“Look at the bird…” – information versus knowledge.

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird…

So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts.  I learned very early the difference between knowing the nature of something and knowing something.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988)


3 comments on ““Look at the bird…” – information versus knowledge.

  1. nrhatch says:

    I agree. I’d much rather enjoy the flower, plant, bird, or animal (without knowing its name) than know its name but not be able to enjoy what it offers.

  2. jjhiii24 says:

    It’s always interesting to me when anyone tries to distinguish between terms which are interdependent, and which require each other in order to describe each other. What we describe as “information” and what we describe as “knowledge,” (as if one could exist without the other) are simply components of a much broader topic, i.e. experience.

    Information consists of facts acquired THROUGH experience, and knowledge is gained through an acquaintance with the facts, which then informs our conclusions RESULTING from our experience. It’s clear that simply being aware of facts does not imply comprehension of how those facts imply further facts, and knowledge gained through investigation in consideration of those facts obviously depends upon being aware of those facts. But more importantly, knowledge REQUIRES acquaintance with specific information, and that information can only be acquired THROUGH experience.

    Subject and object are dependent upon one another and neither exists without the other. Genuine knowledge is often elusive for us humans, as we frequently arrive at conclusions from what information we possess CURRENTLY, which is occasionally incomplete or just plain wrong. We often describe our current wisdom as principles which exist “to the best of our knowledge,” and if you asked someone who lived a hundred years ago what they knew for sure, what they would report might just seem comical to those of us in THIS century.

    Conducting scientific research is the best remedy for discerning the facts of our temporal existence in the physical universe, and knowledge gained through experience can expand our comprehension of those facts in a way that simply being aware of them cannot do, but human history is replete with examples of both “knowledge” and “information” that ended up being wrong, and it would be wise to keep in mind what Carl Sagan once said in an interview about our current scientific knowledge of the universe:

    “[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. … The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.”

    There are all sorts of things we may consider TODAY to be “information” which may end up being mistaken, and what we consider today to be “knowledge,” may end up being proven wrong by some future investigation, but knowing something and knowing the nature of something are distinguishable only when we consider BOTH as essential.

  3. Thanks for your comment – I like the idea that information and knowledge are both part of experience in general – which I think includes more than what we see as straightforward science and also includes phenomenological input (emotional, conscious etc) as well.

    I’m not so sure the distinction between information (as in facts) and knowledge (also including facts but perhaps moving closer towards understanding) is all that obvious to us. In general I think we may see them as interchangeable rather than interrelated.

    For example, people often think that children are more mature nowadays than they were in the past – this opinion is based on the fact that they have access to more (and more sophisticated) information – however, they don’t have the experience necessary to be actually mature – therefore the information creates a false facade of maturity.

    The French use of two different words for the verb ‘to know’ always interests me, I have to say – I think they may be on to something!

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