Information is ubiquitous, so are the forms it exists in. It can be spoken, written, read, seen or heard and covers every conceivable subject. It is believed that information will eventually become knowledge to an individual or group. The question that needs answering is how and when this information becomes knowledge.
To do this I propose to discuss both information and knowledge as separate entities, to define each. This will form the basis of how and when information becomes knowledge. When information becomes knowledge it is subjective in so far that it is down to the individuals thought process which determines outcome and speed of the process.
How information becomes knowledge is more complex and involves examining the relevant theories. Particular attention is paid to the theories of Karl Popper who is regarded as one the greatest science philosophers. Within these theories the concept of subjective and objective knowledge will be addressed. Finally a conclusion will be drawn from the theories that have been used to how information becomes knowledge.
It should also be noted that when using the word information within this essay it is used to apply to both scientific and non-scientific information, unless otherwise specified.
The world is bursting with information, it may be observed, read, heard, in fact any of our senses can provide a portal to receive information. Traditionally information may be defined as facts, news, advice, or knowledge that is communicated by other persons or obtained by intelligence (Collins 2003 & The People’s Dictionary 2008).
Already by reading these definitions the lines between information and knowledge are blurred. Information can be taught or provided, then if the user wishes it may turn into knowledge. It is important to draw attention to the fact that information can take many forms – from a scientific theory to a timetable for example. The information user may seek to find information relevant to themselves and their needs and assimilate it to their knowledge. Therefore the information sought and retained must have meaning (Bellinger et al 2004).
Information by its nature is simplistic and often there is no background explanation. The alleged facts that pertain to form information can take the form of a simple statement. The potential information user may then accept the statement or refute its claims. For example it could be claimed that it is snowing outside, a simple statement that can be accepted or rejected. It may be that the statement is accepted at face value, or the recipient of the claim may wish to verify that this is correct by for example observing the clothing of the observant or looking outside. If the information is correct and of significance to the recipient it may become knowledge. If the information is now incorrect or of no significance to the information user it is likely to be rejected and at that moment discounted so does not form that knowledge. The same information could be of value at another time, but when proved that it is not correct it may be deduced that it is no longer snowing.
Generally knowledge may be considered to be a concept rather than a tangible object describing the processed information contained within the mind. Knowledge may be defined as experiences or facts known by a person, the act or state of knowing, clear perception of fact or specific information on a subject (Collins 2003 & The People’sDictionary 2008).
Knowledge can be subjective or objective. The concept of subjective knowledge involves the receiving of information and the processing of this by the individual. For example 30 people attending a lecture would receive the same information. It is how this information is processed and what content is specific to the individual that governs the concept of subjective knowledge. It has also been surmised that knowledge is received passively and stored in the subconscious until such time that it takes on a personal relevance (Clark 1972).
Objective knowledge is the knowledge that is shared with everyone, therefore it becomes common knowledge. The justified facts make up this knowledge which is then grouped and stored collectively in a form of organised subject matter. Again this is an intangible concept shared between a group of individuals taking as fact the information they believe to be justifiably true. It has been theorised that objective knowledge may take another form – such as books, art or engineering/buildings. This is a theory conceived by Karl Popper ( 1978 ) and will be discussed in more detail later in the essay
How and when does information become knowledge?
When information becomes knowledge has been explained above, although it should be noted that it is not subject to a time scale. Information becomes knowledge to the individual in subjective terms. An individual will actively or passively gain information and if this information is relevant or has meaning to that individual it will become knowledge unique to that individual. Unique in the individual’s interpretation of the information and unique to the thought concepts that may follow after the information forms knowledge (Clark 1972).
How information becomes knowledge is perhaps a more complex concept. Ignoring the physiological aspects of this concept it will now be discussed using various theories how this happens and the pitfalls that may occur in relation to scientific knowledge.
Various models of how information becomes knowledge exist. In their most simplistic form it is theorised that there is information available on a specific subject, this information is located and read. The individual forms ideas or views on the subject which are then communicated. Knowledge is assembled from the resource and formed due to analyzing, interpreting and finding patterns within this. Knowledge is digested and understood allowing the individual to use this for problem solving and decision making (Topsy.org 2008 & University of Bedfordshire 2007).
This type of model may have taken inspiration from the theories of Karl Popper. There is an element of production and consumption of theories and to carry on the creative aspect it is necessary to consume the theories of others and in some instances our own. Popper (1972) illustrates this by substituting bees and their hive environment for humans and human knowledge. In short bees produce honey; this is stored and consumed by the bees. The individual bee will not consume only the honey it has produced; honey is also consumed by bees which have not produced honey at all. To keep up the power to produce the honey it has to be consumed and again it will not be just the honey produced by that individual bee.
It is therefore not difficult to apply this to the individual. Information is digested, but the consumption of a theory represents criticism, change and even demolishing theories of our own or others (Popper 1972).
The Three Worlds theory could be seen to be an extension of the example above. Popper (1978) issued a challenge to those who held a monist or dualist view, and proposed a pluralist view. This took the form of 3 worlds. Briefly the 3 worlds consisted of:
- World 1: The Physical World – physical bodies, stars, animals, plants and physical energies.
- World 2: The Mental/Psychological World – feelings, thoughts, decisions, observations and perceptions. Mental states/processes or subjective experiences.
- World 3: Products of the Human Mind – languages, scientific theories, mathematics, music, paintings and engineering.
Popper (1978) theorised that elements from world 1 influenced world 2. From this the contents of world 3 are produced. For example an individual receives an item of information in the form of a newspaper; this is the physical element of world 1. This individual reads the information and digests it. This is the digestion of the information – it is considered in world 2. Presently the individual develops a theory concerning this information and through criticism challenges the original information – world 3. This process allows the individual to communicate these thoughts.
It is evident that the process of how information becomes knowledge in cyclic in nature. It can be said that the world 3 objects are abstract, but may belong to world 1 at the same time as a physical embodiment i.e. a book or piece of art (Popper 1978). Thus the physical embodiment can be perceived as once again being information and the cycle may begin again. This not only illustrates how information becomes knowledge it also illustrates how knowledge can be subjective or objective.
It appears that Popper was himself subject to his own theory. In Conjectures and Refutations (Popper 1963) he frames the concept of verisimilitude, offering qualitative and quantitative definitions. The information was read by others, ideas and thoughts were formed and the concepts definitions were subject to criticism and defects were found which conceived that comparative levels of verisimilitude could never be met.
This was not the only theory conceived by Popper. Many theories were refuted or changed. Experience was thought to be the underpinning of knowledge, the commonsense theory of knowledge as it is known. This is referred to by Popper as the bucket theory of knowledge, the idea that the human mind is tabulae rasae at birth and through information that the individual is subjected to knowledge through the experience is gained (Popper 1972). Popper argued convincingly that observation and experience alone are not enough to base our knowledge on. Two arguments which emphasise this point are the swan and the sunrise. According to the bucket theory of common sense repeated observations of white swans will lead to the theory that all swans are white. This logic is indefensible – there may be non white swans which just have not been observed. It could be surmised that the sun will rise everyday and night will fall each night. This knowledge could be accepted as truthful for a person observing this in the UK. The opposite is true for an individual residing in an area within or close to the artic circle. During mid-summer for a short period of time night does not fall, in winter the sun does not rise (Popper 1959). So the knowledge gained from repeated observations of sunrise and nightfall are subject to geographic bias.
Popper theorises that hypothesis should be falsifiable .A pitfall of knowledge is the ingestion of information that may not be correct or the best information available but this information still has the potential to become knowledge. Popper repudiates induction as there is no way of reasoning that things will be in the future as they have been in the past, there is no way of knowing what future knowledge will be learned (Thornton 2006). Falsifiability substitutes induction, particularly when concerning scientific knowledge. This theory of demarcation is based on the concept that it is impossible to verify a proposition by reference of experience; a counter instance would conclusively falsify the concept. The theory of demarcation allows the science and non-science to be distinguished. (Thornton 2006).
Information and knowledge have an interchangeable relationship. Information can form the basis of knowledge and knowledge can propagate the production of more information. Information becomes knowledge due to thought processes; the type of information that is involved in this process is unique to the individual, as is the way the information is processed. The process is borne out of the individuals need to know about a certain subject. The gathering of information is the first step in problem solving; the knowledge which is gained provides the means to solve a problem. This is when the information becomes knowledge.
How information becomes knowledge is more complex, and many theories exist. Knowledge can be subjective or objective and Poppers 3 world theory explains how information is processed eventually allowing criticism as a channel to invoke new theories. The example using Poppers theory of verisimilitude provides evidence of this. Although Popper convincingly argues against the bucket theory, and the theory that observation alone is enough to form knowledge he does not totally dismiss them retaining an element of empiricism.