Understanding Meaning as Awareness

Peter JonesInformation Ecology

See the fullpost on the CIMI website: Center for Interactive Management, India

Dr. Batra’s discussions of “From Data to Wisdom”, and “Laszlo’s Pyramid of Meaning”, describe a hierarchy of types of knowing and understanding. Alexander Laszlo’s notion of syntony, a kind of resonant circuit of meaning related to the levels of knowledge, energizes the pyramid in the dynamic interactions of learning and evolution. There are interesting origins to the evolution of a DIKW (Data, Information, Knowledge Wisdom) model, ranging back to Russell Ackoff’s (1989) JASS article, and according to Nikhil Sharma, back to T.S. Eliot’s The Rock, from 1934.The current model enhances this hierarchical construction with the dynamics of learning and meaning.

The DIKW model presents a kind of Maslovian-type hierarchy of knowledge, where the higher levels are constructed as “better” locations that are reached by mastering the lower levels composing the pyramid. Except in Laszlo’s model, the pyramidal shape is rightly downsided-up, to better envision the dynamics of the syntonic (dual-circuit) model. Laszlo shows the bottom levels (data and information) as constituting more objectified representations of human knowledge. The higher levels increase the degrees of freedom exponentially, toward an unlimited horizon of (subjective) possibility, creativity, and transcendence. 

In the development of KM, one of the persistent forces driving the field was the possibility of moving organizational awareness from a data-perspective toward a knowledge-based perspective. A non-trivial difference was imagined, whereby we might enhance productivity, reduce error and the reinvention of wheels, and accelerate innovation by leveraging the various levels of information entities: data, information, and the ever-elusive knowledge. Consider an organizational model of this pyramid based on one of the main drivers of KM, innovation management. Some of the questions that drive interaction at these levels may include:

  • Data: What resources do we have?
  • Information: What do we know about?
  • Knowledge: What do we know how to do with what we know?
  • Comprehension: Where do we have mastery? (Is it worth doing?)
  • Understanding: How well do we understand our context, opportunities and possibilities?
  • Wisdom: Knowing this, what should we do? (What’s the best decision?)
  • Transcendence: What does this mean? (What’s the best contribution we can make?)

We might redefine these levels of meaning as states of consciousness, from Data to Transcendence. Data is not “data” apart from our awareness and perception of it as such. Information is not transformed from data except in cognition – there is no object in the world identified as “information.” Bits, yes – information, no.

And of course, these are the tangible levels of meaning – the intersubjective agreement diffuses even more as we navigate through Knowledge and toward Wisdom. Working knowledge is inherently tacit – all the more so Understanding and Wisdom. While I am not ready to regard these states of awareness as continua, the states have characteristics we might collectively agree upon and recognize, even across cultures. And traversing up the pyramid, we experience different gradations of possibility vs. utility, tacitness vs. concreteness, self-awareness vs. object-awareness, and duration.