not meditation and is ill-advised. The mind is full enough of itself without watching it run wild.)

The only thoughts worthy of introspection are those which lead to misunderstanding or bad behavior. Otherwise, awareness to the present moment, and actions which are life-affirming for all concerned, is all one needs.

Self-knowledge is less a matter of careful introspection than of becoming an excellent observer of oneself. ~ Timothy Wilson