Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Some Thoughts On Knowledge

I have a lot on my mind these days, not all of it related to ALS. I find myself thinking a lot as I drive, thinking about things like the difference between data and knowledge, the difference between content and happy, what it must have been like to be an early settler here in rural West Virginia, how brother came to battle brother in the Civil War. I have to be careful; too much thinking and I might become philosophical. It's a knife's edge.

Today, for example, I was thinking about the amount of effort it takes me to get dressed. By the time I have battled myself into boxers, compression socks, a shirt and pants, I feel like I have done five rounds with Mike Tyson, or run a marathon. I am in a full sweat, so beat by the effort that I need to lay back on the bed to rest, sometimes for quite a while. I was thinking this kind of effort might explain why, after about an hour or so of driving, I need a nap. I use a lot of energy just to put on clothes. That's why I don't bother some days, at home at least.

As my body fails more and more, as I become less and less able to "do" things, I tend to think about them more, contemplate the need for all the things I do. We are a busy species. Those of us who are healthy are constantly busy; even those who are not healthy find themselves busy much of the time. We are an animal cursed with the need to constantly do something; sloth is a learned activity for most people. We learn it from modern technology, that which does our work for us. We learn it from modern entertainment and distraction, things like TV and the Internet.

I think about the Internet often, how it has changed the landscape of our modern society. For so many careers and trades of the past and present, special knowledge was the key to success. Societies, organizations, and unions all held those secrets closely, so as to protect their success. Then the internet came along, exposing the most secret of data to all of us, or at least most of us, making much of what was once hidden visible.

The problem is, of course, that data is not knowledge. Simply because why know the "how" of something in no way implies that we know the when, what, or why of it. Just because I know what a plumber does, doesn't mean I can do it. Never mind a plumber, what about a surgeon? I know a lot of stuff but that doesn't mean I am educated or learned. There is a lot more to expertise that simply knowing the data. That's just the start.

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