Looking for hope (part seven)

Some weeks – and this has been one of them – I feel as though my head is filled with data and information but little in the way of knowledge and even less in the way of wisdom. Consider what we think we know about the AstraZeneca vaccine blood clot risks, for example. We have data and information, largely in the form of numbers – lots of them – but do we have the knowledge or wisdom to truly understand what the risks are in our individual situations and then to make decisions about what we should do?

While I was in the car running errands a few days ago, I heard part of a CBC program exploring this notion. Of course, I don’t remember the day or time of day, let alone what program, and I heard neither the beginning nor the end of the interview.

The DIKW pyramid

The fragment I heard was about the increasing availability of data and information, which can masquerade as knowledge and perhaps even wisdom, when they are neither. This reminded me of something I heard several months ago (again, in snippets, while driving) about whether the Internet has made people smarter. The interviewee argued that it has not; it has simply meant we take in more data and information without necessarily having the knowledge to interpret, analyze or use them in a meaningful way.

An avid collector of the data so easily found on the Internet can sound really smart at a party (remember those?) and, even though they often can’t go much deeper than that, they carry a tone of authority that exceeds their knowledge and wisdom, which can be a dangerous thing.

The IKW (information, knowledge, wisdom) pyramid, now the DIKW pyramid, with the addition of data, may have been news to me, but it has been around for a long time. The concept was perhaps first coined by T.S. Eliot in his 1934 play, The Rock:

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?/Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

The DIKW concept – that we must use data and information to achieve knowledge and wisdom – has been configured differently by various theorists. Economist Milan Zeleny, for instance, talks about know-nothing (data on its own), know-what (information), know-how (knowledge) and know-why (wisdom). Organizational theorist Russell Ackoff added understanding between knowledge and wisdom in the pyramid.

Data over wisdom in action

Yesterday, in a media conference laden with data and, I suspect, considerably less wisdom, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced an extension of the stay-at-home order for at least two weeks.

I’m not about to join the ranks of anti-maskers like Derek Sloan and Randy Hillier – who have been kicked out of their respective Conservative Party caucuses for their extreme right-wing political views — but it does seem to me, especially with the onset of longer days and warmer weather, that an argument could be made for allowing a little more outside activity and gathering than is permitted by the present order. Perhaps some wisdom along with all the data wouldn’t be out of order.

Wishin’ and hopin’

Hope feels elusive right now, especially in the face of vaccine and extended stay at home news. However, my early morning walks let me set aside worries about blood clots, infection rates and cabin fever for at least a little while.

It’s simply impossible not to feel hopeful as gardens everywhere begin to explode with colour. Our pear tree made it through the late frosts and is now laden with blossoms, each one of which we hope will turn into a pear. (We’ll have to fight off the birds and squirrels in a few months if we want to eat any of those pears, but that’s a problem for another day.)

In a properly distanced stroll along the waterfront earlier this week, a friend and I were treated to a view of goslings out for a swim with their parents, oblivious to their land-bound admirers. The day before that, I came across a cache of brightly painted stones beside my walking path.

My sister, a retired veterinarian, who is now a volunteer wildlife rehabber, sends regular photos of baby squirrels she is bottle feeding, birds with broken wings that she has repaired surgically and, this week, an orphaned hummingbird she is helping to feed. What could be more hopeful than that?

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