Monthly Archives: December 2018

Data – Information – Knowledge

Who doesn’t know the classic distinction between data, information, and knowledge? And who hasn’t seen at least one version of the famous pyramid with data on the bottom, information making up the next level and knowledge making up the layer above that with the peak consisting of wisdom? There are several assumptions and implication of this model of data, information, and knowledge: First, it is assumed that they are qualitatively and quantitively different. Data, for example, is different from information and there is more data than information just as there is more information than knowledge with wisdom being the rarest sort of knowledge. Second, it is assumed that they are hierarchically interdependent, that is, you cannot have information without data or knowledge without information, but you could have data without information and information without knowledge. Third, the hierarchy implies a value judgement, that is, data is not as valuable as information and information is not as valuable as knowledge, and of course, wisdom is the most valuable of all. Finally, the hierarchy also implies a kind of temporal or ontological priority. Since information depends on data, data must come first, and since knowledge depends on information, information comes before knowledge, at least temporally. This means that first we have data, then we somehow construct information out of data, and then we can go on to construct knowledge out of information. Data is something like the raw material out of which is constructed information and information is the raw material out of which knowledge is constructed. There is nothing in the model that implies how this construction process works. The model itself does not tell us where data comes from or how exactly information is constructed out of data or knowledge out of information. In order to answer these questions, we are left to speculation.

There is of course a kind of consensus among interpreters that there are also different kinds of construction. In short, these may be termed “transcription,” “cognition,” and “praxis.” Data are said to be constructed by means of some kind of transcription, that is, something is preserved, fixed in some material form, in some medium, whether it be sound, text, or pictures. Today, data is above all transcribed into bits and bytes, that is, into digital media, which, as the dominant media in today’s world, also determine what is usually meant by the term “data.” Data are just bits and bytes, 1s and 0s, electronically fixed upon some memory medium. Information is usually thought to be constructed out of data. When the otherwise meaningless bits and bytes are combined into signs in a language and are given meaning, then data becomes information. This is above all a cognitive process. Somebody makes “sense” of the images or marks on paper or the bits and bytes on the chip via a cognitive process of “reading.” This is information. But it is not yet knowledge. Knowledge is what information becomes when it used practically to solve some specific problem. The practical use of information in problem-solving activities is called “praxis.” It is in praxis that mere information, for example, mere theory or mere textbook knowledge, becomes situated in a particular context in the real world. It is through praxis that we know what information is good for, what it can do, how it can be used in complex situations. Knowledge is knowing by doing. This separates the apprentice from the master, the inexperienced from the experienced. It is the experienced master who alone can be said to possess knowledge.

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