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January 19, 2008

Knowledge versus Information

On the Extreme Productivity by Design blog, Skip Walter wrote the following post on Ackoff's hierarchy from data to wisdom perspective.  Here's an excerpt from that blog:

As I was wandering into a client today, Greg asked one of those questions that lead to a teachable moment: "So Skip, it's clear from our working sessions that you think that knowledge and information are two different things. I've always thought of them as interchangeable. What is the difference?"

What a great question. It took me a long time and a lot of work by one of my mentors, Russ Ackoff, to help me see that these two concepts are very different. My simple definition of information versus knowledge is that information is structured data and knowledge is information in action. However, to put the question in a larger context, I then introduced Ackoff's hierarchy which I've come to call WUKID - Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Information and Data.

The blog post continues with more details on the knowledge management, and additional footnotes.  Continue reading this content at the Extreme Productivity by Design.

Posted by ACASA on January 19, 2008 at 06:21 PM in blog post | Permalink


The WUKID definitions are ‘one thing’ but the next question is; how do the come to influence our behaviour? For example, Vygotsky (the ‘father’ of Russian psychology) suggests that our different levels of ‘understanding’ (e.g. structured and situational) are simultaneously accessible to us in the manner that a sedimentary geological sequence is available to the earth (e.g. our youthful view and adult view are simultaneously available to us).

Further, as Poincaré observes, our scientific formulations are generalisations that allow us to deal approximately with phenomena involving the connective confluence of diverse influences that never repeat ‘exactly’, and, while based on our experience, we then use these formulations to ‘correct’ our particular experience (once we have fit the curve to our experiential ‘data points’, we use it ‘interpolate’ so as to predict what our experience ‘is going to be’).

Going beyond ‘science’, our political and religious ‘formulations’, since they influence our behaviour or serve as ‘actional information’, would appear to fall into the ‘knowledge’ category in the WUKID classifications).

Meanwhile, psychologists note that we use ‘story’ as the integrator of such formulations and we allow ‘story’ to ‘use us’ (and often to ‘abuse us’). For example, ‘sovereignty’ (of tracts of land) is imposed by those who have the power, by superimposing an imaginary-line based closed geometric form over the unbounded landscape and declaring this cookie-cutter tract to be ‘independent’; i.e. to have an ‘inside’ that is mutually exclusive from its outside, and to further declare that ‘it’ has supreme authority over its ‘internal affairs’. Such abstraction has no basis in ‘natural dynamical phenomena’ (i.e. wind, rivers, flora and fauna do not give deference to the purported ‘absolute inside’ or ‘local being’ of the sovereign nation-object. But no matter, as with the generalised formulations of science, we allow the story of the sovereign nation as local-object-being to ‘use us’ (to ‘correct’ our individual and collective behaviours). Such ‘stories that use us’ and which ‘correct our natural experiential behavour’ can easily come into conflict with each other. In the case of ‘sovereignty’, if Serbia claims that Kosovo is included in Serbia; i.e. if Serbia claims that the imaginary bounding lines that define Serbia are ‘more real’ than the imaginary boundary lines that define Kosovo, then conflict will ensue since the respective populations of Serbia and Kosovo are letting themselves ‘be used’ by their respective stories which depend upon their respective placement of ‘imaginary boundary lines’ (i.e. the formulation based on these imaginary lines is used to ‘correct’ the behaviour of those with a ‘common belief’ in them).

As Poincaré has noted, this presents a philosophical problem in the deepest fundamentals of scientific formulations in that what we commonly refer to as ‘data’, we have made dependent on ‘local objects’ endowed with ‘local behaviour’ and there is no support in our natural experience for such abstraction. The notion of a local object with ‘its own behaviour’ depends upon the combination of a hidden axiom (the concept of a local, closed-geometric form object’ as in ‘sovereignty’) and a hidden convention (a notional absolute fixed and empty [Euclidian] reference space that bypasses the relativity of motion and gives meaning to the absolute motion of ‘local objects’). As Poincaré notes, if the natural space we are included in is energy-flow (recalling matter-energy equivalence of relativity and the matter-resonance equivalence of quantum wave dynamics). He writes “Such axioms [the existence of local objects] would be utterly meaningless to a person living in a world in which there are only fluids” and cites John Stuart Mill who similarly observes; “Every definition implies an axiom, that in which we affirm the existence of the object defined.”

In other words, ‘sovereignty’ is built into scientific formulations at the level of ‘data’ since the existence of local objects is our standard way of ‘getting started’ with our attempt to articulate our observations and experiences which, as relativity and quantum theory suggest, are in and of a world that is more truthfully characterized as a nonlocal fluid-dynamical continuum. As Kepler said, our problem in science is that we have a habit of ‘choosing not that which is most true but that which is most easy.”

Meanwhile, we allow the ‘stories’ based on such ‘more easy’ scientific, ... and political and religious, ... ‘formulations’, to ‘use us’; i.e. ‘to correct our experience’ (shape our behaviour). Who will argue that the United States does not ‘really exist’ or have ‘local independent object being’? Perhaps Native American traditionalists, but most of us will ‘affirm its existence’ in the manner of the John Stuart Mill citation above, and even the Native, after ignoring the ‘border’ and being arrested and punished for it, will at least begin to ‘correct his experience’ as he approaches the imaginary line boundary, even if the punishments fail to ‘make a believer out of him’ (i.e. ‘common belief’ is the only basis for accepting the existence of ‘local objects’ demarcated by imaginary boundary lines and/or imaginary surfaces with ‘insides’ that are mutually exclusive of their ‘outsides’. While the existence of the most powerful ‘local object state’ in the world; i.e. the United States, is unlikely to have its ‘common belief’ foundations threatened in the 21st century, the same cannot be said of Kosovo; i.e.. Serbia, if it garners sufficient power (perhaps with the help of Russia and China) could dissolve the local objecthood of Kosovo.

Political sovereignty is currently being questioned around the world, by NGOs and by religious groups (e.g. Muslims) who note the secular origins of sovereignty and how secular ethics are imposed within each notional ‘local object state’ by the ‘supreme central authority over internal affairs’ that comes bundled in with the notion of a ‘local object state’. In order to ‘break the power’ of secularism and its, to some, ‘degenerate ethics’, sovereignty is coming under fire. This is merely observation.

There has been a parallel questioning of the ‘sovereignty of systems’ in the systems sciences; i.e. analytical inquiry assumes the sovereignty (local independent exiistence) of the system it is seeking to understand. Ackoff’s ‘synthetical inquiry’ contradicts ‘system sovereignty’ and suggests inner-outer interdependency (as with the dynamics of community suprasystem and university-system). The ‘quick fix’ is ‘wholism’;i.e. to include the influence of the suprasystem to the largest extent possible so that what was formerly a ‘local system’ is now an interdependent component within a very large suprasystem. This has been the origin of the Gaia hypothesis in biology. However, the boundaries of Gaia stop at the limits of the earth so that the notion of a ‘local object system’ (with surpreme authority over internal affairs) persists.

The point of this comment is, that the whole WUKID hierarchy is permeated with the unresolved philosophical issues that associate with the ‘belief’ in the ‘existence of local objects’. This has fundamental import since we use these WUKID definitions (or others similar to them) in our formulations to fabricate generalisation-based ‘stories’ that ‘use us’ (that correct our particular experiences and shape our individual and collective behaviours).

Posted by: ted lumley at Jun 27, 2008 2:20:50 PM

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