Knowledge momentum

There is a fundamental difference between the knowledge that a car is about to run you over and the knowledge that a triangle contains 180 degrees.

The knowledge that a car is about to run you over is not verbally expressed in your thoughts. That is, if you look up while crossing the road and you see a car in a collision course with you, it is highly improbable that the following thoughts will go through your mind: “It would appear to me that given my direction of travel and that car’s direction of travel, and considering our respective velocities, it is probable that the car and myself will collide in 3.2 seconds which would result in severe injury.” Instead, it is more likely that you will jump out of the way without thinking about your high-school applied maths.

This type of knowledge is often referred to as Knowledge by Acquaintance

We shall say that we have acquaintance with anything of which we are directly aware, without the intermediary of any process of inference or any knowledge of truths.

On the other hand, if you are performing an experiment to see if triangles really do contain 180 degrees, it is likely that you will verbally think through your conclusions, “It would appear that this triangle contains less than 180 degrees,” before transcribing the results.

This type of knowledge is referred to as Knowledge by Description

To know some thing or object by a definite description is to know that it is the so-and-so or that the so-and-so exists.

The reason for this difference is that being run over by a car is a natural (if unwanted) part of your everyday life, but the different flavours of geometry predicted by the Big Bang theory are not. Because the desire not to be run over is something that you experience personally, there is no need for you to mentally verbalise aspects of the situation that presents this danger in order for you to determine the actions you need to take to avert an undesirable outcome.

On the other hand, the predictions of the Big Bang theory on whether the universe will expand indefinitely or will ultimately collapse and the ways that we can determine the type of universe that we live in are not part of your natural everyday life. Therefore in order to process the facts and figures that relate to this aspect of reality you have to mentally ascribe words to the elements of this sphere of thought and to the interactions between these elements, in order to cogitate about the subject matter.

Different approaches to the same body of knowledge

It is not always obvious what knowledge you have assimilated as Knowledge by Acquaintance so that the knowledge becomes a natural part of your life and is integrated into your natural perception of the world, and what knowledge you have kept at an arm’s length internally, so that the knowledge is merely appended to your internal Knowledge by Description information-store.

For example, a watchmaker who has spent their entire life perfecting their knowledge of watches is likely to have absorbed the knowledge of watch mechanics into their personal Knowledge by Acquaintance perception. The watchmaker will not have to mentally verbalise which cog should mesh with another and will be able to intuitively diagnose why a watch is not working.


On the other hand, an accountant analysing their client’s balance sheet for anomalies is likely perceive the numbers before them as Knowledge by Description in order to verbally cogitate on the problem.


Furthermore, it is possible that two people could perform exactly the same job after acquiring exactly the same body of knowledge, but one will allocate the requisite body of knowledge to their personal Knowledge by Acquaintance perceptions and the other will allocate the same knowledge to their “impersonal facts-and-figures” Knowledge by Description information store.

A microprocessor architect who is in love with the x86 microprocessor architecture will ascribe the same quality of feeling to their knowledge that the 8086 architecture is beautiful and their knowledge that a vivid sunset is beautiful. Subsequently, just as watching a nice sunset is a natural part of their everyday life, so too developing x86 microprocessors will be a natural part of their everyday life.

This may contrast starkly with another microprocessor engineer who may have very firm opinions about not letting their professional work become intertwined with their personal life and makes sure that their professional knowledge remains exactly that.


Another personal aspect of knowledge acquisition in which people differ is the degree to which they make promises to themselves that their acquisition of a certain body of knowledge will further their progress in life.

This means that because the effort required to acquire knowledge or skills may not be intrinsically enjoyable, you may promise yourself during the course of the acquisition of this knowledge that in the future, through application of your newfound knowledge, you will more than compensate yourself for the self-sacrifice involved in study through the gains that you will make by application of your knowledge and skill set.

For example, a doctor who studies for 10 years to qualify will promise themselves, during the course of their studies, that the career opportunities and lifestyle afforded by their professional qualifications will be just recompense for the hard slog of qualification.

Because of the need to fulfill this self-promise after they qualify, the doctor will be driven to apply their knowledge in a profitable manner so that their societal status and remuneration will compensate them for the hardship endured while studying and training.

Life trajectory

We can therefore identify at least two factors which will influence the degree to which acquisition of knowledge will later cause your life to proceed inexorably in a particular direction.

  • Knowledge by Acquaintance: If you have acquired professional knowledge in a way that it becomes part of your natural understanding of life, then you will see this area of knowledge as a permanent and ongoing part of your everyday life.
  • Self promise: If during the course of knowledge acquisition you promised yourself that your later gains through application of this knowledge would compensate you for the duress endured studying, then after qualifying you will feel internally compelled to “get your money’s worth” from the body of knowledge through professionally leveraging this knowledge to your advantage and progressing your career.

These two factors can combine to determine the degree to which your future life will be molded by your acquisition of a body of knowledge.

knowledge - life influence 2

Knowledge momentum

The operational momentum of a company is only equivalent to the sum of the personal momentum of its employees.

In times of stability it is healthy for a company’s employees to be as committed as possible to their current job knowledge. If staff identify personally with their job-related knowledge and are motivated to further their careers through the application of and the development of their hard-won knowledge, this will make for highly motivated staff who will bring the company success and advancement in its current line of business.

However, when external circumstances change and corresponding company change is required, it is beneficial to have staff who can change job-direction easily. That is, it will be beneficial to have staff who have not made their current job knowledge into a natural part of their lives and who have also not promised themselves that this same body of knowledge will take care of them forever.

Is there any way to bridge the gap between high knowledge momentum, which is beneficial in stable market conditions, and low knowledge momentum, which is beneficial in times of change?




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