Learned Knowledge and Uncertainty

What does knowledge and uncertainty have to do with how you view the physical world? It’s important to realize that not all knowledge is created equal. Some we know absolutely, much we are told are true, and more we learn are thought to be true.

Internal Worldview

The best way to see this relationship is to recognize the use of an internal worldview. We make decisions, not based on external reality, but on our view is of that external reality. That is the basis of our decision-making. We make choices from our internal worldview to satisfy our needs, desires, and fears. As discussed earlier, our internal worldview is intrinsically colored by biological imperatives. Social aspects also come into play.

The age at which you learn things makes a difference in your mental worldview. That is, not all pieces of your worldview are assembled according to the same dynamic. The influence of your family is paramount in your early years. The scope of their influence is strongest on the values you use in handle personal relationships. When peers rise in influence, their effect on you is circumscribed by weighing their truths against those you already have taken in. But peers will also give you facts and truths that were beyond the interests you learned in the family sphere. Similar effects will be noticed when teachers are involved and when you reach adulthood and intellectual freedom. More on this in Development to the Adult Mind.

Also, you know what you experienced directly as certified facts. Other things you know because family or friends have told you and yet other things are ideas built upon presumed facts by authorities you don’t know. For people that you know, you can assess how trustworthy you think their facts are. For authorities you don’t know, like teachers and media personalities, you have less clear sight on their accuracy and truthfulness. You may ignore the uncertainty in facts, explanations, and theories, but it is there.

We build our knowledge structure in a manner that recognizes our needs, desires, goals and fears.

Mental Worldview Components

Figure 5.1 Mental Worldview Components

Figure 5.1 Mental Worldview Components

A person’s internal worldview has three basic components (Figure 5.1).

  1. Memory of past experiences
  2. Imperatives. Your needs, desires, and goals
  3. Knowledge. Facts and their relationships, self-esteem, and empathy

Although knowledge is stored in memories, its aspect as the range of one’s understanding to be used in the apprehending of truth or fact through reasoning, merits knowledge to consideration independent of its storage mode.

Events and Perturbation

One’s worldview is usefully considered a steady state system with perturbations affecting it. The perturbations are current external physical reality.

  • New experiences are processed against one’s internal worldview.
  • The experiences are compared against our memory of the past.
  • They are assessed as to their ability to satisfy one’s needs, desires, and goals.
  • From one’s knowledge of relationships between events and consequences, various behavioral responses present themselves.
  • The behavioral response that maximizes the sum of one’s needs, drives, and goals is performed.
  • Depending on the behavior’s relative success in actually maximizing one’s satisfaction, a change may be induced in knowledge and perhaps even desires and goals. The change in a deeply held piece of knowledge or desire or goal can shake one’s worldview. Like an earthquake, rattling one’s faith in other pillars of belief.

Let’s consider the mental worldview components a step closer.


Figure 5.2 Memory contents

Figure 5.2 Memory contents

Mental Construction focuses on memories (see Figure 5.2) that are more processed. Facts and experienced events are the most obvious. These memories have features, usually are only partially recalled, and yet they may bring other memories to conscious awareness.

Memory.is not an exact video of past events. It is a personalized assessment of a past event, a weighing of features according to one’s interests and understanding. One’s needs, desires, and goals affect what we remember of events. One remembers what is important to one’s interests.

But let’s come back to memory. As Alan Baddeley says in Your Memory (p 10–11), discussing the physical basis of memory, the final aim of giving a physiological account of psychological facts.

… However, many of the claims for an understanding of the molecular basis of memory … have been shown to be premature. … There is no doubt progress is being made in this important area, and that one day there may be a very fruitful collaboration between the experimental psychologist and the neurochemist. Today, however, there is little area of overlap.


Overall Memory Structure

Figure 5.3 Memory Types. Sensory, Short-term, Long-term. More description in memory link

Figure 5.3 Memory Types

Memory in Figure 5.3 arranges the various types of memory into a hierarchical structure.

  • Sensory memory has three main subsystems. Sensory data can have a lag of 1/2 second or more until it is registered by the brain. These subsystems retain that much sensory input supporting continuity of sensation as well as allowing attention (or inattention) to further analysis.
    • Visual sketchpad
    • Phonological loop
    • Haptic (touch)
  • Short-term and working memory may or may not be the same thing.
    • Short-term memory is the gateway to eventual long-term memory.
    • Working memory provides the arena for a number of thoughts, facts, and theories to be considered together.
  • Long-term memory is what is commonly referred to as memory. It has its own distinct components.
    • Explicit memory (declarative memory) is the repository of consciously remembered facts.
      • Episodic memory contains memories of our life events.
      • Semantic memory is store of our learned facts, concepts, theories, etc.
    • Implicit Memory (procedural memory) holds the skills of routine behaviors and tasks we have mastered. Tying our shoes or riding a bike without conscious attention to the activity are examples of using procedural memory.

Baddeley’s <i>Your Memory</i> discusses thoroughly sensory-staging and procedural task memory.

Torkel Klingberg in The Overflowing Brain draws a clear connection between working memory and intelligence in his book, subtitled Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory.


Figure 5.4 Knowledge

Figure 5.4 Knowledge

All knowledge (Figure 5.4) is not created equal. Events that one personally experiences are known with perfect assurance (with the caveat that explanations and reasons for those events may be improperly grasped), but the fact the events occurred is never in doubt.

A second layer of knowledge comes of events related by those that one knows—family members, friends, fellow employees, and so on. Because of shared experiences, one can make an assessment of the reliability of the events as related by comparison of how the shared experiences were described.

The final source of knowledge emanates  from authorities—academic, media, heroes. Competing theories are used to explain facts and reality. One must decide which theory to embrace. Teachers, from kindergarten through professional schools, explain the world and the relation between events. Much of the reported events one has to take on faith. The explanations and predictions make sense, if you believe the facts and their relationships. One develops a sense of which academic authorities to believe. A similar process is necessary in dealing with media for news, politics, and economics. Typically one does not know the events by direct observation nor are they related by someone they share personal experiences with. With time, one develops a feeling for which media authority to believe and by how much.

The possibility that inconvenient but pertinent facts may not be acknowledged in the propounding of a theory – interpersonal, scientific, economic, or political – is another cause for skepticism on knowledge disseminated by authority.

3S Imperatives

Figure 5.5 3S mperatives give rise to needs and goals shown in emotions and personality

Figure 5.5 3S Imperatives

The 3S imperatives shape our internal worldview (Figure 5.5) by slanting our awareness and attention to fulfilling their bidding.

Satiety is the satisfaction of the physical needs of our body. It originates in the biological drive for homeostasis, an automatic search for the level of bio-chemical ions that results in the organism flourishing. Our needs are an abstraction of the vast combinations of homeostatic and environmental situations we find ourselves in. Each choice can only satisfy some of the many calls our body demands on us.

Sex first arose as a motive force for behavioral choices more than 1 billion years ago. If Satiety is not demanding immediate action,  sexual desire can direct our interest and action. It can banish from our immediate awareness cautions that memory may have available. This causes a need and with memory a goal.

As memory became a feature of higher animals, the link between behavior and reaction developed. Behaviors with bad results could be learned to be avoided. The desire for safety became flight-or-fight, a feature of decision making. Other behaviors resulted in positive responses.

Emotions result from choosing a behavior that maximizies the sum of the 3S imperatives, constrained by the limit that only one behavior can be chosen. Usually the 3S Imperatives are each, only partly, satisfied.

Personality is the semi-stable emotional collection of behavioral responses we make from the choices available. The strengths of the 3S’s in an individual are relative stable as is the physical context these days. This leads to a routine selection of certain behavior responses, personality traits.

However, sometimes the behavior chosen fulfills one imperative and frustrates one or both of the others. That is upsetting and reverberates in our mental worldview, resulting in adjustments to the importance we attach to related content.

An interesting view of the role of 3S imperatives id made fictionally in “Alien Sofa.”

Level of Knowledge and Uncertainty

As mentioned, all knowledge is not the same in a truth value sense. Some facts, such as remembering that you hated tomatoes when you were five, are much more certain than your belief that the Roman Empire fell because of barbarian raids.

Figure 5.5 Knowledge and uncertainty. Immediate, observed, and remote knowledge

Figure 5.5 Knowledge and uncertainty

Take a minute to look at the separation of knowledge represented in Figure 5.5. Because the stages occur sequentially, they build upon the earlier stages. I’m obviously simplifying to elucidate their relationship. Of course, primary information continues to accrue while we are learning language, interacting with our peers, and digesting other people’s ideas, but the older, deeper, more immediate the knowledge the more difficult it is for a later stage to dislodge it.

I’m sure if I wrote the following bullet points in complete sentences, some would like it better; however, let’s see if the organization of information can fruitfully substitute for verbal connectives in this case.

  • Primary. Immediate. You experienced it
    • Knowledge of self. Wants, needs, likelihood of satisfaction
    • Firm knowledge. Positive aspects of your experiences, despite partial and idiosyncratic factors
  • Secondary. Limited. Told by person you have shared experiences with
    • Knowledge from others
    • Pretty sure. Through direct experience, you know who exaggerates, who underplays
  • Tertiary. Societal. Observed and instructed by society, academia, and media
    • Knowledge of how things are linked together. Explanations of the past, predictions of the future
    • Some theories and facts you can’t evaluate directly. You must decide which authorities you will trust

As we get further from personal experience, we have progressively less confidence in the knowledge we gain. Yet we still have to act. If some knowledge helps us decide to act now, our uncertainties have been brushed aside. Only in that sense can we treat that knowledge as absolutely true.

Linguistic Items

Figure 5.6 Language categorization of reality

Figure 5.6 Language categorization of reality


As we learn language, words become building blocks that we use to understand and describe the world. In Figure 5.6, different words are used in different languages for the same object. Here the fundamental observation is that, no matter the language, words shape our internal worldview (Weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). In the top example, English speakers can store information about a group of trees, a cord of logs, and lumberyard finished products with the same word wood. With additional words we can delineate the objects. However, we shouldn’t forget that the funnel of working memory constrains us to some 7 to 10 elements at a time. Thus, when some of that capacity is reserved for description, less is available for logical deduction. One’s language affects the usage of working memory.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that we use the term “fact” in several contexts, thereby obscuring the uncertainty and subjectivity of the knowledge. This greatly impacts discussions in which contentious positions exist. Facts need to be distinguished from explanations, evaluations, and predictions.


Investigating decision-making is a goal of Mental Construction. Decision-making reveals one’s ethical system, implicit though it may be. Lawrence Kohlberg developed a system of ethical development, the fundamental element is that one’s moral system is not static. I’ve defined into ethical stages aligned with the age stages used in Development of the Adult Mind.

  1. Birth to language acquisition. Does it feel good or does it feel bad? (pleasure principle)
  2. Language to personal memory. Is one punished or rewarded for the action? (might makes right)
  3. Personal awareness to puberty. Does neighborhood allow it? (permissive)
  4. Teen to early independence. Do society’s rules allow it? (logical)
  5. First responsibility to brain’s full operation (late 20s). Do rules align with stated purposes and goals? (independent)

These are the stages in order. Not everyone goes through all five ethical stages. Many are satisfied with their results at an earlier stage. The moral stage we are in when we acquire certain knowledge affects how we us the 3S imperatives in developing worldview.

Next, we go to neural connections where you will see that, by their very nature, neurons force internal order upon an unruly reality.


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