The Common Instruments of Knowledge

Francis Bacon insisted we must question everything and arrive at our knowledge through our grappling with first principles built on experience and engagement of the ‘thing itself’ – a commons which we all draw upon.

Brilliant art I found but cant identify the artist
Brilliant art I found but cant identify the artist


Observation and direct involvement with the thing in itself is our only universal anchor point on knowledge; a discussion of Russell’s paradox would be useful here. In his work – Novum Organon – the New Instrument, that he lays out his thinking of how we arrive at knowledge; gnosis; siens (words I use to broaden the sense of what we are working with).


It is in the opening to this book that he sparks a tinder to at once acknowledge the ancient thinkers and to build from them:


“The more ancient of the Greeks took up with better judgment a position between these two extremes; between the presumption of pronouncing on everything, and the despair of comprehending anything;


and though frequently and bitterly complaining of the difficulty of inquiry and the obscurity of things, like impatient horses champing at the bit, they did not the less follow up their object and engage with nature, thinking that this very question, whether or not anything can be known, was to be settled not by arguing, but by trying.


And yet they too, trusting entirely to the force of their understanding, applied no rule, but made everything turn upon hard thinking and perpetual working and exercise of the mind.”

Francis Bacon, Preface to Novum Organon.


This quotation for me underlines the essential nature of action as method. In formulating the idea of a common sense of things, I consider the instruments which we commonly use to arrive at an understanding of experience which is shared.


In its most primary sense, this text which I have been developing holds that the first and absolute common instrument of attaining knowledge is that “there is a phenomenon on which we can orienteer to develop a shared understanding” – the Aleph Set articulated within.


The claim that such phenomena exist and the acceptance of a-priori expressions will be dealt with in a later text on pragmatics, and the function of faith in the utility of reason. The common instrument is the ‘thing-in-itself’ – a thought-filled phrase for exercising and engaging in the first principles of the reality we encounter.


What common instruments do we use to come to know something ?


Here I use Gorgias’ Trident to create a framework for discussion: to recap… Regarding knowledge of the external world: There is a gap between objects and the mind, and another gap between the mind’s knowledge and the language which would express it. We must contend with the relative and the process of communing. Gorgias believed that these gaps are unbridgeable, but here I propose that we can bridge them and regularly do so by dint of our nature and inherent construction.


Thus two points are focused on here:

  • Firstly there is the phenomena and the self with the divide between, of which we must overcome.
  • Second there is the self and the other and the barrier between, where we must formulate language and communicate that knowledge out to others.


Western philosophy has been very occupied with the analysis of the first divide Gorgias proposes – the barrier between the ‘thing-in-itself’ and the self – the gap between the noumenal world of ideas and the phenomenal world of the senses. Thus Gorgias precedes Emmanuel Kant’s position on the Ding An Sich, Thing In Itself, Thing As Such, Thing Per Se… Extensive discussions and perspectives have been formed around this where examining the role of the senses and sense perception in identifying the encountered phenomenon has taken primacy.


The discourse often shifts in the contended terrain and leaves the ‘self’ on one side (receiving) of an artifice of abstract expression and where the nature of the phenomenon is left on the other (transmitting). Hence we are left with sense impressions and different schemes attempting to neatly abstract and parcel information into categories for example visual, auditory, tactility, olfactory, and gustatory.


There are various disputes about the usefulness and ‘realness’ or dependability of the subjective sense impressions. As we know they can be deceptive when compared with collocated data sets – and a quest for the objective; interpretation of information from beyond our sense impression requires careful logical scrutiny for self fulfilling thought forms, creation of fatalisms over utility, and strange loops (also called tangled hierarchy consciousness).


This problem is regularly formulated into a reductive dichotomy, as is often the bent of dualistic philosophy. By taking an inclusive (Aleph) perspective where the subject is a part of the object, it creates a relational scaffolding which enables the approaching of defining and subsequent bridging of the barriers which exist.


To say that sometimes the sense impressions turn out to be wrong and adopt the position that ‘all subjective understandings must be unreliable’ is as an unacceptable logical ‘fallacy from error’ – i.e. my senses turned out to be incorrect previously, this is not to say that my senses only provide incorrect information. Robert Anton Wilson approaches this by quoting axioms such as ‘the map is not the territory’, ‘the menu is not the food’.

Arthur W G Kingsbury
Arthur W G Kingsbury


To illustrate the folly of ‘fallacy from error’ and how to deal with this predicament, the problem created in the geological sciences by Arthur W. G. Kingsbury is particularly useful here. The only regular solution is to make direct observations of the phenomena to adjust and map the noumenal world through appeal to the instruments we have available to us.


At the time of his death in 1968, Arthur Kingsbury was a leading authority on British minerals. Despite his considerable practical and intellectual accomplishments, Kingsbury’s reputation was tarnished by the fact that he had falsified many of the localities of where he had found certain mineral samples through fieldwork.


These fabricated results were homogenised in the collections (fake specimens were mixed with diligently obtained specimens) making it hard (post discovery of this fact) to know which were ‘true’ field discoveries and which were ‘false’.


Kingsbury’s claimed occurrences of species new to Britain, of species from new British localities, and of unusually fine specimens from known British localities, must be regarded as doubtful unless independently confirmed. This draws into focus a number of the problems we encounter with establishing increasingly reliable knowledge in an unknown universe, and indicates how we move through this tension.

[With special thanks to Scott Porter of the Scottish Mineral and Lapidary Club for helping clarify this intriguing history on Kingsbury]


Connecting with the Other: Resolution Through Engagement

Whichever way we approach the problem of the senses and experience if we accept that we cannot get away from the senses or look from outside the universe onto the universe, it is a problem which requires an article of faith to get beyond an immobility of thought, if not an article of logic. Without each we contend with solipsism or cynicism as results of the chaotic problem of deferral.


For the sake of utility we must use an article of faith – an a priori assumption as a ‘theoretical particle of thought’ to increase our means of knowing. Using a Spinozan formulation as such an article we are in a position to increase our means of knowing in a process: that enables us to come to know something…


To deal with Gorgias’ divides which he suggests are insurmountable, I postulate here that we can come to know things phenomenal and noumenal, and that this constitutes a critical part of existence. I start from a utilitarian assumption that we can know something. Dealing with Descartes’ ‘demon’ by Spinoza’s subject/object Aleph Set – we can know the thing in itself for we are a part of the thing (in) itself. To the best of our knowledge we are tangled in every sense with the universe beyond our ‘senses’ and are by logical and eternal default an expression of it.


Therefore, it is claimed, we have the capability of understanding by virtue of our sentience, the state of the universe through empathy and observation of our own nature and others’. The logical rationale borrows from a part of the set Spinoza lays out in his ethics; analogical to this is the physics model of quantum entanglement which expresses inherent interconnectedness in and amongst the infinite and inclusive set of the universe; our material having come from and remained a part of a singularity.


Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza’s Formulation; God’s intoxicated man…

A short outline of the algebraic conception of Baruch Spinoza’s attempt to discuss the concept of ‘God’ provides helpful frameworks to understand infinities, never ending sets, and relationships amongst them – as we can find in the work of the mathematician Godel. The following borrows from Spinoza’s work ‘Ethics’ where he attempts to explain the nature and properties of God (here ‘the universe’ is substituted).


Spinoza shows that ‘it necessarily exists, that it is one: that the universe is, and acts solely by the necessity of it’s own nature; that it is the free cause of all things, and how it is so; that all things are in the universe, and so depend on the universe, that without it they could neither exist nor be conceived; lastly, that all things are predetermined by the universe, not through free will or absolute fiat, but from the very nature of God or infinite power of existence.’


This becomes useful by the treatment of language I have used – changing words from God to Universe, and so forth; thus the motion of moving to, from and between the language sets illustrates the most helpful models which we might understand as common to all people and their experience.

A Priori Article of Reason

Here, this section of debate will finish with a brief examination of the problem in an operational mode exemplified by a simple thought experiment, so as to deal with the statement of ‘can I know something?’ and examine the determinisms of each position of language:


If I believe I can come to know something, I will attempt the feat and invest my being in the process. Thus accumulating greater perspectives on the road. To increasingly reliable knowledge, on the way passing previous markers and goals. However, If I believe that I cannot come to know something, I will not invest in the process of exploring and gathering. Sense impressions sufficient to delineate the phenomena. There I will not achieve for I give up the process of gathering.


Is It Knowledge if I cannot Confer It ?

The second part of Georgias’ trident (the gap between objects and the mind, and the gap between the mind’s knowledge and the language which would express it) is where the self has gathered a collection of information/data whilst invested in the process of gaining knowledge; and the barrier of formulating language and communicating it to another is encountered.


set theory

Here a discussion of the ‘self’ is brought in with Spinozan algebra supplemented with that of Godelian set theory; where the self is subject to a transcendentalism of existence/experience by the shifting of anchor points we use in any given definition of ‘self’. To deal with post-structuralism/cultural relativism problems the device of simultaneity is employed: in physics the dichotomy of the particle or wave was dealt with by formulating there is both simultaneously wave and particle.


I use this here to illustrate we are, at once, both our current conception of self and that beyond our current conception – i.e. a broader more reaching complex involving levels of being which are less ‘immediately’ conscious. Self can be explored in terms of identity and set theory, where movement between perspectives has an elucidatory effect.


Only through the fixation in context do we manage to create meaning which negates and informs that meaning which we are equipped to attempt to express. The Einsteinian physic of specific versus general theory of relativity serves as a model here.


Willard Van Orman Quine’s Theory-ladenness of observation and instrumentalism takes on significance here engaging with the idea of nominalism and language. The simultaneity described is a reference to the ‘plurivocal’ occurrence of layered and nested conceptions; as examples, decimal and fractions, movement and stasis, particle and wave, self and other.


This fuzzy, amorphous self is an awareness which can be driven around, through and over phenomena – ethereal and concrete. Once we reach to grasp at a phenomenon we can anchor and work to delineate experience in terms of collection of sense data. The work of the self is to identify and codify such impressions in a way as to make these data relevant to each other, thus forming of an expressive schema on the way to assembled knowledge. The common instruments of knowledge here are language, symbols and deeper links with context. Language is both the recognition of the phenomenon, the expression of it, and part of the knowledge which is conferred – they are all simultaneously bound.


A series of provisos occur in the process(s) of learning, absorbing, arranging and codifying the collection of sense impressions. Scientific method alludes to the common instruments we use to engage in this activity. This thesis expands the word ‘science’ in its etymological root sense towards the broader range of philosophy – the ‘queen of the sciences’; rather than focus philosophy purely to the reductive positivism of the sciences practical. We need to deal with knowledge to articulately discuss common sense; that is, define the subject of the treatment of the senses.


Scientific method is the loose collection of instruments (technologies) by which we arrive at an understanding and consensus on an observed phenomenon/noumenon. Here an extended suggestion is made that knowledge is a communitive process – i.e. one that necessarily involves community.


Our knowledge is limited without an ‘other’ to help collect data, critically compare findings, and synthesise language and definitions with the thing itself. I contend knowledge develops with sense of an ‘other’, ‘otherness’, ‘communing’, ‘community’; and that a connection with that ‘other’ partly describes knowledge through our senses. Where ‘other’ increases, so does knowledge. As the necessary criteria of experience are expanded and knowledge as a phenomenon comes to exist, so I claim does society.



In conclusion, to these papers, a summary follows for common sense as I have argued it.  This is an attempt to reconcile how we come to know things and apply a rationale for building on that knowing.  It thus infers that we can arrive at knowledge, and that this is available to our consciousness whomever we are:


Common sense derives from the complex outcome which emerges from an assemblage of the applications of ‘the instruments of knowledge’ applied to understanding phenomena, in and of a self, as well as extending across a group engaged in language formation and network building.


Read Part Two: Common Sense – A Theory of Inherent Knowledge