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Five Levels

According to Russell Ackoff, there are five types of conceptual content. In order of increasing scarcity, they are Data, Information, Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom.

Data and information answer “what something is” questions. Knowledge answers “how something works” questions. Understanding answers “why something is the way it is” questions. Wisdom, the rarest form of conceptual content, is altogether a different beast. It answers all questions.

The acts of probing, sensing, and measuring produce raw data. The filtering, integration and association of data fragments creates information. The mistake-prone application of information and learning from errors leads to knowledge. The application of holistic, systems thinking to knowledge creates understanding.

Unlike the other four types of content, which integrate up and progress sequentially from each other, wisdom may not. Wisdom may appear instantaneously on its own by the grace of some higher power. It has to be that way. If it wasn’t, then only highly educated and experienced intellectuals would be capable of acquiring wisdom – and we know that isn’t true, don’t we? Wisdom is accessible to all human beings regardless of race, age, culture, wealth, or any other trait. The trouble is that society, especially western societies, wants us to think otherwise. No?

  1. Joe
    June 27, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Interesting! Just finished a blog post (link at bottom) on the connection between knowledge, understanding and wisdom in the Bible when I stumbled upon this post. Very cool perspective!

    • June 27, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Joe. Sorry, but I’m just not into the bible. I think Jesus was simply an enlightened human being like the Buddha, and not the son of a singular god. I don’t believe in a point source god. Human beings are not anymore privileged than any other living organism. We just think we are. Thanks again for stopping by.


  2. Joe
    June 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Well we clearly have different views on that 🙂 however I thought it was cool how this seemed to be both a principle found in the Bible and also a principle worked out through scientific study. I appreciate the reply and the nifty chart- take care!

    • June 28, 2014 at 6:32 pm

      Yepp, I agree. Peace, and godspeed to you friend.

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