Saturday, September 01, 2007

Two concepts that are often confused for being the same: information and knowledge. I think the confusion leads to a lot of human suffering.

Information is stuff that you hear, or read about, or theories that you come up with. So e.g. when you watch Fox News and hear all about how we're all going to die in terrorist attacks unless we bomb the living shit out of Iran, that's information.

Knowledge is information that you've interacted with. Information you've put to the test of experience. For instance, let's say you hear on Fox News that things are pretty safe in the market in Baghdad. That's information. Let's say you go to that market, without bodyguards, and you find yourself in the hands of kidnappers. Now you have knowledge: the market isn't safe.

I don't know why I'm using gruesome metaphors. Maybe because so often we believe information that's untrue, and act upon it, to our regret (if we are subsequently able to regret it).

We live in a society where there is a tremendous glut of information. Nearly all of it is wrong. A great deal of it is deliberately sculpted with the intention of creating wrong ideas in our minds, ideas that we will act on. The most blatant form of this that I think we see regularly is the 409 scam, where someone named Barrister Antoine Chardonnay attempts to convince us that it is in our interest to give him our bank account information. Equally blatant is the kind of information we get from our own government, that tells us that we should be frightened, and that we must kill to be safe.

So I think that this tells us something: we should be careful not to ever repeat information. Repeating information is lying. We live in a world where we are lied to constantly, day in and day out. If you buy this car, the lady in the red dress comes with it. If you buy this house, you will be happy in it. Calories aren't what makes you gain weight - fat is. Pink is a feminine color, blue masculine, and this is genetic. So the last thing we should be doing is adding to the lies.

What we should repeat is helpful knowledge. Information that we've used, and that has worked for us, and that we know worked for us (i.e., it wasn't a coincidence).

If we did this, I guess we'd talk a lot less...


Blogger Will Shetterly said...

Hmm. We have a word for misinformation. We should also have "misknowledge" for knowledge that has been especially oddly filtered.

And blogger's comments are a pain! You should jump ship to LJ. (I may jump ship to a service with linear comments rather than threaded ones, but I'm still thinking about that.)

Sunday, September 02, 2007 3:04:00 AM  
Blogger Ted Lemon said...

The thing is, Will, there is no difference between information and misinformation. Misinformation is just information, really. We can learn a lot from the lies people tell us, and we can fail to learn when someone speaks the truth to us.

What makes information meaningful is that we try to figure out what it means. Try to relate it to our life. Try to use it. Treat it with skepticism. If we are skeptical, we can weave ten lies told from different perspectives into a useful approximation of the truth. If we are not skeptical, we can take a single truth, poorly understood, and turn it into a deadly lie.

Because the words that come out of our mouths are intended to be a proxy for our knowledge, but they themselves are not knowledge.

I keep meaning to just set up a blog on my web site; the only reasons I don't are (1) it's work, and I hate work, and (2) I already have a following of easily ten readers here, and if I move I'll lose them all.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger Will Shetterly said...

Hah! I'll bet they'll follow.

And life would be so much better if blogger had trackbacks or the equivalent, so we would know if the conversation was continuing. I often forget to go back to blogs that don't have that.

I'm pretty sure typepad or wordpress (whichever's free) has it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007 5:03:00 AM  

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