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The Data-Info-Knowledge-Wisdom hierarchy

As part of my Be A Bigger A-Hole resolution, let me note that the Harvard Business Review blog has just run a post of mine that looks at the history of the DIKW pyramid and why it doesn’t make that much sense.

5 Responses to “The Data-Info-Knowledge-Wisdom hierarchy”

  1. Your post at HBR blog was great, but … I must admit I never thought about the DIKW pyramid as resulting from “applying finer-grained filters at each level”. In some sense even the rungs from data to information are not exactly made of filters or mere reduction of data complexity. It involves synthesis as well. This is even clearer in the rung between information and knowledge.

    To me the pyramid in DIKW was quite abstract symbol, depicting the growing level of sublimation in the hierarchy.

    When looking at this angle I do not find big problem with DIKW hierarchy.

    What I like in your post though is the stress that the knowledge is “more creative, messier, harder won, and far more discontinuous” – and maybe it just transcends and, in the same time, breaks with the sublimation order DIKW seems to suggest.

    Now – what to say about wisdom ???

  2. Mirek, we are so far from wisdom, that I don’t think we have to worry about it at this point :)

  3. I agree, that was a catchy question :-)

  4. Wisdom – it’s not just for Clerics any more

  5. David,

    Thanks for (yet another) excellent post and a very interesting discussion.

    I’ll repost my comment here (to publish it under CC):

    I’ve also been pondering about the linkages between data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. And how all this materializes (or not) in our world. Surely the terms themselves are problematic (as all terms are) but I won’t go into that.

    Rather, I’ll use Martin Luther King, Jr’s quote “Science investigates religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power religion gives man wisdom which is control” to toss a question kind of up in the air on the possibility that we are chasing a ghost, so to say (pardon my ESL if the expression doesn’t make sense :).

    Now, the MLK’s quote is not the first time this idea(?) has been cast. It seems that quite a number of religious/spiritual paths suggest the very same thought. E.g. Thomas Aquinas pointed out nearly a thousand years ago that “With all the knowledge we have of the world we don’t thoroughly understand the essence of a single fly” (or something along those lines) essentially (IMHO) pointing to a huge gap if not gorge between knowledge and wisdom.

    Now, I’m just a young(ish) engineer, so I’ll leave it to the more knowledgeable to answer: Have we become _any_ wiser in 800 years with all of the information, knowledge and education going through the roof(s)? And if not, is it even possible that we can become _wiser_ (as in wisdom) through the accumulation of _knowledge_?

    Are we trying to marry something that can not be combined when we’re desperately(?) trying to draw a causality arrow from knowledge to wisdom (using filters or what not)? And if so, how can these to (possibly) separate creatures live in the same table?

    Is this maybe something that e.g. pragmatism solves for us? That there doesn’t need to be a link between knowledge and wisdom? Even if they would correlate, even heavily, even if they would overlap.

    The more I’ve pondered this the more I’m inclined to agree with MLK and could condense my thoughts e.g. by saying that perhaps knowledge (and broader understanding) that we can gain through education is the fuel for material development and wealth (as it has been very successfully) where as wisdom relates to deeply understanding the “truly non-material” (excluding the “material digital”) side of life, the universe and everything that spirituality is all about (which someone could argue that we haven’t been quite as successful in the last century or few). … Which is pretty much the same as MLK said.

    I’m curious as heck to hear any thoughts on this.

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