Wednesday, August 20, 2008

People, Information and Knowledge – Reflecting and Ruminating

Well I started my philosophical subject in my masters and what an eye opener! As is my want, I chose this subject because it, in my honest opinion, challenges the notion that there are any absolutes when it comes to information and knowledge. I am charged with producing a reflective log of my lectures and whilst I have been writing these in a document, you might remember that I thought it would be worth sharing my reflections on my blog. Here I am!

Remember, I am doing my Masters of Arts in Knowledge management because I see the world of learning, work and knowledge colliding at the moment and I want to make more “sense” of this situation. My discourse will assume that interested readers of my blog will associate themselves with terms that may be unfamiliar to them. That way I will not fill up my entry with descriptors all the time.

And so we begin with Descarte “I think therefore I am”.

Now I am the first to admit that history is not my strong point but my skill for remembering quotes or useless trivia is rather good. However I found myself wanting to know more about Descarte and something that my lecturer Michael Olsson talked about which was the “enlightenment” period.

What did I find out about Rene Descarte? He wrote a book called Discourse on Method. It was and still is a defining piece of literature. In his book, Descartes outlined his very personal scepticism of things, his method for inquiring into the truth, and his arrival at his famous conclusion (called the cogito, after the first word in the Latin sentence. More on that later). However, these achievements do not do any amount of justice, IMHO, to the reported crucial role Descartes played in practically every other area of the Enlightenment period. Descartes established several patterns for modern Europe to follow (Hooker, 1998): he promulgated the idea that the thinking mind was somehow more real than the body in which it is housed (this is called the Cartesian mind-body split); he established that emotions were due to the character of the individual--called Cartesian affect (i.e., emotion) theory: this has supposedly become the basis of music education, which attempts to develop the character by producing certain emotions in students, a kind of classical music feel good, emotion work-out; he also established the notion that the observer had supremacy over all things that he/she observed.

René Descartes is referred to as perhaps the single most important thinker of the Enlightenment. He quietly and methodically went about tearing down all previous forms of knowledge and certainty and replaced them with a single truth: Cogito, ergo sum , "I think, therefore I am." From that point onwards, particularly in European culture, subjective truth would appear to hold a higher and more important epistemological place than objective truth, skepticism would be built into inquiry, method would hold a higher place than practice, and the mind would be separated from the body. (Hooker, 1998)

Now this struck me as the very foundation of modern academic research and for this workplace educator, made me ponder why workplaces do not embrace more rigour with regard to information and knowledge and the role it plays in educating the workforce.

It also forced me to think about my definitions of the following (as did an exercise from Michael!):


Numbers and Letters, pictures or visual objects, sounds or smells, committed to storage in a device or memory


Data that has a context (This could be argued but again it is information because it has meaning. But can meaning exist without context?)


Information that is used or actioned in an existing or changed context.


Maximum advantage at a point in time. (But is knowledge power?)


A need, at a point in time, for information that fits a certain context.


Information, at a point in time, in a certain context, that is displayed, said, read, heard, felt or smelt.


The non-experience or deprivation of information or data.

You may or may not agree with these definitions but if it makes you think about or grapple with, whether you understand or can define meaning, then there is value in that as a process!

Ask yourself this; When was the last time you felt enlightened? For those participating in an education, what a joy you must feel! The opportunity to establish the known or the knowing and construct sense and meaning… and on your own terms!

My final reflection is one that states, as a learning professional in a corporate workplace, why is it that we do not recognise that a place of work is an educational institution? It could be the last institution that people attend to learn. Yes they work and yes they are exposed to information and knowledge, but they also learn, formally and informally and would it not be a fantastic proposition to hear an employee walk through the door and say “I think therefore I am”.

Hmmmm……. Time to apply this thinking……..

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