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Knowledge Objects


W. Curtiss Priest, Ph.D.


Knowledge Objects as a
Dangerous Idea

An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all

Oscar Wilde

When one dares to say that world is “simpler than that” one might hear
(in a thought balloon) “how odd, I thought that knowledge and
information is increasing without limit”

My career as a Management Scientist and as a CyberEducator (a label
by Newsweek) gradually convinced me that simple forces were being
viewed too much together and that underneath is a simplicity. Some of
my MIT colleagues were quite surprised by the notion

As for you, Bateson and Watzlawick of the Palo Alto Mental Health
Institute said when communication fails, there are thoughts of “madness
or badness” by the recipient about the sender (this speaker)

I hope to dissuade such thoughts by making “knowledge simplicity”
convincing by relating some relevant experiences

To Readers

after presentation at the
Joint World Multi

composed of the

Three Questions were Asked to Know the Audience

1. Do you know what

means? (Cybernetically)

2. Do you know what

means? (Cybernetically)

3. Have you ever referred to a

The Slides you’ll see next (slides 4 through 17) are to “Set the Stage:”

I. A

way to see the effectiveness of a strobe light to prevent (highway vehicle) accidents in the USA


way to determine the merits of controlling worker exposure to lead (Pb) in battery making factories in the USA


way to see improvement of a young learner’s achievements due to motivation

13th Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics

3rd International Conference on Society, Cybernetics and Informatics

2nd International Conference on Engineering and Technological Innovation

Dedicated to

H. G. Wells, C. West Churchman and Russell L. Ackoff

Dr. W. Curtiss Priest, July 17th in the Year Two Thousand and Nine

and the

Sample Ohio Grade Crossing Inventory Form


Highway Capacity

(Source: Freeway Operations, Inst. of Traffic Eng. 1960)

4: Distribution of Normal Passenger car Speeds

19: Illuminance of Strobe Lights Corrected for Weather (in lux)

*Additional correction for poorer windshield visibility estimated at .5 times normal conditions.


night values reduced by .5 to compensate for backscatter from headlamps








Numeric entries show number of accidents

by circumstance in the two year period.



Sounds Complex?

Confirmation of a Near
Isomorphic Model

Based on the data regarding 24 thousand accidents over a two year
period, and constructing this model in 3 man
months, a reduction of
3530 accidents (14.7%) involving mortality, morbidity and property
damage was predicted by adding a locomotive strobe light to the

Three years later the US Department of Transportation’s
Transportation Systems Center conducted field tests of strobe lights
on locomotives and the field study found accident reduction to be
15% at a 95% level of confidence

The high correlation between these two numbers, 14.7% and 15%
suggests that the model was truly near
isomorphic to the system

Modelling Blood Lead Levels and use of
MRP in Battery Manufacturing in the US

at MIT

Biological model

five compartment diffusion of lead: blood, soft
tissues, hard tissues, soft bone, hard bone

Plant operation model

for a representative cohort of workers,
determined worker leading exposures based on expose and use of
Medical Removal Protection


US industry exposing works argued for 200 ppm.

OSHA pressed for 100 ppm.

Our (Fortran) model so completely explained variances in blood
lead levels that OSHA regulation was set at 50 ppm.


1. The flows in the biological model were published in a Harvard University

2. Flow rates were simply related to amount of lead on each side

3. Creating a work week of workers exposed to lead was just hours of the day

and task

4. It was the process of running the model over months and years that made
things look complex

Motivational Modelling to
Improve US Schooling

Source: Priest, for The John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation

Priest, for The John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation

Is this Complex?

Yes and No

Viewing the School part of the model

Learning Rate ==> Achievement


Aptitude plus Student Motivation plus Grade Standards plus Achievement (so far)
==> Learning Rate


What determines motivation? A motivation "Buildup"

Source is ==> Goals and Self Esteem plus Teacher Effort

Teacher Effort ==> Level of Facilitation

What adds in Teacher Effort?

An Effort factor, the Teacher's Facilitation Goal and

the outside forces of Grade Standards and the Need to Achieve those

Inability to Determine the
Isomorphic Character of the
Home Motivational

System Dynamic Models of simple processes are easily evaluated

This iThink System Dynamic Model used linkages among poorly defined
parameters that produced reasonable system response over time, but was pre
determined by initial settings and parameter constraints

Such modeling, however, has been found to be extremely valuable for learning
purposes whereby within the “learning organization,” actual decision
makers can
make up for the shortfalls of such models

Senge (Fifth Discipline) and others have aptly demonstrated the utility of such

Major work at MIT under Forrester dissipated as problems became clear

This modelling begs for some kind of motivation
related resource

Similar Problems regarding OR, Management
Science and the Systems Approach

Churchman & Ackoff

Churchman on his 80th Birthday interview appears in Wisdom,
Knowledge and Management: A Critique and Analysis of
Churchman's Systems Approach (Gigch/McIntyre
Mills), 2006

Is there a Science of Management? Churchman’s Survey in ‘60s

Ackoff's 1978 critique of OR at the Operational Research Society
conference, moving away from OR and the Systems Approach, to
focus on “interactive planning”

Department of Social Systems Sciences (S cubed) mid
1960s through
the late 1980s, at the University of Pennsylvania

3 was influenced by Eric Trist, C. West Churchman, Haas
Ozbekhan, Thomas A. Cowan, and Fred Emery

Priest & Stevens co
teach Social Systems at RPI, early ‘70s

Priest teaches Cybernetics, Communication & People at the Emma
Willard School, early ‘70s to eleventh grade girls (US)

Priest publishes
The Need and Value of Restructuring Human
Communication Systems
, 1972, based on Ackoff and others

Priest joins the MIT Center for Policy Alternatives, late ‘70s and ‘80s
applies Ackoff’s work to Social Regulation problems and in 1988
Risks, Concerns and Social Regulation: Forces that Led to
Laws on Health, Safety and the Environment

Priest Continues the Work of

Churchman & Ackoff, Part I

Priest, late ‘80s and early ‘90s on leave from MIT, builds a P2P
communication and decision
support tool called BusinessAlly, a
precursor of Web 2.0

RSS and Feed Aggregators

Design heavily influenced by Ackoff’s Conceptual Model of
Choice Process and Critical Success Factors Research at MIT in
the CISR (Center for Information Systems Research)

Priest, early ‘90s, awarded several US patents and licenses
technology to Microsoft, Sony, Novell and others

Priest, returning to MIT in Media Studies, founds Program on
Knowledge Simplicity based on Knowledge Objects

Priest & Komoski, 2004, found ICLOR (International
Collaborative for Learning Objects Research)

Priest, 2007, retires from MIT and transfers Program to the
Center for Information, Technology & Society

Priest Continues the Work of

Churchman & Ackoff, Part II

Knowledge Objects as Necessary to Advance
Systems Dynamics and the Systems Approach

For true "systems dynamics"

you have to have, not just the learning
organization, but a learning Net of knowledge objects


class libraries associated with 3GLs


4GLs are created for specific audiences, such as financial
accountants 5GL

But whether as Dynamo or iThink or MATLAB, they either have
found a specialized nook, such as engineering simulation models, or
they are unfortunately too homomorphic

Missing has been the paradigmatic genesis of the Singer/Cowan/
Churchman/Ackoff legacy in creating operational definitions as
knowledge objects

Apparent Complexity

As we know by combinatorial math, for each knowledge axis (where we
define these by dissecting selected books* and creating multiple
matrices), and for the resulting N
, N
, N
, etc. knowledge states, we see
apparent complexity

becomes large by the multiplication of all these
possible states, i.e.,
Apparent Complexity

= N

x N
x N

x …

But, this does not mean that the
actual complexity

is high.

* Five major books and a dozen others have been chosen spanning across what some call the disciplines as a source of
significant core knowledge

: Knowledge Simplicity. Providing a knowable, definable platform for creating Knowledge Objects, Pedagogical Objects, and L

by W. Curtiss Priest, MIT(CMS) / CITS, Kenneth Komoski, EPIE. ICLOR White Paper, September 21, 2006.

“First Tier” Books that Significantly
Contribute to the Creation of Content
Knowledge Objects

i. Ackoff, Russell L and Fred Emery.
On Purposeful Systems

[previously published as Choice,
Communication and Conflict (Wharton School mimeograph)]. Chicago: Aldine Atherton,

ii. Ashby, W. Ross.
An Introduction to Cybernetics
. London: Chapman & Hall Ltd.., 1956.

iii. Watzlawick, Paul, Janet Helmick Beavin, Don D. Jackson.
Pragmatics of Human
Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes
. New York:
W W Norton & Company, Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, CA, 1967.

iv. Rokeach, Milton.
Beliefs, Attitudes and Values: A Theory of Organization and Change
. San
Francisco: Jossey
Bass Inc., 1972.

v. Bertocci, Peter A. and Richard M. Millard.
Personality and the Good: Psychological and
Ethical Perspectives
. New York: David McKay Company, 1963.

: Knowledge Simplicity. Providing a knowable, definable platform for creating Knowledge Objects, Pedagogical Objects, and L

by W. Curtiss Priest, MIT(CMS) / CITS, Kenneth Komoski, EPIE. ICLOR White Paper, September 21, 2006.

Are these sources Dated?

Is Shakespeare Dated?

Is Socrates Dated?

Is Truth Dated?

Definition of Communication within a
Purposeful System

: One purposeful individual (B) communicates to another (A) when a message produced by B produces a change in
one or more of the parameters (P
) of A’s purposeful state. B can be referred to as the

and A as the

Ackoff, p. 142


probabilities of choice


efficiencies of his choices



relative value of the possible outcomes

Notice: if B produces no change in A’s purposeful state, then no communication has occurred.

For example, if B sends A a message which is communication, and if B resends the same message again to A, and if this message


wholly redundant, the second message is not communication.

Mathematical theory of communication: tells us how many bits of information can be sent per second over perfect and imperfec
communication channels in terms of rather abstract descriptions of the properties of these channels.

Shannon in J. R. Pierce, Symbols, Signals and Noise: The Nature and Process of Communication, 1961, p. 8

Pierce could not define communication for purposeful systems as he mostly confined himself to symbols, thus when a
individual (B) communicates to another (A) the “aim and outcome of communication” is only that A resolve uncertainty in the w
that B
made choices of symbols when composing the message (addressed as “Entropy” in ch. five).

J. R. Pierce, Symbols, Signals and Noise: The Nature and Process of Communication, 1961, pp. 78

As for addressing a purposeful system, Pierce tackles that in two chapters just after “Cybernetics” (ch. 11) in “Information
ory and
Psychology” (ch.12) and “Information Theory and Art” (ch. 13) in which he boldly addresses music and musical scores but he ca

useful formulations as he is absent the requisite operational definitions.

: A communication that produces a change in any of the receiver’s probabilities of choice informs him, and hence
transmits information.

Ackoff, p. 144

Complementing this regarding C

(set of available courses of action, a.k.a choices), for changing E

(set of the individual’s efficiency to
produce outcome O
, having a set of choices, C
) we have:

9.11 Instruction: A communication that produces a change in the efficiencies of any of a receiver’s courses of action instru

him, and
hence transmits instruction.

Ackoff, p. 144

And complementing 9.10 regarding this regarding V

(the value of the outcomes to A) we have:

9.12 Motivation: A communication that produces a change in any of the relative states the receiver places on possible outco

(the O
of his choice motivates him, and hence transmits motivation.

Definition of Information in a Purposeful System

n: Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physi

conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem. If the number of mes
es in the set
is finite then this number or any monotonic function of this number can be regarded as a
measure of the information

produced when one
message is chosen from the set, all choices being equally likely.

C.E. Shannon, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication",
Bell System Technical Journal
, vol. 27, p. 379, July, October, 1948

Information: … multifaceted term … [o]ne side, at least, has been polished by mathematics, whilst other sides (semantic and
aspects) are beginning to show up, though these other aspects are not, as yet, truly distinct or clear.

Colin Cherry in
On Human Communication: A Review, a Survey, and a Criticism
. Cambridge [MA]: The MIT Press, 1957, 1966, 1978, p.

Regulators: How near
isomorphic is required

Ashby, “Requisite Variety,” in Introduction to Cybernetics (op. cit.)

Conant, R. C./Ashby, W. R.,
Every Good Regulator of a System Must
be a Model of that System
, in:
International Journal of System Science
Vol. 1 No 2 (1970) 89

A model that incorporates all dominant variables affecting state change
and ignores all insignificant variables is sufficiently isomorphic (i.e.

So in models involving human behavior, if individual variety is fully
captured if statistical aggregates suffice

In such cases differences in individual variety can be viewed as
“apparent complexity”

Social Regulations as Good

Statistically, individuals, as a lot, demonstrate serious
choice errors involving situations having high risk and low

This was understood both within the US legislative process
for health safety in the 70’s and 80’s, and in the literature,
e.g., Howard Kunreuther and Paul Schoemaker in the early

For example, warranted the intrusion of public regulators
in the form of highway/railroad grade crossing protection

For example, warranted the intrusion of public regulators
in the form of occupational safety in lead using industries

Behavior that are not amenable to
regulators without requisite
knowledge objects

Quality teachers/professors

directed learning demands the requisite
variety that matches the variety of the learner or groups of learners with
group variance, e.g. differentiated instruction
(alt. self
directed learning)

Quality improvement of an individual’s or a family’s mental health

counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists
(alt. self
selected, self
help aids)

Quality healthcare, when the problems are rare and/or there is high
variance within populations for a possible problem
(alt. ?)

Effective Conflict Resolution

either between countries where the
country variance is low and the between
country variance is high,
or, law
related issues where the between
party variance is high and the
pertaining law has become too complex
(alt. ethically
based knowledge, as
practical, involving fewer lawyers and more mediators, negotiators, or self
such as by Nolo Press)

But How is This Implemented?

"The Use of XHTTP as a More Effective and Efficient Way to Apply
Knowledge: Transitioning from Core Knowledge to Knowledge Objects”

background presented at the International Conference on Technology,
Knowledge and Society, Northeastern University, MA, USA, January,

by W. Curtiss Priest & Kenneth Komoski

On Purposeful Systems, Russell Ackoff

Operational Definition

Definitions that provide standards in the same sense that those oriented to the sciences
provide standards for structural concepts

for example, length, density and energy

Page 7

[T]he degree of knowledge of a course of action relative to an objective in a specified
environment is a measure of the amount of control a subject has over the outcome
relative to the maximum amount of control known to be possible

Page 48

[T]he degree of knowledge of a course of action relative to an
objective in a specified environment is a measure of the amount
of control a subject has over the outcome relative to the
maximum amount of control known to be possible.

Page 48

: A is loyal to B if A appreciates and is devoted to B”

Chapter 9, Feelings and Communication, Page 141

cf. “appreciates,” Page 140

: A is devoted to B if A is dissatisfied with B’s states of
dissatisfaction and satisfied with B’s states of satisfaction.”

Page 140

Some Operational Definitions

Definition of an attitude

a relatively enduring organization of
beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond
in some preferential manner

Rokeach, Beliefs, Attitudes and Values, Page 112

Next we see how science
based work on Emotional
Competencies (Intelligence)

can be folded into the work of Ackoff to

improve Ackoff’s

“Conceptual Model of Choice Process”

using a similar flow chart by Scherer


emotional appraisal aspects of an individual’s “evaluation”

of a “choice situation” shows more detail about

the recursive appraisal process involving “coping”

Other Contributing Sources to Defining Knowledge Objects

Source: Ackoff, Russell L. On Purposeful Systems.

Chicago, Aldine Atherton, 1972

Building on the More Recent Work of Others

E.g., Klaus R. Scherer, “Componential Emotion Theory Can Inform Models of Emotional Competence”


Matthews, Zeidner and Roberts. The Science of Emotional Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. London: Oxford
University Press, 2007

Note: 2004 Version

Personality and the Good

Courage: Courage is the willingness to face insecurity and to make
the sacrifices needed to achieve the goal deemed worth
while but

Ch. 17, A Scheme of Virtues, Page 385, op. Cit.

Building on the More Recent Work of Others

Pragmatics of Human Communications

Chapter on Pathological Communications

Symmetrical Escalation

Page 107, op. Cit.

Can’t Build on some of the More Recent Work of Others

E. O. Wilson wrote
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
, 1992, which

appears to promise a scientific perspective on knowledge at the operational level

However, each time Wilson broke ground towards operational definitions, he hesitated
and called such items part of a folksonomy

an informal way that people tag

This word now is liberally used to refer to the use of "tag clouds" on the Internet

This is because there is no widespread awareness of operational definitions and thus
about knowledge objects, the Net is riddled with a multitude of haphazard tags.

The same can be said for what the W3C [consortium] and their focus on the
"semantic web”

The general direction of this focus sounds encouraging

But it reflects no knowledge of the existence and/or the value of more consistently
using defined knowledge objects.

I.e., they are doing the best they can within an overly complex and haphazard

Need to Construct a GUI to Implement


Adobe's Flash/MacroMedia/Shockwave

Microsoft's Visio

SmartDraw's Cause & Effect Diagrams

Stem Cell

Apple's HyperCard

High Performance Software's Stella

Learning in Motion's Knowledge Forum

MathWorks' MathCAD

MacroMedia's Director

Alice created by Carnegie Mellon University

Success of Wikipedia is a clue that we need a wiki
like GUI for Knowledge Objects

We are examining other object
oriented tools, such as:

And object
oriented languages, such as:


Common Lisp Object System (CLOS)

oriented Kyoto LISP (Pandora)





Finally, Reusability

There are no problems with library reusability at the 3GL level

At the 4GL level there is high vendor dependency

Beyond 4GL there are huge reusability problems

However, way beyond those facilities we have reusability as language dictionary words

To bridge the gap, by stripping down dictionary words and creating operationally
defined Knowledge Objects, reusability is established

Dictionary level granularity for

Knowledge Objects, Part I

Controlled vocabularies are typically unsuccessful unless at the
level of words and word definitions.

So. The operational definition of a knowledge object is equivalent
to a dictionary such as the American Heritage Dictionary. That
dictionary is to be preferred over Webster's, etc., as it is more
modern and many of the words are more operationally defined
than in prior efforts.

Dictionary level granularity for

Knowledge Objects, Part II

Imagine taking the American Heritage Dictionary and stripping out data

I.e., take multiple references pertaining to a knowledge object, such Mammal,
and leave those as the properties of the object mammal

Presto. We have reduced apparent complexity

This can be imagined by viewing the "mammal tree" in the next figure

While this tree traces the development of mammals over time, if viewed from
right to left (many mammals back to a first mammal), it is comparable to
viewing the list of mammals on the right as ”methods" of the knowledge
object Mammal’s “property” of species

In this way, a single entity suffices to encompass all mammals

It is only when distinctions need to be made across ”method species" that one
need examine and expose the apparent complexities of the multitudinous
varieties of them


Combining Two Major Classes
of Knowledge Objects for

CKO (content knowledge objects)


PKO (pedagogical knowledge objects


LO (learning objects)


Note: A folksonomy of Learning Objects is a major effort in many
countries such as the Dublin Core

These are pseudo
learning objects

A Knowledge Object
appears as the darker
blue sphere

Learning Objective
of using Pedagogical
Knowledge Objects
and related “hip
Knowledge Content
Objects appears as
nursing learner,
upper left

A Visualization of a Net
based Netting of
Knowledge Objects

To further the implementation

and this will be complex,

“under the hood”

(compare to a PC)

Illustration of an OpenURL

(see ANSI/NISO Z39.88
2004 ISSN: 1041

p16 Chimera: A Superior Antiproliferative

&title=Molecular Theory








Object messaging via HTTP

for the Library Community

Messaging via HTTP

for Knowledge Objects

If Professor Smith of Louisiana State University has developed an
algebra tool, we could invoke it (or instantiate
it) as follows: objects/Provide_one?Shapes.Triangle


the organization providing the learning object

2. Smith

the person providing the learning object

3. Math objects

the logical home of the object

4. Provide_one

the software code that makes the tool become an object

5. ?

instruction to the web server to pass Shapes.Triangle to

6. Shapes

the Property of the object

7. Triangle

a Method of the Property

Knowledge Objects: Building the
World Brain


Provide a granularity at the dictionary word level, defined via operational
definitions which can be embedded in Modelling and Simulation efforts
such that updates to an embedded knowledge object will propagate
throughout all descendants (and thus users)

To create "learning objects" with the properties (and methods) of
programmed objects, including inheritance to provide a single, pluralistic
object world so that precious object development efforts can be combined
with corresponding pedagogical object development efforts to provide a
wide "world brain."

Provide world
wide coordination of these efforts through the activities of
the International Collaborative for Learning Objects Research (ICLOR).

The 3 Introductory Papers

A Condensation and Review of Various "Learning Object" Activities and Efforts
November 3, 2004, AACE E
Learn Conference Paper

Review of Learning Objects, A Moving Target: Billions of "Resources" or "Knowledge
Simplicity?," Creation of the International Collaborative for Learning Objects Research
, October 18, 2007, AACE E
Learn Conference Paper

"Knowledge Simplicity: Providing a knowable, definable platform for creating
Knowledge Objects, Pedagogical Objects, and Learning Objects"
, September 21, 2006,
ICLOR White Paper

This presentation and all
ICLOR/World Brain White
Papers and Publications are at


Thank you