Data, Information, and Knowledge
March 7, 2024
Excerpt from “Ivan’s Corner” Newsletter
April 4, 2024

Data, Information, and Knowledge Continued

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

One of my favorite thought exercises is to take the information and knowledge from one area of study and see how it might apply to another.

In the previous blog, I wrote that facts are data, information is significant data, and knowledge is understanding what to do given significant data.

For example, what if little Mary has a fever of 104? The procedure, whatever that may be, is classified as knowledge, and that know-how can be discovered and is transferable from one individual to another.

One of the interesting things about knowledge is that it is not just a sequence of steps one learns from a manual or something held in the mind. Knowledge can be physical. Knowledge can be structure or form.

In the 1930s, DNA was dismissed as the key to genetics because genetic material was chemically the same across all life forms. The question asked at the time was: how could DNA be significant and able to produce separate species or even separate individuals, given that each strand of DNA was made from the exact same material?

The answer came from the polymath George Gamow, who suggested to Francis Crick, a co-discoverer of DNA, that the key to DNA’s functionality lay not in the individual molecules that made up DNA but in the coding or precise sequencing of its elements. In other words, it was the physical arrangement, the sequence, or, more generally, the form that was informative, not the elements themselves. This is what makes us different, one from the other. This sequence is also transferable, just like knowledge.

Most animals, humans included, are born with certain instincts. We know this because a newly hatched turtle immediately begins making its way to the ocean. It was not told to do that; it did it instinctively. Where did that knowledge come from? That knowledge was stored in the structure of the baby turtle’s DNA.

In that case, instinct is a type of knowledge that has evolved and been transferred from generation to generation by those who have survived.

How this has relevance to me as a writer can be expressed this way:

I wrote at the beginning of Dark of the Earth:

Each of our ancestors has their say, even if only indirectly. They speak from inside us. History may not repeat, but I find it odd how the same themes and circumstances thread themselves in and out of our lives as if by some unknown and mysterious force.

It is generally believed that history repeats over and over because we fail to learn from our mistakes. That is most certainly true, but there is an alternative explanation. Perhaps we are also compelled to act instinctively in certain ways that we perceive to be our own best thoughts. My question is how are we to know which are ours and which are the result of instinct?

My next question is who can say those instincts are wrong, given the thousands and thousands of generations and millions of years they took to develop?

It is something to consider and think about.

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