I was updating my Quotes page with this unusual quote from author Caleb Carr:
For it is the greatest truth of our age: Information is not knowledge
I started wondering about the implications of his statement. Is information knowledge or not? Is knowledge something more that bits of information piled together?
True, Carr had something specific in mind when he wrote it, namely the presentation of a bleak and dark future in his book Killing Time. In that novel, information, freely available over the various Internets of the time, serves the purpose of falsifying the facts and the truth. Information is used to present a unreal reality in which the powers that be manipulate information to serve their purposes. Someone may think this is old news, this is how it has worked for years and years. Others may simply dismiss it as propaganda and the way you mess with other people’s minds. Also true. But nowadays, Carr’s statement takes on additional value when we consider the current geo-political conditions, the fight between (what’s portrayed as) good and evil, the role of various media outlets and government representatives in information (or dis-information) dissemination.
Hardly a day goes by without hearing about new breaking information that old information was wrong, that assumptions taken for granted were completely mistaken, that calculations/estimations/ and other -tions were based on false information. Yet, this false information was used to blind the vision of millions of people all over the world by those who spread that erroneous information. Who knows? Maybe a few months, years from now that new information may turn out to be wrong as well.
However, in the mean time, how can one discern the true from the false? The facts from the fiction? Obviously, by checking the integrity of the information and the informant. By cross-checking with other sources of information, independent sources. By casting a doubt as to the accuracy of all information. By not accepting information at face value. And by synthesizing information from various sources to create knowledge.
Perhaps, the last bit is – in my opinion – the most important. Synthesis leads to knowledge, not just information alone. Synthesis of various, contrasting points of view, opinions, bits of information. Synthesis of ideas and creation of new knowledge. Because, if information is not knowledge, then past knowledge can be used to turn the information we receive into new knowledge.