Wednesday Word of the Week: April 13

13 Apr

This week’s word is: KNOWLEDGE

the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning

We live in a democracy. Every competent, non-convict citizen over the age of 18 has the right to participate in our governance. This participation may take the form of voting, canvassing, lobbying, or serving in government. One underlying principle of successful democracy is the citizens having the knowledge to participate effectively. Sadly, participation in 21st Century America seems to lean on other concepts that are easily confused with knowledge.

Websites, cable channels, tweets, and the like flood us with DATA.

information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful

Much of what passes for knowledge in our hyper-connected world is simply data. We can perceive all kinds of output and input, but much of it may be irrelevant. Simply having every statement uttered by every news outlet is not of itself knowledge. Until you consider the source – Fox or NPR? – a stream of data may be worth less than the time it takes to absorb it, organizing it into INFORMATION.

the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence

We live in the Information Age. So what? Information is simply the reception of data. Everything on the Internet is data that we can receive as information. A stream of receivable output about Charlie Sheen, Oprah Winfrey, or Donald Trump does not necessarily contribute to knowledge. Information is useless without THOUGHT.

an individual act or product of thinking

The vast majority of human beings (Christine O’Donnell aside) are capable of thought. Thoughts, however, are like data. Without context, they have no meaning. They can lead us many places, including BELIEF.

a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing

Belief can be very powerful and also very dangerous. The things we believe are rooted in our own minds, so our instinctive actions often arise most easily from them. When those beliefs relate to the overall betterment of humanity, all may benefit. When, however, they elevate superstition to superiority, they divide humanity unnecessarily. Beliefs are slippery things, based on instinct, habit, and personal perception. I may firmly believe that John Boehner is the reincarnation of the Mock Turtle, but can I substantiate this with FACT

a piece of information having objective reality

or TRUTH.

the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with reality

These are the key components of good decision making. Someone may believe that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy, but the consistent lack of facts to substantiate that belief make it bad policy. Facts are the difference between blind faith and science. Even if 90% of the people believe something, it is not necessarily true; just ask Galileo.

Which brings us back to KNOWLEDGE

the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning

If we need knowledge to participate effectively in democracy, we must remember this definition. Without data and information, our minds are empty. Without thought, we cannot use those perceived outputs. Without belief, we lack a spark of humanity. But without reasoned apprehension of things that are objectively real, we are babbling animals, pretending to make decisions or goaded into mindless action. The ability to grasp the difference and act accordingly is

ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; good sense

WISDOM.

(all definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online)

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