Exploring the Meaning of Knowledge

Have you ever stopped to ponder what it truly means to know something? What does it entail to claim we know something, act on it, and even live and die for it? Can we use the term “knowledge” as a general descriptor, or are there various clusters around it?

Such groupings could be regarded as a series of spectrums, ranging from data to information to knowledge (in a narrow sense) to wisdom to insights. These terms are frequently used interchangeably, or at times, misused. How can we make these terms more distinctive yet maintain a certain overarching concept of what we know as knowledge in the broader sense?

By definition, we can express these spectrums as follows:

  • Data: Raw facts, figures, and statistics that are typically presented in a structured form. Data, on its own, lacks meaning or context and requires interpretation to derive insights.
  • Information: Derived from data by processing, organizing, and presenting it in a way that makes it useful and meaningful. Information provides context and can help to answer specific questions.
  • Knowledge: Refers to the understanding and expertise that one develops through experience and learning. Knowledge is often based on information and enables individuals to make decisions, solve problems, and take action.
  • Wisdom: A higher-level understanding that is based on knowledge and experience, and it involves the ability to make sound judgments and apply good judgment in complex and uncertain situations.

In the progression from data to information to knowledge to wisdom or perhaps insights, the level of commitment increases. When we say we live and die for something, this “something” should be at the level of knowledge and wisdom. Here, we often express opinions, ideologies, faith, and worldviews or even how we understand something transcendental and divine. Paradoxically, we can never recognize something beyond what we know unless and until we understand the limitation of what we can know.

Death also differs depending on what level we comprehend it. Knowing the death of someone you don’t know only from the newspaper is not more than data and information. On the other hand, the death of someone you know, or even love, is no longer mere knowledge. Often, we have to accept their death from the perspective of our wisdom and faith. And knowing your own death is a sort of ultimate level of understanding. At the moment we experience it, we can probably know what it is, but then it is the moment that we can no longer know as we leave this world as if we are no longer ourselves as the subject of understanding something. It is, indeed, paradoxically ultimate.

Throughout history, philosophers have contemplated this question and the role of critical thinking in our lives. Perhaps one of the well-known theories, without going into the realism of an agnostic ultimatum, could be the “justified true belief” theory, which suggests that knowledge must be true, justified, and believed by the individual. This could be one of the most acceptable definitions of knowledge, particularly when we identify ourselves as modern-day knowledge workers.

In today’s knowledge economy, knowledge workers play a vital role in our workforce. These are individuals who rely on their intellect and knowledge to perform their jobs, such as researchers, analysts, scientists, engineers, and writers. While some may worry about the impact of artificial intelligence and other technologies on these workers, there’s no need to fret. This is the area where AI can help automate routine tasks, enhance collaboration among knowledge workers, create new jobs, and enable these workers to create new products, services, and solutions. There’s more to success in the business world than just having knowledge workers and advanced technology.

But that does not necessarily mean that we can confine ourselves to such a general concept of knowledge. Now, as the Singularity seems near due to the recent breakthroughs in neural networking and deep learning technologies, we cannot help but revisit what knowledge generation means. All those knowledge workers like researchers, analysts, scientists, engineers, and writers are in charge of knowledge generation. But now, a large part of their tasks can be done by AI, or even done better by AI. If so, what could be the role of us humans?

On one hand, our brain functions are not so different from the mechanism of AI. We thought we could be creative, but then, in reality, AI can easily produce poetry, novels, and artwork. The truth is that both humans and AI can equally process a pile of knowledge to generate additional sets of knowledge, which is the reality of the knowledge process and tasks of knowledge workers. Are we different from AI?

The answer is yes and no.

We are not so different from AI in terms of our capability of knowledge generation. At the same time, we are different from AI in the perspective of the pursuit of knowledge. Pursuing knowledge is different from mere generation of knowledge. Perhaps, we could use this pursuit of knowledge and wisdom as a philosophical attitude. It is an attitude of self-referentiality, reflexivity, meta-perspective, and meta-cognition. Business leaders can benefit from adopting a philosophical attitude as well.

By taking a step back and considering the fundamental questions that underlie their work, they can develop a deeper understanding of their impact on society and the environment. This includes aspects like ethics, creativity, innovation, empathy, and long-term thinking. By using a philosophical mindset, leaders can make more informed decisions, develop effective strategies, and create businesses that are both profitable and socially and environmentally responsible. In this way, if we conduct a dialogue with AI’s chatbot, the way we seek knowledge is our driving force of pursuing knowledge, not vice versa.

The pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is a lifelong journey that involves seeking, acquiring, and applying knowledge and understanding in practical ways. Pursuing wisdom involves engaging in critical thinking, developing emotional intelligence, seeking diverse perspectives, learning from experience, and applying ethical principles. It’s important to remember that, although life is finite, there are many ways to find meaning and purpose in the present moment and make a positive impact on the world around us. Why do we seek knowledge despite the truth that we definitely face our own death and leave this world? We can never avoid facing the existential meaning of life and death.

The pursuit of knowledge is not just about gathering information or generating insights. It is a journey that challenges us to grow and develop as individuals, to think critically and creatively, and to explore the world around us with curiosity and wonder. It is a journey that invites us to make connections and find meaning in our experiences and in the broader context of human history and society.

As we continue to grapple with the ever-evolving landscape of knowledge generation and the role of AI, it’s important to remember that the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom is ultimately a human endeavor. It’s a journey that requires us to embrace our own humanity and to strive for excellence in everything we do. So, let us continue to pursue knowledge and wisdom with passion and dedication, knowing that our pursuit is not just for ourselves, but for the betterment of humanity and the world around us.

Image by Piotr

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