Tuesday, September 17, 2013
The Ladder-of-Abstraction and the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Pyramid
On September 15th Andrew Dlugan posted on his Six Minutes blog about The Ladder of Abstraction and the Public Speaker. He discussed S. I. Hayakawa’s concept that we think and communicate in varying degrees of abstraction ranging from the concrete (ground) to the abstract (sky).
Andrew also mentioned Roy Peter Clark having discussed how you need to learn to climb up and down the ladder in his book Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. On the Poynter Institute web site Roy has an excellent 900-word article, Writing Tool #13: Show and Tell. He has another article cautioning writers to Beware the Ladder’s Middle Rungs.
There is a related concept about organizing information called the Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom Pyramid. It was described by Clifford Stoll this way:
“Data isn't information. ... Information, unlike data, is useful. While there’s a gulf between data and information, there’s a wide ocean between information and knowledge. What turns the gears in our brains isn't information, but ideas, inventions, and inspiration. Knowledge—not information—implies understanding. And beyond knowledge lies what we should be seeking: wisdom.”
David Weinberger blogged about a problem with this hierarchy. Some also use more than four levels. In this presentation by Tim Donahue there is a fifth, understanding, added explicitly between knowledge and wisdom. An article by Steve Draper even has seven levels.
I’ve used six levels when teaching internet research, and you can see another ladder version from that post shown below.