I think, as I’m learning about it, that there are five depths of “stuff to know.” I don’t have know if there are exact words for them, but for this blog, I’ll label them (in order of increasing complexity and importance):
I’ll start with knowledge. Knowledge is the most familiar of these. Knowledge is, simply put, stuff you know. Facts, dates, names and faces, any small certainties that you have in your head. Knowledge is like a book you have read and it really clicked with you. Perhaps it will be easier for me to clarify in contrast to the others.
Getting simpler, there is information. Information means something, but you do not know it. For example, most of us know the answer to 2+2. It’s 4, and you probably didn’t have to work out the answer on paper, with your fingers, or do a little math problem in your head. This is knowledge. On the other hand, information is most people’s answer to 3589+22401. We know an answer exists, but we don’t know what it is, without a little work (if you were curious at all, the answer is 25,990). In other words, information is the stuff you don’t know, but that is knowable.
Data is the most basic, simple of these depths. Data is so simple it’s almost abstract. Like information, you don’t know it, but unlike information, it doesn’t mean anything to you yet – it is not yet knowable. When it comes to you as data, you don’t even recognize it. If information is like a book you haven’t read, data is like a book in a language you don’t know.
On the other hand, there’s understanding. Understanding is deeper, more complex than knowledge. Understanding is knowledge that has made it from your head to your heart, so to speak. It’s knowledge that you don’t just know but you feel and have as your first response.
Wisdom is deeper still. Wisdom is knowing how to take understanding and live life accordingly.
Now, Wisdom is definitely at the top of that hierarchy. The Bible tells us to “cry out for Wisdom” and to “search for Wisdom as for gold.” I get caught up with and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there. I get stuck in trying to fill my head with knowledge. The problem is that not all data gets decoded into information (nor is it all worth decoding); not all information gets into your head to become knowledge (nor is it all worth knowing); not all knowledge – in fact, most – is really understood (nor is it all worth understanding); and most of all, not all understanding is applied to our lives (nor is it all worth applying to our lives).