Wisdom is nothing more than new data. Wisdom is definitely not a pinnacle

When you hear or read the list that ends in Wisdom, starting from data, we are framed into imaging triangle, with wisdom at the top.  Yes, there is undoubtedly less wisdom than there is data, but that does not mean anything more than there will be more data will than wisdom if we consider volume as a metric. 

We do love the triangle as a shape. The pinnacle. We love to imagine that wisdom has more value than data, somehow it is more noble and worthy as only a few will get wisdom, and therefore if I obtain it I will be at the top of the tree.  

Let’s unpack this thinking.

Starting with Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  The first thing is that in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" Maslow's present is a theory for motivation. Maslow's hierarchy of needs was suggested as a framework to study how humans intrinsically partake in behavioural motivation.  Interestingly he did not draw a triangle but a square block with each layer as a rectangle. “Hierarchy” was taken from describing the pattern through which human motivations generally move to a way of progression and achievement. We later converted to a triangle as a tool that we should aim for the top.  However as shown below, the view that self-actualization is a peak a very western view of the world and does not align to all people and all beliefs. 

The lesson here is that triangles are very subjective in terms of what they want you to think. A triangle with a point, like a mountain, is something to get to the top of.  However, I have been to the top of a few high mountains (over 6,000m, 20,000 ft) and there are always more mountains to climb, even after the really big ones, there are way more peaks than days in my life.  So getting to the top is not actually getting to the top other than for a moment in time. 

Triangle frames out thinking; let’s question the framing

Back to the wisdom built on the data triangle

I love the story the Judgment of Solomon. It is a story from the Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed their true feelings and relationship to the child by suggesting to cut the baby in two, with each woman to receive half. With this strategy, he was able to discern the non-mother as the woman who entirely approved of this proposal, while the actual mother begged that the sword might be sheathed and the child committed to the care of her rival. Some consider this approach to justice an archetypal example of an impartial judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling.

I was taught this as WISDOM and that it would be good to be as wise and King Solomon.  HOWEVER. I now realise there is a flaw in this wisdom.  It is only ever wise once. If you think about it.  There is a queue of women all who have disputes over who owns the child.  Up steps the first case.  Solomon announces to cut the baby in half.  We know the story.

Next pair of women step forward.  They have heard and seen the story.  Suppose both woman now says the baby should not be harmed. The wisdom is lost as there is new data. Solomon quickly has to find a new way to determine who is the mother, maybe ask a trusted source.

As the third and more pairs step forward one by one with more and more scenarios at hand based on cases there is now a game of lies and falsehoods as the game outcome to hold the baby. Each case is not generating more wisdom, is it really just more data.

Overtime much thinking has been progressed on the non-linear building of wisdom but perhaps we need to refine the thinking to assume that as we gain insights from data it is only more data. As we use the insights from data in decisions, it is only more data. As we model complexity and determine the delta between our model and reality, it is only more data.  Below is from Carpenter’s paper in 2008 LINK

Wisdom is just a shift register 

A shift register is in systems engineering a way of storing and recalling information. First In First Out (FIFO) and Last In First Out (LIFO) as two easy cases to explain. They are both methods of storage of data in memory.  I am thinking here how we store and recall things.

In FIFO type memory the data that is stored 1st is removed 1st. It is like accessing the stack from below and the order remains the same. In LIFO type memory, the data that is stored last on the stack is removed 1st. i.e It the data to be stored stacks on top of each other and the order is reversed.

There are also First In, Last Out (FILO) and Last In, Last Out (LILO)

Perhaps we should take the triangle of data to wisdom and think of it all as a shift register, where we can take data from what we learn to help improve the whole cycle, rather than thinking that just more data will create more wisdom.  Old data and early wisdom should be placed in a deep place which is harder to access (not quite lost)

From this what we can see is that:

Data is First in First out.  What you just learn you can recall. It is not tested checked or known to be true.  It is why we all share things we find without knowing how true of biased it is.  Often why we share data that is not as true as we think.

Information is First In, Last out.  This slows the immediacy of response and allows us to gather much data before we start to determine.  It is a great way of improving quality.  Once we have used this information we can feedback what value it created and therefore if useful

Knowledge is Last In, Last out.   Again this slows the response further and waits to get everything before determining is new knowledge is there or just a new fact is present that does not change the overall analysis. Using the knowledge we can feedback what impact it created and therefore if it had the desired outcome, or what the delta is.

Wisdom is Last In, First Out.  We reverse the order, using the most recent wisdom first. We now measure the outcome when wisdom was used to learn if it worked and also to adjust the next time we get to use wisdom.

When we use information, knowledge or wisdom in decision making we will always have to balance feeling, intuition and facts, as no matter how much data we have it will not always on its own lead to better decisions or better outcomes. 

So perhaps wisdom is nothing more than new data if we apply and measure its efficacy. As a concept, it means that we can focus on better decisions and judgment without the burden of climbing a pinnacle that does not exist.