Quora Answer: What are the valuable differences between knowledge, wisdom, and insight?

Oct 18 2014

As you can see there is confusion about the distinction between these terms.

First of all this series is must larger than suggested by just these three terms.

Lets try this larger series:

—->suchness
given
—->facticity
data
—->theory
information
—->paradigm (Kuhn)
knowledge
—->episteme (Foucault)
wisdom
—->ontos (Heidegger)
insight
—->existence
realization
—->absolute

The indented interleaved elements are the scopes of emergence which are social and cultural.

The bold items are our ways of processing or relating to the various thresholds of emergence.

Givens are what comes directly from experience.

This is turned into Data by representation that collects some data from some source that is given.

Information must relate at least two variables to each other, one of which is usually what Klir calls a background or reference datum like space, time or population. Information must contain surprise, i.e. some significant  and relevant change in the data to be meaningful.

Knowledge is the fulcrum of this series and it is the one thing in experience that is fairly stable. Knowledge is normally the recognition of some pattern in the information changes that has meta-stablity and which is transferable to others via language.

Wisdom is knowing what is right, or good and what is the right or good time to do what is right or good depending on the level of nonduality that we are speaking of in a given situation. Wisdom has to do with Virtues and knowing how to avoid vices and what virtues to exemplify in a given situation. Wisdom is usually gained by applying knowledge to experience and seeing what worked and what did not work in give circumstances.

Insight is called Prajna in Buddhism. It is insight that is the source of Wisdom. Insight is a deeper understanding that reveals the inner coherence of experiences and this is what generates the criterion by which one knows what is the right time and what is the right thing to do or not do at that time, i.e. how to act with wisdom. For instance, Insight is understanding non-action Wu Wei [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei].

Realization is when we actualize our insights in the world and embody them. This of course is very rare. However, a good example of this is when we are able to follow the golden thread of our existence and to make nondual non-nihilistic distinctions, or when we go off track find our way back to a way to make these distinctions again within our lives.

However, we notice that these individual ways of dealing with data, information, knowledge, wisdom, insight are the interstices between the socio-cultural scopes of emergence. So for instance it is theory that turns data into information. It is on the other hand a paradigm (Kuhn) that turns information into knowledge.

Recently at the INCOSE-LA mini-conference I saw a talk by Richard Burton which one of his colleagues of San Louis Obisbo Polytechnic on Mental Models, and it was proposed that there was an iceburg in which mental models produced structures that then produced behavioral patterns that finally gave us visible events above the surface of the iceburg. I am not sure where this model comes from. But paradigms are mental models that have assumptions that we unconsciously and unthinkingly project on experience unquestioningly. Paradigms are these assumed root metaphors that we assume without thinking about it such as Lakoff talks about. [George Lakoff]. All knowledge is based on assumptions that have deep metaphorical roots upon which we depend for its expression.

It is our epistemic categories that allow us to transform knowledge into wisdom. These categories change discontinuously in the history of our tradition. In this case we are talking about received wisdom, not necessarily the wisdom of the individual in the moment. Received wisdom is even deeper than the mental models because they are social models that are culturally instilled which determine the fundmental categories that organize knowledge. An example of this is in Durkheim where he says that the Kantian Categories are socially constructed. It is fairly obvious that the social comes before anything the individual might produce on their own, as we are immersed completely in the social even before we know who we are as individuals, and as wolf children show we cannot become fully human without a given social milieu that precedes us and from which everything we are as individuals proceed from.

We might argue in the Western Tradition (Indo-European) that it is the unique idea of Ontos (Being) that transforms received wisdom into a deeper insight. For the Greeks this deeper insight was called phusis which Kelly says was the whooshing up, lingering and fading away of experiences that later were attributed to nature (NTR gods of the Egyptians). This insight was that there was a substratum to experience that was univocal as Aristotle says and which Deleuze still echos. Insight is seeing into the depths of experience and finding patterns there, and for the Indo-Europeans that pattern was the structure of Being (which by the way was fragmented and not unified or totalized despite what you may have heard). Being has meta-levels as has been noted in other answers to questions. The interpretations of Being changes throughout the tradition as we know from All Things Shining of Kelly and Dreyfus. Being is the root of all the metaphors, the underlying substance that allows us to say Odysseus IS a lion as Homer does.

But the meta-levels of Being (Pure, Process, Hyper, Wild, Ultra) undergo a phase transition at the fifth level into Existence (Wajud or ‘what is found’ in Arabic). [As an aside this appears in Thus Spake Zarathustra as the zany ode to the dancing grils in the desert an orientalist ode to the mystique of existence.]  It is existence that allows us to transition from insight to realization. Insight is the door to existence (via prajna). Realization is the finding of the other side of existence, i.e. the deeper nonduals. [gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate; Heart Sutra]

The absolute is the limit of realization, sometimes called for instance in Meister Eckhart the Godhead, or in Hinduism Nirguna Brahman.  But of course this is equivalent to the suchness as such. So there must be another moment on the scale between absolute and suchness which has no name in this schema. As the Tao Te Ching says the tao which is named is not the Tao. Wang Bi calls this the Great Dark. There are many absolutes that are named but the ultimate absolute is never named. However in revelation it may speak and say I am I as to Moses in Tuba or refer to itself in the royal we and say He as in Quran. Here we find the limit and the source of revelation. The Greeks had a name for the way of knowing what was absolute but at the same time present in all phenomena which was called nous. Nous is the comprehension of the nondual supra-rational limit of the Divided Line of Plato. The other limit is the Paradoxical. The Divided Line encompasses Ratio and Doxa and spans all of experience.

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