Knowledge and Information LO30719

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 10/16/03

Responding (not replying) to Hal Popplewell in LO30711 --

>Hal, replying to Mark McElroy in LO30698 --
>Mark: Per my comments above, I agree that fact is reality. But to say that it
> >is truth is to beg the question of how we determine truth relative to
> >what the facts are.
>Hal: I am sorry but I think I'll retire from this discussion. To continue on
>Mark's terms would require us to redefine words that Webster has already
>defined. It does not "beg" a question to use a term as it is properly

Careful, Hal. I've been following this discussion and I'll simplify it as
follows: The debate seems to be between those who define knowledge apart
from people and those who say there is no knowledge unless people are
involved. Whether I've got that right or wrong is actually immaterial to
the argument outlined above. To wit: The definitions of knowledge from my
several Websters:

 1. acquaintance with facts, truths or principles (the use of
"acquaintance with" seems to imply the involvement of the someone whose
"acquaintance" is part of the definition)

 2. familiarity or conversance as with a particular subject (again,
someone seems to be involved and the evidence of "familiarity" or
"conversance" would seem to hinge on that someone doing something to
evidence the alleged "familiarity" or "conversance")

 3. acquaintance, familiarity or experience gained by sight, experience
or report (once again, "someone" seems central to the definition and thus
that someone's expression of knowledge seems central to proving the
existence of knowledge as defined)

 4. fact or state of knowing (I don't know about "fact" but "state of
knowing" clearly ties to someone and that, too, takes us to whatever it is
that someone might provide in the way of evidence -- which essentially
boils down to overt action, be it verbal such as an utterance or nonverbal
such as writing or other patterned behaviors persuading an observer of the
existence of said knowledge)

 5. awareness, as of a fact or circumstance (there's that pesky "fact"
again but let's focus on "awareness" which clearly implies some kind of
sentient being and not some disembodied form of knowledge)

 6. that which is or may be known; information (Aha! Now we have
knowledge in a disembodied form; namely, information)

 7. the body of truths or facts accumulated by mankind in the course of
time (Once more we have knowledge in a disembodied form, this time
encompassing truths and those ever pesky facts)

 8. the sum of what is known (if it's the sum of what is known by an
individual, that makes sense; however, if it's the sum of what is known by
everyone I'm darned if I know who can know it)

 9. sexual intercourse (admittedly, this is an archaic, biblical meaning
as in he knew her or she knew him -- who can say in today's world, but,
for what it's worth, it clearly involves people and actions)

Well, so much for my Websters -- and it's a really big one.

I'm sympathetic to your position, Hal, because I too tire of people
redefining terms in common use and thus adding to the already abundant
confusion in the world. However, I'm also sympathetic to what I perceive
as Mark's position, namely, that of pressing for precise, unambiguous
definitions (although I'm not yet certain that that is what he is

I learned a long time ago that definitions are in the dictionary and
meanings are in people. On my part, I believe that knowledge exists in
people and evidences its existence in their actions. I also believe that
knowledge exists in documented and documentable form. However, in order
for the documented form of action to make its way into the world someone
must attach meaning to it and base action upon it. Two people reading the
same piece of documented knowledge might engage in very different actions
as a consequence. Why? Because they've attached different meanings to
it. So, does knowledge exist apart from people? I think so. The formula
for finding the area of a square is an example. Does knowledge evidence
itself in the actions of people? Probably. I say "probably" because I
think it is the eye of the observer that action evidences knowledge more
so than it is in the actions themselves. I don't think the people doing
the acting think about their actions in those terms but observers do.

That leaves me, in the words of a former colleague of mine, in a place
where I agree with everyone. Knowledge exists apart from people (in one
form) and it evidences or manifests itself in the actions of people
(albeit in a very different form and one that really requires an

Finally, I think that all the time, energy and effort being expended in
relation to pinning down terms like data, facts, information, knowledge
and wisdom is basically a waste of time, energy and effort. In that vein,
I close with this question:

What is the value of unequivocally separating those terms?

>Mark wants to discuss the process of becoming true or ascertaining truth
>and that is good - but it is not the point of this discussion.
>Information is expressed as facts and knowledge is used / applied to
>reason about these facts. Reasoning is the "engine" of a sentient mind.
>The only way to detect knowledge is to observe some action under the
>control of this mind.

That, as I hope I've made clear above depends on which definition of
knowledge you're using.

>I have seen no case or argument which would persuade me to believe that
>knowledge can exist outside and without the "engine" - the reasoning
>mechanism to apply the knowledge. So I say again, a connection ready to
>make is not a connection made - that is, it is not knowledge but might be
>considered "knowledge ready."

I agree with your second sentence, namely, that a connection ready to be
made is not a connection made, however, if I use your reliance on the
dictionary, then knowledge can indeed exist outside and without the
"engine" (which I assume is a human being).

>A learning organization learns both facts and knowledge. They are, imho,
>learned differently. The ability to distinguish facts (information) from
>knowledge is, imho, critical to learning.

Darn. There are those pesky "facts" again. Rather than resort to my
Websters for another tedious exercise in definitions, I will instead ask,
"What do you mean by 'facts'?


Fred Nickols


Fred Nickols <>

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