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Theory of Knowledge

Reconstruction of Qur’anic Thoughts with an Attempt to Unify Rationalism and Empiricism

By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)

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The Origin of Concepts

Or The Philosophy of Theory

in search of a unified frame of reference to interpret the world phenomena



Perhaps what I am going to deal with is not the psychology of thought in its purest sense. Rather, what results as a form of epistemological discovery after possible experimental and analytical investigations into the psychology of thought, is the very subject-matter of this paper. An analysis of thought at its psychological level is based on the analysis of perception but is in no way the description of some kind of perceptual structure; rather, it is the discovery of an abstract logical space that holds and so unifies the complex perceptual system as well as supra-perceptual mental capabilities such as reasoning. The incompetences of the human perceptual system is the very basis of the superiority of human mental capabilities. For example, humans cannot ‘see’ like bats and smell like dogs. But still their mental abilities outperform the perceptual abilities of such beasts because humans can identify what they cannot perceive and thus they can conceive that there are some things that they cannot perceive. It is this weakness that helps man to start thinking and transcend all perception. The process of this mental activity starts with perception but eventually finds its birth and evolution in a structure which is beyond any process, of which perception is merely a bit of raw material or content. Such a content identified in a certain structure of a possibility of relationships is called a concept. Concepts are pictures of reality as discovered. Therefore, I would call the topic of this paper the psychology of reality. Thus there is a necessity to differentiate between the psychology of perception and the psychology of reality, where the latter virtually refers to the logic of the former. It may also be worthwhile to note at this point that the logic of psychology is philosophy.

Analysis, Synthesis, and Antithesis
Perception as information:

Whatever we perceive – that is, see, touch, smell, taste, and hear – gets into the memory (short term or long term) as bits of sensory information, whether stored in a certain location or not. A bit of information is a specific pattern of energy. This pattern is the awareness of a content. If the pattern is the content, then what is awareness? Awareness is the ability or energy that patterns itself in certain ways in response to a stimulus. In other words, if a pattern in the energy is the information, then the energy itself is the awareness. The most basic attribute of this energy is freedom, for which it can create any reference at random. This reference, being the stimulus, invites a response, that is, an adjustment in the form of pattern-creation to maintain equilibrium. Freedom itself manifests as flexibility, which accompanies back reference to the mother awareness as Time. This implies that time accompanies patterns. If this is true, then it logically follows that when no pattern is perceived, no time is felt, and that is Space. Thus space is energy beyond feeling or perception, i.e., Transcendental Time. Thus it follows that all perception takes place in Space and Time – in time because it involves a process (of pattern creation) and in space because the process takes place in space.

Therefore, a bit of content is a (perceptual) pattern in the (space of) energy. The relation or reference that results when a pattern appears in space to itself, is time. The spread of this reference is awareness, which is a dimensioned manifestation of Consciousness, the Absolute Space.

Thus, from a cognitive point of view, it is of no importance whether there is matter outside, or whether there is any “outside” at all or not, for no matter is identifiable until it is transformed into perceptual information in awareness.

Name and Content:

Consciousness is infinite because there is no time and reference in it that can measure it. Infinity is not what cannot be measured, but that for which there is no scale of measurement at all. Any measurement is a product of a reference. And when there is a reference it reaches at best to its source, where it originated from. This means that the concept of measurement is a creation in the Consciousness. So, rather than saying that consciousness cannot be measured, it is more appropriate to simply say that the concept of measurement does not apply to it. It is the Reality.

Awareness, as I have already referred to, is a dimension or a set of dimensions (i.e., domain) in consciousness that has been identified through the mechanism of reference. The verbal expression of such an identification is a Name (the Common Noun). The thing that a name refers to is, whether it ‘exists’ outside or not, the pattern or set of bits of information that the Name refers to. This set of bits of information is the content. If different sets of information represent different contents but refer to the same Name, then the possible sets of variations in such sets are called attributes. If a Name refers to a set of contents with no change in attributes, it is called an Identity. For example, ‘boy’ is a Name with the possibility of various attributes such as ‘small boy’, ‘active boy’, etc. But when the content admits of no variation, a specific boy is referred to, for example, Jack. In this case ‘Jack’ is an Identity. Thus a Name is a class or category of different identities, and so is a concept.

At this point it may appear that an identity is a content, but actually it is not. There can be no identity without a Name, although there can be a name without any Identity. For example, the name ‘Jack’ in the above context could not be imagined if there was no ‘boy’, but the Name ‘tiger’ may exist without the identity of any specific tiger such as ‘Sher-E-Khan’. A ship is, by the same token, a Name but ‘Titanic’ is an Identity.

We are now led to conclude that a Name is a possibility, a continuum of patterns, and so, is a variable. And it is to be noted that a Name exists only relatively – that is, only when there is at least another name. For example, the Name ‘cat’ would be meaningless  if it did not refer to a set of possible identities whether specifically identified or not, and ‚ if this set could not be identified distinctly from another set of identities such as ‘dog’. If what is referred to by ‘dog’ could well be called ‘cat’, then the names ‘dog’ and ‘cat’ would be meaningless. Thus a Name should refer to the unity in a variety. In this sense a name has both an inside and an outside.

Name and Variable:

A variable is a name with a certain range of content values. If this definition is accepted, then it can be discovered that a variable is a contingent name that has two layers:  the concept layer, which is fixed and not variable, and ‚ the content layer, which represents a certain value or set of values when the concept is specifically identified. This definition allows us to say that solving an equation for a certain variable means identifying its concept with a certain value or set of values. It is important to note that if the outer layer of a variable were not fixed, then all the possible variations could not be referred to by a single symbol. When the variable is solved or identified, it ceases to be a concept and gets to be a content, which can be a Name or an Identity. Then the content value is talked of with reference to a concept. This argument, however, applies to a certain equation, which symbolizes a certain field of awareness. We again say that solving an equation means limiting the range of values so as to attach an identity to a concept. This is made possible by the process of matching the content’s expected value with a real value in such a way that the difference between them turns to be zero. This assumes that there are value differences between possible contents of the same variable. For if there were not, then, on the one hand, the variable would cease to be a variable (for example, x = 2,2,2,2: this means that x = 2), and on the other hand, if the contents were variables, then the both the variable and the content would merge into a variable of the lower level (for example, Human: boy, boy, boy ® ‘boy’; that is, if the variable ‘Human’ had a possible range of values represented by ‘boy’, ‘boy’, and ‘boy’, then, if ‘boy’ itself were not a variable, ‘Human’ would not be a variable per se. ). At this point, we need to define the terms ‘sameness’, ‘difference’, and ‘similarity’.

Anything is the same as itself. In other words, an identity, for example, compared to itself, results in a pattern which is called sameness. This pattern can never be identified because there can be no reference either in Space or in Time. This property can only be termed Unity. Unity is not a variable, nor is it a concept. It is a transcendent property which we will deal with later on. At this point it is to be noted that the concept of sameness does not make sense in relation to a name or variable. This is because an identity is a particular fact or event, which can be referred to by its image or by itself, in which case no other symbol except the identity itself is used as the reference. But in the case of a name the name itself is a reference to a class of identities – and there is no sense in the idea of referring to a reference, because if it were done, there would emerge another name which could be replaced by the former. For example, the statement ‘Jack is the same as Jack’ has a definite meaning because there is the origin of a reference (Jack) and the goal too (Jack). But the statement ‘Boy is the same as Boy’ does not add value without changing the meaning of the reference, which seeks to indicate its difference from another category such as ‘girl’. It is important to note that in this case the reference is extenalized rather than internalized. However, because something will always remain the same as itself even if there is a mistake in understanding its relation to itself, such conceptual niceties will hardly ever expose our intellectual enterprise to any risk whatever.


Difference is the absence of Unity to some degree.


Similarity is also the absence of Unity to some degree.

Now the terms difference and similarity need to be re-defined. As we can see, both ‘difference’ and ‘similarity’ connote lack of Unity among a set of contents or concepts, and because they both can simultaneously refer to certain properties of either variables or contents, they are concepts or variables. We cannot differentiate between ‘difference’ and ‘similarity’ until we know which of them emerges prior to the other. Because Unity is the essential precondition for the existence of anything, we must say that difference comes first (as a result of the freedom of manifestation or of reference). Now, similarity can exist only when there exist difference and also the quest for Unity. Thus:

Difference refers to the lack of Unity when Unity is used as the frame of reference, and similarity refers to the lack of Unity when difference is used as the frame of reference.

Essentially, the former helps us identify Identities, while the latter helps us formulate concepts or discover Names. Consequently, a query directed from the difference as given, toward the similarity as the goal, leads us to the discovery of levels of unity of phenomena and thus helps create knowledge.

Now we have discovered a hidden truth: No two things can be absolutely different or absolutely the same. The very use of the term ‘difference’ implies the use of the same standard of reference in relation to both, for which the perceived deviation of each from the standard justifies the use of the term. If the two things were absolutely different, the concept of such a standard would not exist at all. Again, if two things or concepts were absolutely the same, one would replace the other and they would merge into one.

We can use this discovery to create/discover concepts in two extreme ways:
(1)     assuming that there is a plane of existence where two or more things belong to a category or set, we can try to discover that category, and

(2)     assuming that there is at least one difference between the two or more things or concepts, we can try to discover it and then again try to consider the difference as a class or category.
Difference as Variable:

If ‘difference’ is considered a variable with regard to a Name or another variable, it shows some intriguing properties. In this case the idea of difference arises only when the mean value is used as the reference point. As a result, the sum of all the differences (i.e., all differences measured by deducting individual values from the mean) for a certain variable will be zero. Thus difference cannot be a variable in the long term all through the range of the values of the variable, i.e., population. For any specific value of the variable, the lowest possible value of the difference is more than zero and the highest possible value of it is less than the highest value of the range. A value of zero in this case means that the idea of difference itself does not exist.

Name and Attribute:

Although it may sound weird to most of us at this stage of development of our ideas, we may, in order to arouse interest in the reader, inform in advance that we are going to show that only names exist as concepts and attributes are merely random errors or differences and so do not exist at the level of Unity. Again, attributes do exist in the long run, not as attributes per se, but as concepts or classes. From this angle of view too, there is no attribute: rather, there are only concepts or Names. Let us enter into the details.

Variable Re-defined:

A variable is a Name or Concept with ‘Difference’ as its content. The Name ensures the Unity of the content at a level of attribute where the value of the variable ‘Difference’ is Zero. For example, for a certain town, the Name ‘Boy’ represents a variable that allows for a range of difference such as age (5 – 7 for example) and the attribute ‘Male’ as the plane of Unity that cuts through all the difference. It is now clear that the Unity identifies the variable and the Difference identifies the contents.

Identity Re-defined:

Identity = Name + value of Difference. Thus it is seen that an Identity is a specific content of a variable with a definite Name. As a result, ‘Jack’ is only a content of the variable ‘X’ if a meaningful Name cannot be attached to X, but it is an Identity if ‘X’ is given a Name, for example, ‘Boy’. So an identity is the most specific information vector that can be attached to a content.

Attribute Re-defined:

An attribute is a certain value of the variable ‘Difference’ attached to any of the contents of a Variable or Name. Presumably, this value is compared to the expected value or mean value of a Reference to the Unity related to the variable. From this point of view, for example, ‘height’ is not considered to be an attribute of the contents of the variable ‘Boy’ but the difference of a certain boy’s height from the mean height is. This may sound eccentric but it is what really makes sense, for if all the boys under the domain of the variable ‘Boy’ were of the same height, then ‘height’ would not be considered an attribute for any of them in particular. However, it needs to be considered an attribute if it is used as a reference point between any two (sets of) contents of two variables (or categories). But because height is not variable within the set, then the average height and any specific height within a category would be the same. In such cases of inter-category comparison, ‘attribute’ assumes the form of a variable and thus becomes a Name or Concept. For example, the attribute ‘short’ in relation to all the contents of a variable is not a variable though ‘height’ is, but it is a variable and so a concept in relation to two or more categories. In that case ‘short’ [an adjective] gets established as the variable ‘shortness’ [a noun]. Thus it is seen that all possible attributes add up to Zero, where only the so-called Emptiness or Absolute Consciousness exists. Here even no Names exist because Names are not traceable or identifiable without attributes. If this is true, then the Emptiness does always exist, although it may not be ‘experienced’ by anybody, since it is only a way of ‘seeing’ (or not-seeing), that is, forming a conviction, at the Plane of Unity.

How to Discover Concepts:

Now we can once more re-define ‘Concept’ as a way of not-seeing the difference in order to see the unifying boundary of a category of things. The broader the boundary, the more abstract is the concept. Abstractness is, thus, the ability of a concept to unify categories under a single Name. This means that different levels of abstraction can be reached by gradually eliminating different levels of differences within and between categories. The highest possible level of abstraction that can be reached, in this way, can be given a Name with an infinite number of attributes but the name only signifies Unity which transcends both perception and thought.

Types of Concepts:

Concepts are, as we have seen, the outcome of abstraction. The possible levels of abstraction for a certain domain of reality depend on the observable variety of identities, where ‘Variety’ refers to the number of all possible categories. Thus all Names are concepts and abstraction refers to the process of discovering categories in ascending hierarchies. Another type of concept is a construct, which is formed by a definition deliberately made to describe an aspect of reality. While a name cuts through all identities with a single dimension, and is as such a category, a construct often unifies identities of two or more categories along different intersecting dimensions, resulting in a web or network of relationships with a specific central point where all the dimensions intersect. Such a concept is like a focus of light to which certain aspects of reality are exposed. The set of interrelationships between two or more concepts is called a theory, which has not only descriptive but also predictive capabilities. A philosophy is a normative theory. A belief is a concept capable of creating an affective focus or emotive concentration, for which it has the power to unify energy patterns so as to lead the freewill/willpower to think or behave in a certain way. When a belief attached to a (logical) conclusion helps eliminate alternatives and make a decision, what results is called a choice. A choice, therefore, is not a concept but an activity. A decision is the mental preparation for this choice. Because knowledge is justified belief, it is expressed in the forms of concepts.
Techniques of Abstraction:

Abstraction refers to the movement of thought from identities to their categories or from categories of lower levels to categories of higher levels, where a higher level category includes, and so unifies, two or more lower level categories. In other words, abstraction means moving upward along the hierarchy of concepts. As a result, abstraction in a given context turns out to be an upward movement along a pyramidal structure of thought. If abstraction were not possible, inference and projection would also not be possible, since they both refer to the movement of thought along the unifying dimension or category. From this angle of view, abstraction is a process of discovering unity, not of constructing it. Let us take an example:

   Today the sky is cloudy.
‚   Therefore it may rain here.

Here the first premise is the description of an observation. The second is a prediction or inference. In the process of reasoning it has been assumed that

  • The kind of cloud that is seen often gives rain.
  • There will be no wind to drive away the cloud to another part of the sky.
  • The cloud is mature enough to produce rain today.


Obviously, if any of these assumptions proves false, then the inference will also prove to be invalid. In logic the process of such inference making is represented by symbols. But symbols are discrete representations of phenomena and so are demonstrations of the process involved. They do not show why and in what unified field the process takes place. Logic presents the ‘why’ as rules, while in thought the rules themselves constitute the process or the 'what'. This implies that in thought the inference making process takes place as the flow of reference along the dimensions of unity. Or what is the same thing, it is an outcome of abstraction along different dimensions and levels, where the intersection(s) of such dimensions provide(s) the content for the inference. Let us analyze the above example.
Today the sky is cloudy.

Previous knowledge:

  • Clouds can be of different types. Some clouds give rain and some do not. Some clouds that give rain, do so within a day and some do so after a longer time.
  • Strong winds can drive clouds away from one place to another.


  • The cloud that is seen today belongs to the type that produces rain within a couple of hours from the time it is seen in the sky.
  • Today no strong wind will drive the cloud away.

In abstract terms, we can now refer to the ‘readiness of the cloud,’ ‘dependence on wind for its existence in a place,’ ‘assurance of the absence of wind,’ and so ‘a possibility of rain.’ Actually what facilitate inference in this case are the concepts represented by the abstract words ‘readiness’, ‘dependence,’ ‘assurance,’ 'order', and ‘absence.’ It is surprising to note that in logical symbolism most of these concepts cannot be presented with much convenience and in a concise way. A closer look at the words will reveal why they help in the process of inference: the concept of readiness implies ‘time’ and ‘stage of development,’ the concept of dependence implies ‘sequence of occurrence’ and ‘essentiality of the sequence,’ the concept of assurance implies ‘100 percent probability,’ and the concept of absence implies ‘the non-existence and so the non-influence’ of the relevant factors.

Now we can tell why assumptions, if true, lead to a true conclusion, and when they are not true at all. Assumptions fill the gap perceived to be essential to ensure the unity of the reality under consideration. If they actually assure the unity, they help sound reasoning, and if they do not, they ‘create’ a false unity.

Measuring Unity:

Unity, as we have seen, cannot be measured. That is because there can be no degree or magnitude related to it. It precedes all calculation and transcends all measurement. Indeed, it is the reference point in all comparisons or judgments. For example, the statement ‘A is not like B’ implies that we are assuming that there is a unified reference point from which they can be or need to be likened to each other. The assumption of this unity is not a mental construction; rather, it is the starting point or central point of the definition of mind and thought. When somebody says ‘Why am I not as rich as X?’ they are assuming an expected unity between them. While our idea of measurement comes from the inescapable reference to a hidden unity, we, at least in matters where our perceptions are involved, do the measuring with our individual values, our individualized scales. We assume ‘our values’ to be the perfect reference point. We classify others only to classify ourselves. As a result, our concept of unity gets distorted. To avoid this mental malady, we need objective ways to discover unity.

Unity, we may repeat once again, cannot be measured—what it can be is discovered. But, hopefully, the attributes of unity can be measured. The measurable attributes are: order, symmetry, equilibrium, consistency, diversity, etc.

Order :

Order can be of three types: time order, space order, and rank order.

Time order:

If two or more events occur in a certain order or pattern of orders repeatedly, then they are said to have a unity between them. Although the frequency of their occurrence does not certify any causality between them, it does refer to a plain of unity at best up to the observed range. However, at this point  we may modify our conception of causality in fresh terms. Two events are said to be causally related if they occur at two points in two different dimensions intersected by another unifying dimension. Generally speaking (and boldly, of course!), any two events belonging to the same dimension / field are somehow or other causes of each other.
Space order:

If two or more events occur in a certain directional pattern or set of patterns repeatedly in space, they can be inferred to belong to a unified field of the reality.

Rank order:

If two or more events demonstrate an order of importance or magnitude in relation to a certain phenomenon, then they can be traced back to a single point of origin.


If two or more events are interrelated in such a way that the structure of the relationships observed from any of them as the starting point does not vary, then there is said to be symmetry among them.


Equilibrium refers to rules that help differences coexist. It is the state of balance between the opposing forces of a system. It pictures the totality of change in the system. Thus it can be dynamic. But actually an equilibrium is static at its center, which may or may not be visible or observable. This is because when the equilibrium is dynamic, its numerical indicators at different points in time show a pattern for which a fixed point is always traceable.


Consistency refers to the absence of contradiction between any two events in the same dimension of reference. However, it must be borne in mind that two events in two different dimensions of the same system may be contradictory compared to each other, without destroying the consistency of the overall system. Consistency also refers to the absence of conflict between two values of the same variable in the same dimension. This clarifies the Law of Identity, which, I would say, requires that a name not have two opposing identities (roles) in the same dimension. For example, a woman cannot be the mother and wife of person simultaneously¾that is, in one life-time.

A population refers to all possible Identities of a single Name or variable in a specified field. For example, the whole of mankind is a single population. It is the numerical measure of the concept of Variety.  


Diversity refers to unified difference or differentiated unity. It is, therefore, nothing but random variations of a single variable all over the population.


Thinking is linking. If there is no apparent continuous dimension between two bits of information so as to help do the linking, then thinking means searching for the link(s). But that the search itself is possible proves that there is a continuity of reference beyond perception, along which bits of information have not yet been organized. Thus a thought is the pattern of sensory data saved in the memory. And thinking is the flow of energy which occurs because of the inescapable essentiality of the Transcendent Unity. Thought means change, and there is no fixed thing except the attribute of Unity. This implies that unity transcends even thought and so it is not a concept; rather, it is the overall reality that each concept represents or implies. In other words, a concept is the verbal reference to the unity of a set of variable, of a phenomenon or of a set of phenomena or a selected aspect of reality.


Unity is the origin of reality: Unity is its support and Unity is its goal. Thus one thing is predetermined—Unity. To be more appropriate, it is neither predetermined, nor will it ever be modified; rather, it is another name for the Ever Presence, the Ever Living, the Eternal. It is the Destroyer–because it destroys the extremity of difference; it is the only Creator¾because it apparently splits itself to create difference. Freedom in Unity creates Diversity, and unified diversity presents diversified unity, which is Beauty. Thus there is beauty in destruction—in the destruction of too much extremity. Only extremity is destroyed so that the Middle Course can be established. The continuous pull of Unity repeatedly revives the Middle Course, just as the bob of a pendulum continuously tends to the mid-point.

Any concept-building is bound to be erroneous if the overall Unity of all possible things—conceivable or inconceivable—is not kept in consideration.

Manifestation of Unity:

Three distinct levels of unity needs to be kept in consideration in constructing any theory relating to any aspect of social reality:

 Conceptual Unity,
‚ Perceptual Unity, and
ƒ Operational Unity.

Conceptual unity involves consistency, validity, and reliability of concepts and instruments. Perceptual unity involves justice, ethics, shared values, and cooperation. Operational unity involves co-ordination or organization, effectiveness, and efficiency.

We have already touched on the topic of consistency, so let us briefly define the others. Validity refers to the unity of means and objectives. Reliability refers to the unity of the instrument or frame of reference. Love is unity perceived. Justice is social love objectified. Ethics is justice accepted as a set of values. Operational unity means unity in the structure or set of relationships. Effectiveness refers to the unity of structure or relationships and objectives. Efficiency refers to effectiveness achieved with the minimum level of resources.    

How to Construct a Theory


The following set of activities are expected to help construct a theory with the desired level of precision and validity.

 (1) Identify the phenomena to be studied.
(2)   Identify and list all Identities, events, and states involved in the phenomena.
(3)   Discover all possible categories that can be attributed to the Identities, events, and states.
(4)   Analyze all the elements/members of each category/set in light of the concepts of ‘similarity’ and ‘difference’.
(5)   Use the process of analysis stated in No. 4 above for two or more sets.
6.     Try to find out a concept which will divide the whole phenomenon or set of phenomena in two classes, then two other concepts each of which will divide each class into two classes, then four other concepts each of which will divide each class into two classes, ..., etc., and continue the process until all classes are exhausted.
7.     Now determine the various types of order latent in the set of concepts derived so far and apply the measures of unity to different sets of concepts from as many angles as may seem reasonable and then relate them to the overall unity of phenomena that will come into the view little by little.

Continued ...



Author of:

Secret Knowledge of the Qur'an