Replying to LO29314 --
I have held this view for a long time , perhaps five years or more when I
drew a picture showing knowledge in heads being externalised as
Information and then re-internalised as new knowledge in another head. I
was happy with this until about two days ago and the I looked at your
essay which I always read with interest and respect. However, I am
beginning to have some doubts and I thought I might comment on some of
your points in a constructive manner (I hope that is how it comes across).
Your essay is quite long, so the response will have to be. Please bear
You wrote -
> because I often perceive information and its use as unnatural.
- Why? Life depends on using information about food, predators, dangers,
shelter, safety and so on. Without senses which make use of information
around us life wouldn't be possible. Is life unnatural?
> i think that the interaction between knowledge and information has been
>neglected too much.
- There is often a lively debate where the pyramidal model of data
information, knowledge and wisdom is often discussed and very often taken
for granted. It doesn't help, but that is how it goes in my experience.
We, in IT certainly spend a lot of time discussing the relationship and
interaction and the distinctions between data and information. We also
take a lot of trouble to make our users appreciate it. The trouble does
start with the Information and Knowledge connection.
> I think of knowledge as something which dwells within a person whereas
>information exists outside that person. A person requires knowledge to
>create meaningful information. A person also requires knowledge to create
>meaning from information and thereby possibly add to his/her own
- That is what I thought too! and then on Tuesday Ralph Stacey of
University of Hertfordshire in UK led a workshop on Complexity theory and
KM. He insists that knowledge is only in the interactions between people,
because people are modified during that interaction. So, rather than
using linear model of objects such as minds, knowledge etc in an
essentially static landscape, you should really be looking at it a
phenomenon that occurs over a series of interactions in which the
participating agents themselves change. It is impossible to plan this
interaction reliably or to predict the outcomes because of this changing
landscape. Now, this agrees well with brain research and cognitive
sciences etc. Bout leaves some questions open for me.
- For example, if someone from Continental Europe came to Britain and was
told that 'In Britain, cars are driven on the left hand side of the road'.
Is this knowledge or information? Now Ralph says that until the person
uses this there is no knowledge. I would accept that this information is
stored in the mind/brain. But when the person uses it it is knowledge.
- I am a little sceptical at this point. Once you know how to cross the
road in UK safely, you know it and even without crossing a road. Or, is
it crossing the road' bit that is the knowledge and 'the driving on the
left that is information'?
- If that is right then, the person has deduced that looking to the right
for oncoming traffic is important and that is part of crossing the road
safely. But still, the person didn't need to cross the road to test this
deduction. So, is it the ability to make the deduction that is knowledge?
That's turning data or information into more information? not knowledge
into information as you suggest later, but along similar lines.
- He could pass this deduction on to a child and if he could trust the
child to follow his advice the child would be safe(r). Now would we say,
the adult didn't know, but the child did. Because one stayed in the hotel
room and the other went out and crossed a road?
- And then there is trust . In Cyprus, Tobago and India they all drive
on the left. In Cyprus this is mostly true. In Tobago this is sometime
true. In India, you can never rely on it. So, there is an element of
trust required here, isn't there. Now is it the information that requires
it or the knowledge?
>Jan Smuts, the father of holism, would have said that the plant
>(knowledge) is the whole and that the nutrients (information) is its
>field. Wholeness, for him, consists of any whole with its field. Holism,
>for him, is the increase of that wholeness in both the whole and its
>field. The whole (plant or knowledge) increases its tissue so that its
>roots can be extended into the soil and its branches into the air. The
>field (nutrients or information) increases by the plant giving through
>its leaves nutrients back to the soil and improving through its roots the
>permeability of the soil and thus the solubility of nutrients.
- Isn't that because, to Jan and yourself 'wholeness' is good and so is
'knowledge', and so the analogy links those two together? But Information
(or rather data) is whole because all of it exists. You see a rose, smell
it, touch it, perhaps even taste it and hear it being rubbed or something.
That is the whole potential experience. Someone who is further away may
only see it, a blind person may only smell it and so on. So, may be that
is information (selective and not whole). Knowledge of the rose may be
even more filtered - the rose is outside, in the garden and the blind
person can't even smell it. So, is knowledge whole? Or is knowledge a
phenomenon? Like the plant in you analogy, it is transient and ephemeral.
> Before I go deeper into information, allow me to summarise my thinking
>on knowledge and learning. The knowledge of a person is manifested as the
>capacity to act with purpose. Knowledge is acquired through the process
>of learning. It begins with sensations leading to experiences. The
>experiential level of knowledge emerges into the tacit level of knowledge
>when these experiences become organised coherently. The tacit level of
>knowledge emerges into the formal level of knowledge when it gets
>articulated in any kind of medium like language or music. The formal
>level of knowledge emerges into the sapient level of knowledge when it
>respects harmoniously the knowledge of another person.
- Much of this I agree with. But, the last bit, sapient level, is a bit
problematic. The Buddha sat under the tree and when he got up, he had
knowledge. He certainly met no one that already had the same knowledge.
But he preached and found agreement after. What if he hadn't! Surely,
there were people he could not enlighten. Does that damage this sapient
>However, a most important difference between the organisations of
>knowledge and information is that knowledge ought to have wholeness
>whereas information is always fragmented into "parcels" like books or
>musical performances. With such a "parcel" I mean that the information in
>it is of a fixed, bounded nature.
- Surely, our knowledge about many things is fragmented. As humankind,
today we know a lot about our universe, but it made of parcels that are
useful. A surgeon knows his piece and the astronomer his piece. And
neither knows everything about their own field. As individuals , we know
something about other people, but only in the contexts of specific
relationships, such as friends colleagues, teachers, whatever. And if we
don't integrate all the pieces of our knowledge, we certainly
mis-integrate it. What I mean is that sometimes what we think about some
things is wrongly informed by what we know about other topics - this
manifests as prejudice, stereotyping, etc.
>As I have noted in previous contributions, a peculiarity of humankind in
>contrast to other kinds of animals is to present information visually
>while neglecting the other four sense organs. Perhaps this is the reason
>why information is so often misidentified with knowledge. People will say
>without second thoughts that a textbook on chemistry is knowledge, even
>though it is merely information. But they will far less convincingly say
>that a symphony of Mozart (hearing sense) or a statue of Michelangelo
>(touching sense) are knowledge. They will also give it second thoughts
>when somebody says that a symphony of Mozart or a statue of Michelangelo
>are actually information.
>Another peculiarity of humans is that when they want to present
>information for the other four sense organs, they often first formulate
>that information primarily for sight. The prescriptions in this visual
>information then have to be followed to produce information for smell,
>taste, hear or touch. It is because the visual information can be
>preserved for a long time in contrast to the other four kinds of
>information which are fleetingly. Perhaps this "preservation of
>information" is another reason why written or printed information is
>confused with knowledge.
- Surely, that is because we can and the animals can't. Only humans draw
pictures or write text. Animals make noises and gestures, emit pheromones
and humans do all these things. We sing, make music, dance to tell
stories and so on. It's just that the ability to draw, write is more
economical. Once done, used many times and over a long time period. So,
it isn't surprising that we communicate visually more than in other ways.
We started by making noises and then developed ways of turning what we
could say into what we could write.
> A most important change in the "preservation of information" came about
>with the emergence of micro-electronics. Information is now increasingly
>stored in electric, magnetic and optic devices of the so called
>"paperless office". It allows the storage of vast amounts of information
>in compact form. However, the preservation of it is contentious. It needs
>hardware, operating systems and software to present it visually on a
>screen. Since these devices are continually updated, it makes the past
>preservation of information easily obsolete.
- Those of us who are involved in document management, do recognise the
problems. It is cheaper to store electronically now, but your right there
is an issue of obsolescence and we try to address it through versioning of
documents, through coding standards that will be open, non-proprietary and
immune to technical developments. At some point we have to transfer
information from old media to new, just as we can now preserve ancient
parchments better by storing digital copies ( otherwise they will rot
away). Information is growing phenomenally, and it is difficult to judge
what to preserve and what to discard.
>Furthermore, digestions on the experiential and tacit level of knowledge
>in cyberspace becomes increasingly difficult. A person cannot see the
>body language of another person in cyberspace, nor follow his/her
>experiences. Consequently the digestive phase of learning gets
- so a paint brush doesn't make music, you need a piano.
>Written or printed information are always formulated in some or other
>language -- a protocol of how to interpret signs. The language may be
>natural like English or Russian. But it may also be technical like in
>music script or machine code of a computer program. The language itself
>usually allows for more organisation than that of the information in the
>document coded by it. Furthermore, the understanding of such an
>information document requires a knowledge of the language in which it has
>been formulated. Perhaps this "language of information" is another reason
>why information is confused with knowledge.
- But recent developments such as XML are trying to address exactly this
issue. You can now structure 'a natural language document' using natural
language for the most part with a very few pieces of technical jargon that
need to be understood. Unfortunately, this also allows people easily to
develop special purpose languages and so 'languages' defined using XML are
proliferating. But, the basic stuff may allow computers to translate the
'structure' of the document into a' structure' in another natural
language. What it can't do is translate the natural language content.
But, sometimes humans can't fully and exactly translate between natural
languages either. So, should we all speak just one natural language?
>Every person who creates a document with information has far more
>knowledge in general than that reflected specifically by the information.
>Therefore it ought to be surprising that so many people in some cases
>consider the information as the sole source of knowledge to be gained.
>This literalism is particularly the case with religious texts like the
>Bible, Quran or Veda.
- Sorry. I am a Hindu. Please check your facts about the Vedas. They
were not written for many centuries, but passed through teaching and
memory. In that they must have evolved. They do not prescribe or claim
to be the ONLY source of knowledge. But they do claim to be eternal
knoowledge that was always there and which exists and will exist
irrespective of the existence of living beings. The Hindu philosophy
positively stresses that there are many ways and many forms of knowledge
and there is no only truth. The Bible is a set of stories for people to
draw conclusions from, and surely to take there pick and so I agree about
the literalism being wrong. The Quran is more prescriptive and claims to
be the only source, but it too makes concessions to the two testaments.
Both books have been given greater authority by some bigots on the basis
of 'If it is printed then it must be right'. Surely, it is understanding
and not the literalism that is important. After all the bible exists in
many versions and most are results of multiple translations, some
controlled by politicians of various sorts.
> Furthermore, every person who creates information lives in a cultural
>environment far more complex than that reflected specifically by the
>information. This cultural environment plays a crucial role in giving
>identity to that person's knowledge. Therefore it also ought to be
>surprising that so many people consider the information as applicable to
>their own cultural environment without even first trying to establish its
>identity in terms of the cultural environment in which it has been
- Please expand, this is too difficult to grasp.
> Bearing in mind that information is visual for preservation while it
>involves the knowledge and culture of the person who formulated it, we
>may now begin to think of the kinds of information. For example, we may
>think of the various faculties/subjects/disciplines into which
>information can be classified. This is what happens typically in a
>library. Obviously, one person cannot know all the information contained
>in a large library. Yet a taxonomy is used to accomplish the organisation
>of these "parcels" of information.
>Is this taxonomy derived from knowledge which dwells within or from
>information which exists outside? The classification of information into
>various faculties/subjects/disciplines becomes increasingly difficult as
>they become integrated through interdisciplinary thinking. The title of
>such a document may suggest a unique classification, but its contents
>makes it possible to classify it among several taxa. Consequently it
>seems to me that the taxonomy is derived from information rather than
- I agree. Taxonomies are classification system well suited to the
classification of living organisms. Even for these, the purpose for which
a taxonomy is built matters. Unfortunately too many people talk about
these taxonomies. Librarians really only talk about classification
systems. Bu, people are talking these days about ontologies, which are
webs of relationships of many kinds between topics and things. These are
much more useful and help to overcome your objections. They allow those
cross-disciplinary links to be made and multiple viewpoints to be
expressed. For example an ontology might allow a florist to identify a
flower on the basis of colour shape and form etc as being suitable for a
particular purpose. Then they could switch perspectives and understand
its botanical aspects or pharmacological properties or its ritual
symbolism etc. All those relations ships would be hosted within an
ontology. I have a paper on this if you are interested.
The above comment concerns a most important issue. A systematic
classification requires individual specimens. Information is delivered in
discreet "parcels" so that a taxonomy is possible, despite how complex it
may be. But can knowledge be fragmented into "parcels"? All my
consciousness of knowledge wants to cry out NEVER! Knowledge defies a
classification in discreet taxa. Knowledge is like an ecosystem in which
all the taxa interacts in harmony, "ignorant" to any human taxonomy.
Whenever knowledge is subjected to any taxonomy, it is placed under the
servitude of information. This cannot be the case because the ecosystem
evolved long before humankind's contemplation of it as ecology!
- That's right. You need ontologies. But it has little to do with
Information Vs Knowledge. If you can't have knowledge outside
minds/brains then you've excluded this already.
> By adhering to a taxonomy of information, we do our knowledge much harm.
>Consider the earlier example in which I have likened knowledge (the
>whole) to a plant and information (its field) to the nutrients upon which
>it feeds while illustrating increasing wholeness with the cobalt ion and
>carbon dioxide. Assume that I have elaborated this comparison into a full
>article, a "parcel" of information. Under which subject will we classify
>this article -- chemistry, botany, education or philosophy? Say, for
>example, that it is classified under chemistry. We could choose anyone of
>the other three too and work out its consequences, but choosing chemistry
>will be enough to get the idea across.
> How many chemists would accept the botany, education and philosophy in
>it as "part of chemistry"? I do not think that even one would do so. They
>would never consider botany, education and philosophy as part of
>chemistry. Thus they would not allow the publication of such an article
>in a journal of chemistry. It is just not chemistry -- and the chemistry
>in it is not novel. However, the chemistry, botany, education and
>philosophy which I have used to create this example, are "parts" of my
>knowledge. Since the information which I have created with my knowledge
>cannot be classified, this knowledge cannot be disseminated to others.
>Allow me to explain it again because this is most important.
> Yes. But isn't that simply economy and focus on purpose. Sometimes
>people do give you interesting insights into off-the-target aspects of
>what they are writing about, and that makes for a better life, but isn't
>there a limit?
I feel I am now in danger of carrying on with this when tired and doing it
badly. I'll stop here, At. I hope this is useful.
Dileep Damle MSc, MBA
Knowledge Technology Manager
Abbey National plc
"Damle, Dileep" <Dileep.Damle@abbeynational.co.uk>
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