What’s the Difference: Information vs. Knowledge

alex atkins bookshelf wordsConsider these two sentences: “The Internet is a great source of information” and “The Internet is a great source of knowledge.” Although some people use the terms information and knowledge interchangeably, there is a definite distinction. Information (from the Latin informatio meaning “concept, outline, idea” and informare meaning “to instruct, educate; give form to”) refers to facts or data (in the form or words, numbers, or symbols) that is obtained through written works (books, magazines, newspapers, Internet, etc.) listening (conversations, interviews, lectures, etc.) or direct observation (experiment, documentary, etc.). Facts can be presented in a specific way (organization, structure, context, etc.) to be useful for a specific purpose (e.g., census data). The salient characteristics of facts are availability, relevance, completeness, accuracy, and validity. Note the last two, while something can be considered information, it may not necessarily be true (e.g. consider the following information: “The Earth is flat” or “Men did not land on the moon in 1969” or “The recent election was stolen via fraudulent mail and absentee ballots and manipulation of voting machines” or “A cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotted against former President Trump.”)

On the other hand, knowledge (from the Middle English knowlechen meaning “admit or show one’s understanding” and Latin gnoscere meaning “get to know” and Greek gnosis meaning “understanding, inquiry”) refers to the conclusions, insights, or skills discovered, deduced, or distilled from experience, education, intuition, or the study of information — or all four. These insights, in turn, can assist in making appropriate decisions and taking specific actions.

Expressed in simpler terms, while information is the presentation of facts and figures, it is the processing of those facts and figures that leads to knowledge, specifically the understanding of a subject. Although it is easy and inexpensive to transfer information (through any printed or digital presentation of facts), it is more difficult and more costly to transfer knowledge (it is difficult to replicate insights gained from intuition, experience, and study). And finally, all information is not necessarily knowledge; however all knowledge is information.

Let us explore some related terms:

erudition: Profound learning beyond the understanding of most people.

genius: A person possessing extraordinary intelligence or skill.

intellectual: endowed with the ability to reason and understand objectively, particularly abstract or academic matters.

learning: Knowledge that is acquired by study.

pansophy: Universal knowledge.

sage: A wise person.

sapient: The possession or ability to possess wisdom.

savant: A person of learning, especially someone versed in literature or science.

wisdom: Superior understanding and judgment based on broad knowledge.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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Read related posts: Plato on Idiots and Ignorance
Plato’s Warning: Ignorance Will be the Source of Great and Monstrous Crimes
Plato’s Warning: If You Don’t Vote, You Will be Governed by Idiots
Isaac Asimov: There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States

For further reading: When is a Pig a Hog? by Bernie Randall

4 responses to “What’s the Difference: Information vs. Knowledge

  • isabellacatolica

    Getting some of these concepts sorted out is well worthwhile.
    You mention mentoring in your reply to boromax: mentoring sounds as if it deals with know-how and skill – two terms which need to find a place within either the DIKW pyramid, or your own schema. These two – skill and know-how – do not sit easily, imho, within the term knowledge, but still need to be placed somewhere.

    • Alexander Atkins

      Hi Isabella: Thanks for your note (and the fact that you took the time to read the comments). There are many levels of mentoring. In its very basic form, mentoring can be showing a person how to do a job (as you mention, know-how and skill), however, the way I mentor, I use the Socratic method and reading important works (“standing on the shoulders of giants”) to lead to greater understanding of broader topics (philosophy, psychology, etc), which in turn lead to knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, I share some of the wisdom I have gained throughout my life. This is one of the reasons I wrote Serendipitous Discoveries. Cheers. Alex

  • boromax

    Alex, my profession for many years was “Knowledge Management.” In that discipline we used something called the ‘DIKW pyramid,’ in which ‘data’ was the base, the ‘information’ above that, then ‘knowledge,’ with ‘wisdom’ at the pinnacle. This visualization was occasionally helpful in attempting to explain to ‘users’ what we were asking them to share and transfer with their coworkers. Frankly, I am not confident I was ever able to transfer my own knowledge adequately. Most of my ‘customers’ tended to hold their knowledge closely as a means of security and control.

    • Alexander Atkins

      Hi Ed: Thanks for sharing that. That is why I am a passionate advocate of mentorship: it is so important to pass on to a younger generation some of the knowledge and wisdom so that they make better decisions and perhaps help lift us out of this chasm of chaos that we currently live in, littered with demagoguery, lies, and the harmful notion that “I am completely right and you are completely wrong.” I recall a Jesuit mentor who warned us against ignorance. He mocked, “Don’t confuse me with the facts — I’ve already made up my mind!” Cheers. Alex

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