Knowledge valuation

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This article by Dr Piotr Wozniak is part of SuperMemo Guru series on memory, learning, creativity, and problem solving.


Valuation of knowledge is a neural process of computing the value of a piece of knowledge from the point of view an individual. The valuation is largely determined by prior knowledge, its valuations, and the individual's goals.


For a 12-year-old aspiring soccer player, knowing the life story of Messi or Maradona is highly valuable. For the same child, trigonometry may seem irrelevant. Her brain will attach little value to trigonometry. At the same time, for a 22-year-old student of architecture, geometry is essential, while the knowledge of football may be of little interest. In this example, we might be speaking about the same brain set in two different knowledge states separated by a decade. Knowledge valuation depends on personal goals, and the valuation of individual pieces of one's own prior knowledge. It is highly individual. It determines the pleasure of learning. Inevitable individual differences in knowledge valuation undermine the concept of the universal curriculum in efficient learning.


All individual pieces of knowledge processed by the brain can instantly be evaluated for their relevance, coherence, and value. We instantly know if information is understandable and useful. We also often instantly notice when it is inconsistent, incoherent or irrelevant. The highest valuations are attributed to consistent and coherent knowledge that contributes to achieving personal goals.


Knowledge valuation is networked in that individual concepts in the concept network of the brain are associated with context-dependent value, and convey that value on associated concepts. For example, the value of understanding the liver, might be determined by the value of becoming a physician, which in turn may be valued for its monetary value or by the value of helping fellow human beings in need (or both).

I refer to the concept network of knowledge that leads to specific valuations as the knowledge valuation network.

There are many hypothetical mechanisms that might underlie valuation of knowledge. They are not mutually exclusive:

  • neuronal rate coding might be used to determine the "intensity" of the concept activation, which may convey value (see: Rate coding in knowledge valuation)
  • opioid receptor gradient in competitive learning, e.g. visual recognition, may affect regulatory synaptic connections that might locally impart value
  • valuations in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) may determine the master common currency for knowledge valuations
  • direct access to the nucleus accumbens, the ventral tegmental area, and other reward centers may result in providing consciously perceived reward

Valuations may be hierarchical in terms of their mechanisms as well. For example, rate coding might affect the degree of opioid stimulation, which may enhance the verdict in the OFC, which may selectively reach reward centers as the ultimate reward used by the learn drive system in guiding the learning process.

Further reading

For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru