Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed For Signs
That passage from Proust epitomizes for me one of the most distinctive features of the inquiry process, the fact that its object is a state of information that the inquisiturus, the agent of inquiry, may never have known before.
I have thought of inquiry and intelligence in terms of cybernetic or system-theoretic processes ever since my first encounters with the works of Arbib, Ashby, Bateson, McCulloch, Wiener, Young, and others during my undergrad years. In the early 90s I returned to grad school in a Systems Engineering program with the idea that I might be able to string together many loose threads of unfinished business that continued to tug at my brain. Here’s a bit I wrote at the outset of that project, that comes to mind in this context:
It is important to remember that knowledge is a different sort of goal from the run-of-the-mill setpoints that a system might have. The typical goal is a state that a system has actually experienced many times before, like normal body temperature for a human being. But a particular state of knowledge that an intelligent system moves toward may be a state it has never been through before. The fundamental equivocation on this point expressed in Plato’s Meno, whether learning is functionally equivalent to remembering, was discussed above. In spite of this quibble, it still seems necessary to regard states of knowledge as a distinctive class. The reasons for this may lie in the fact that a useful definition of inquiry for human beings necessarily involves a whole community of inquiry.