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by Ross Robertson

Data is to information what information is to knowledge.
Information is to knowledge what knowledge is to intelligence.
Knowledge is to intelligence what intelligence is to wisdom.
A datum is a piece of information. It is a building block, but it is not the structure. Data may be made of smaller units, sensory input, numerical correspondences, facts or trivia devoid of reference, and so on. The acquisition of data is essential in formulating a view of the world, but data is not information.
Thomas Etholen Selfridge died in a plane crash.
Information is a collection of data assembled in a way so as to create a structure that relates to the world. It is like a map, but without the connection to any particular terrain. We can study the elements on the map, how they relate to one another, but cannot apply our understanding to our experience. To be "in-formed" is to be able to see the shape of things, but not know how, or if, to act as a consequence.
The first aviation fatality involving powered flight occurred on September 17, 1908.
Sometimes knowledge comes gradually, as with those delightfully ticklish things we call inklings. Facts may appear completely unrelated, and yet stimulate an intuition of significance. Other times, there is an obvious connection, but we're not sure if of the picture even after the puzzle pieces are a perfect match. Even in fuller knowledge, even after a story is complete, the moral may be lacking. We can recite it to others, but otherwise it is like a charged battery touching no wires. No connections. But with the right connections comes utility. The quality of usefulness is what transforms information into knowledge. It need not be of immediate practical value, but a sufficient narrative has emerged which is deemed worthy of storing for a future time. Perhaps we may pass it on to others who may have better uses than we do, or else we can apply it ourselves under the right circumstances.
Orville Wright once flew the Wright Flyer for a U.S. Army demonstration early in the 20th century.
Context becomes increasingly important as our minds find patterns in the pieces. Cognition is poetic in its appreciation of contiguities, similes, and harmonies. This may resonate with that, but unless they somehow exist in the same domain, it is but an accidental pun of reality -- interesting for the moment, but without enduring wit. Yet when disparate things appear within a fairly short time frame, or if they are spatially proximal, then we tend to look closer, to pay more attention. If things coalesce in a certain way, then meaning arises and intelligence dawns. Meaning may be direct, or oblique, as in the case of irony. Sometimes both. Meaning carries an emotional element. The moment of "aha!" whether great or small is arousing. We may be excited or filled with dread, because we now see what is possible to be done, or what must be done. Even so, meaning is a step above the utilitarian nature of knowledge. Meaning may have nothing more than a purely aesthetic quality to it, yet still register as profound. This is the beginning of intelligence.
Engine trouble happened suddenly on the fifth circuit, and quickly cascaded into a series of catastrophic failures. Though Orville reacted immediately, he could not prevent the crash which took the life of his passenger. First Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, age 26, died of head injuries sustained in the crash. He was not wearing a helmet.
Wisdom is sometimes viewed as having a transcendental quality to it, yet I think it is nothing more than that which integrates data, information, knowledge, and intelligence into an ethical understanding. Knowledge is the point at which we may learn to act skillfully, and intelligence is the point at which a sense of value may be assigned.

Wisdom, if it is to be valued as wise, must be characterized by rightness of thought and deed. "Rightness" may be unshakable in the face of tempestuous confusion, or "rightness" may be subtle, fluid, and changing to best fit the urgent immediacy of the moment. And though we can argue endlessly about what constitutes what is "right." wisdom is always recognized for its readiness to preserve all that can be preserved, and harm only as necessary. Wisdom is seeing and acting truly.
As a result, the Army subsequently required its first pilots to wear protective headgear.
Aikido helps us to become wiser, if we are wise enough to let it. Faced with a choice, I would strongly prefer to have a sensei who is wise, rather than one who merely possesses skill on the mat. I would rather have students who are wise enough to seek wisdom with me, rather than from me. I prefer wisdom to knowledge, or intelligence, or meaning, even as I realize that wisdom cannot exist without these things. Wisdom is the reason and purpose for gaining skills or becoming educated, regardless of the field.

Wisdom need not be relegated to the unreachable realms of grand enlightenment. It can be as simple and, in retrospect -- obvious, as wearing a helmet in dangerous situations.

You may become widely and highly educated, but if so, what will you do with all your knowledge? You may become skilled in one or many talents, but once you do, will you consider yourself gifted, or will you be the gift? You may become wealthy and have all you ever could need, and much that you desire. But once you do, how will you live? Once you know how to survive, will you know how to live? And then, is there any guaranty that you'll know how to be alive?

The same capacity that we all have to see patterns which combine to form the basis of knowledge also forms the basis for illusion and superstition and delusion. Much that seems important, is not so much, really. Much that seems profoundly meaningful is profoundly deceptive. Wisdom is not omniscience, but with it comes increasing clarity. Even when being fooled, wisdom can help us laugh and be a glad fool -- to know we will never be so wise that we cannot be fooled, but that we can be just wise enough not to make a habit of it.

What are you really getting out of your aikido training? Fitness? That is the body's wisdom. Camaraderie? That is the heart's wisdom. Skill in combat? Nothing but fool's gold, until the alchemy of experience can yield the athanor's ore. Fun? There is no higher wisdom than earnest play, and no deeper folly than a persistent puerility. Morality? That is the wisdom of the pragmatist and the bane of the fundamentalist. Wisdom? Then let your wisdom be informed with compassion and meaningful through intelligent daily action.
I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don't intend to waste any of mine.
~ Neil Armstrong, who has been seen from time to time wearing helmets
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Honmatsu Aikido
Austin TX, USA

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Old 07-17-2011, 04:26 PM   #2
graham christian
Dojo: golden center aikido-highgate
Location: london
Join Date: Oct 2010
Posts: 2,697

Hi Ross.
Nice column. A much needed differentiation in my opinion.

I start the 'cycle' with purpose. Then as you say comes data collection. The beginning of study.

Followed by enough data assimilation to form a body of connected data and thus knowledge.

Then the cognitive, conceptual understanding. All this I see as stages of a natural path of study.

So that being three stages I would personally say there are quite a few more before wisdom.

Nice thought-filled piece as usual.

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