The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Brain / Mind ... Spirituality ...

I read an interesting thought recently in an article discussing medical science. It specifically applies to the question of how much testing and monitoring of the human body is desirable and ultimately beneficial, given the state of modern medicine (and in anticipation of the future state of medicine and medical practice). But I think it can apply to all things. Here is the quote:

Data is not Information
Information is not Knowledge
Knowledge is not Wisdom

Very interesting – four levels of human understanding: Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. I won’t make a detailed attempt here to define these concepts. They obviously represent an attempt to bridge the gap between sensory inputs and the highest levels of mind-brain functioning regarding how we behave, how we make choices, and how we live our lives.

Actually, you could add “sensory inputs” as a level below “data”. I.e., you need to read a blood pressure meter with your eyes, or count your pulse through your fingers, before you have any “data”. And at the other end – can we go any higher than “wisdom”? People who are interested in mysticism and meditation would say yes, there is a higher level, but it cannot be captured by words and intellectual constructs. Nonetheless, that fact does NOT stop such people from assigning words to this notion; e.g., “satori”, “sainthood”, “nirvana”, “enlightenment”.

However, the best teachers examine these concepts and then tell us to throw them out. In his final days, Thomas Aquinas said that all his theological constructs were ultimately “like straw”. The Buddha finally just lifted a flower up in front of his followers. Jesus thought that parables were useful, but then got frustrated in that his followers didn’t really understand. He ultimately had to sacrifice his own life to help them get the point.

So, perhaps our hierarchy goes like this:

Sensory inputs
Data
Information
Knowledge
Wisdom
[ * * * ]

At the highest level, we still use human symbols, but only to represent the fact that those symbols are inadequate to capture what is meant. We simply mean to say here that there is an epistemological trend extending from “ouch” when you get bit by an insect, to concepts like love, democracy and human rights. And also that this trend doesn’t stop with the US Constitution or the Hebrew-Christian Bible or the Tao Te Ching. But to say much more about what lies beyond the highest and best works of humankind . . . well, about the best learning that you get out of studying and practicing Zen, as I am now doing in a half-assed sort of fashion, is that things aren’t always like they seem. It’s sometimes good to turn a thought around and look at it from the other direction. As with quantum physics, sometimes contradictory things co-exist, despite the apparent violation of logic; e.g. light as both a wave and particle phenomenon.

So, in some ways, Wisdom IS Knowledge, Knowledge IS Information, Information IS Data, and Data IS Sensory Input. And the great [ * * * ] is thus “all of the above”.

‘Nuff said. At this point, I’ll heed my own advice and go silent.

For now, anyway.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:16 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Usually, I’m the one going off on a tangent, but it seems to me that today it’s you; yet I may be wrong, if I have missed some point you made. I’ve seen this 3 line/4 levels of human understanding somewhere before; problem is can’t remember where or when; but I know I’ve seen it before.

    I’ve tho’t it was meant to “prove”–or at least point out the difference between those four levels.

    You are right, and I totally agree, that at some point in the “learning” procedure, we pass beyond the ability to put into words the intangible concepts that certainly exist. And didn’t you just call attention to that fact recently? MCS

    {Mary — Zen is one big tangent. So is life. The whole point of Zen is to “call” (with as few words as possible), and the calling is to “attention”. So, as a Zen student, I “call” “attention”. It’s just what I do these days; or go down trying!}

    Comment by Mary S. — August 1, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

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