Information is not knowledge

Information is not knowledge

28th April 2019 Description of the world 0
A woman is looking for knowledge in the library. Books are flying around.

Woman in library (Image by comfreak on PLiXS)

What is communicated by relatives, friends, colleagues, schools, universities, or media such as newspapers, television, and the Internet is very often not knowledge. It’s just information. If a history book describes events at that time, then that can be right or wrong.

If we open physics books that are more than 300 years old, we can see that according to the current scientific state (*) much of it is not true. Similarly, in the year 2300 one will say that in the books of 2019 much of the content is wrong, although from today’s point of view it corresponds to the truth.

The black street lamps

If I tell you that in the street I live, the street lamps are black, then I have the knowledge because I have seen them and can see them again anytime I look out of the window. For you, this is first of all an information. You have to come to my street and only then will you know if this information is correct. Sure, it makes no sense to lie to you about the color of street lamps. Therefore, the probability is very high that the information corresponds to the truth. Nevertheless, it is only an information.

Search for truth

So first we have to find out if the information is correct before we can call it knowledge. If you come to my street and see the black street lamps, then you have the knowledge that there are black street lamps in my street.

Conversely, this also means that we can not check many things at all. Let us take history books as an example. Primarily, we can not travel back in time. What we can do is to examine archaeological finds and old documents, if they exist. Then we have to analyze how trustworthy these sources are.

Other circumstances are so complex that it is difficult to find the truth. For this the field of nutrition is a good example. Many recommendations have never been confirmed by studies. Or it has been proven, but there are other studies that say the opposite. Studies on humans are often contradictory because there are many parameters that are not controlled. Often experiments with mice are conducted, but in that case we do not know to what extent the results are transferable to humans.

Meaningless discussions

Maybe the following situation sounds familiar to you. You are together with some friends and you are talking about all sorts of topics. Sometimes you know more and sometimes less. But often you only have some information from the newspaper, television or the Internet. Nevertheless, you formed your opinion, although no knowledge exists. And even if the information is correct, more information is missing, which would lead to another conclusion.

The paradigm shift

Based on the information we have, we build a model of how this world works. An explanatory model for an event is called a paradigm. As our information changes, our paradigm changes.

A good example of such a change comes from the American management expert Stephen Covey [1]. He was sitting in the New York subway when a man with his children arrived. The children behaved badly and harassed the other passengers. Stephen Covey thought that the man was completely insensitive and took no responsibility for his children. But then the man told him that they just came from the hospital and his wife had died an hour ago. Of course, this new information suddenly changed Stephen Covey’s opinion of the man and the whole situation.

Blind faith

For many cases, we do not know, if the information is true, and in addition we have only a fraction of the complete information. This shows that we do not have much knowledge. Nevertheless, we often believe that we know a lot and make decisions based on it. Decisions based on a belief in information that we call knowledge.

Beliefs arise

Information causes beliefs to arise in our minds. Because of this we can be manipulated by others, both consciously and unconsciously.

Margaret Paul [2] names in her book Inner Bonding some negative beliefs that can be learned in early childhood from the people around us and often persist into adulthood:

  • There is something wrong with me.
  • Other people are responsible for my feelings.
  • I am responsible for the feelings of others.
  • I can influence how others think about me and how they treat me.

These beliefs, if we have them, can strongly influence our lives. But we have beliefs about everything. About the neighbor, politics, science, sports, nutrition. Whatever there is in this world.

The description of the world

With our beliefs, we automatically describe the world, whether we like it or not. The description of the world acts as a filter and influences our perception. Based on beliefs and perception, we think and act. Beliefs that are not consistent with the world, can cause a lot of trouble for us. In addition, combinations of false beliefs can create new false beliefs. It then becomes like a dark labyrinth that gets bigger and deeper.

For this reason, it is important to analyze all the information we have received and not blindly believe it. The same goes for the things we believed so far.

Remarks

(*) In many cases there is no consensus in research.

References

[1] Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Mango Media, Kindle Edition 1 (2015)

[2] Margaret Paul, Inner Bonding: Becoming a Loving Adult to Your Inner Child, HarperOne, Kindle Edition 1 (16. Oktober 2012)

 

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