Information, data, and knowledge in the cognitive system of the observer

Publication Date17 Feb 2020
AuthorBoris Bosancic
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Information, data, and knowledge
in the cognitive system of
the observer
Boris Bosancic
Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences,
University of Osijek, Osijek, Croatia
Purpose In line with the cognitive viewpoint on the phenomenon of information, the constructivist tradition
based on Maturana and Varelas theory of knowing, and some aspects of Shannons theory of communication,
the purpose of this paper is to shed more light on the role of information, data, and knowledge in the cognitive
system (domain) of the observer.
Design/methodology/approach In addition to the literature review, a proposed description of the
communication and knowledge acquisition processes within the observers cognitive system/domain is
Findings The paper recognizes communication and knowledge acquisition as separate processes based on
two roles of information within the observers cognitive system, which are emphasized. The first role is
connected with the appropriate communication aspects of Shannons theory related to encoding cognitive
entities in the cognitive domain as data representations for calculating their informativeness. The second role
involves establishing relations between cognitive entities encoded as data representations through the
knowledge acquisition process in the observers cognitive domain.
Originality/value In this way, according to the cognitive viewpoint, communication and knowledge
acquisition processes are recognized as important aspects of the cognitive process as a whole. In line with such
a theoretical approach, the paper seeks to provide an extension of Shannons original idea, intending to involve
the observers knowledge structure as an important framework for the deepening of information theory.
Keywords Constructivism, Data, Communication process, Information, Knowledge,
Knowledge acquisition process, Cognitive process, Cognitive viewpoint
Paper type Conceptual paper
1. Introduction
This paper is intended to describe and clarify the role of information, data, and knowledge
within the cognitive process in the cognitive system (domain) of observers as defined by
Maturana and Varelas (1980) approach, according to a cognitive viewpoint[1]. It should be
mentioned here that the cognitive viewpoint in information science (Belkin, 1990) is based on
any processing of information, whether perceptual or symbolic (...) mediated by a system of
categories or concepts which, for the information-processing device, are a model of his world
(De May, 1977, pp. xvixvii). While information, data, and knowledge are involved in this
description, the cognitive process also involves certain aspects of the communication
(Shannon and Weaver, 1963) and knowledge acquisition processes.
Following the Shannons notion from his initial communication theory, Maturana and
Varela state that information in communication process appears only as observers of uncertainty in his behaviour within a domain of alternatives defined by him,
hence the notion of information only applies within his cognitive domain(Maturana and
Varela, 1980, p. 54). If the information is recognized with a degree of uncertainty,then the
data is recognized as alternatives defined by [the observer himself].Since the word datain
Knowledge in
The author would like to thank Professor Tatjana Aparac Jelu
c for her invaluable feedback on the
content. I also wish to thank the editor and reviewers for their constructive suggestions and comments.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 18 September 2019
Revised 15 January 2020
Accepted 18 January 2020
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 4, 2020
pp. 893-908
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-09-2019-0184
the literature is mostly used in an objective manner, the data that appear within the cognitive
domain of the observer we call data representations.We use data representations,hence,
to refer to specific cognitive entities,always in some way encodedto represent each
perceived differenceby the observer[2]. In that specific sense, encodedcould correspond
to the term constructed(Bosancic and Matijevic, 2019). This, therefore, allows us to use
mainly constructivist concepts and methods to describe the role of information, data, and
knowledge in the cognitive domain of the observer.
Hence, the papers first section presents the main components of Maturana and Varelas
theory of knowing,a cognitive and autopoietic system. Some aspects of Shannons
communication theory regarding information are considered in the section entitled
Information in a Context of Communication Theory by Shannon and Weaver.
The following chapter outlines a short overview of the knowledge acquisition process.
Finally, a description of the cognitive process in the observers cognitive system, based on
terms of information, data, and knowledge, is presented.
2. Cognitive viewpoint on the phenomenon of information
The cognitive viewpoint in library and information science (LIS), also known as the cognitive
turn, had many prominent advocates (De May, 1977;Brookes, 1977,1980;Belkin, 1980,1984;
Ingwersen, 1982;Wilson, 1984). It was a direct consequence of the development of cognitive
science during the 1960s and 1970s. The most important aspect of the cognitive viewpoint in
LIS [...] is that information is mediated by a potential recipients state of knowledge
(Cornellius, 2002, p. 406).
However, startingin the 1990s, the cognitive viewpoint in LIS waswidely criticized. Many
researchers became skeptical about the cognitive viewpoint because its theoretical approach
marginalized the role of culture and society (for example, in Hjørland, 2013). Moreover,
Buckland and Florian held that the cognitive model (as a systems model of the user) must
be supplemented by the conceptual model (as a users model of the system), as long as [...]
conceptualdenotes knowledge and cognitivedenotes learning(Buckland and Florian, 1991,
p. 642). In his paperDeath of the user: Reconceptualizing subjects, objects,and their relations,
Ronald E. Day criticized one of the most prominent cognitive models of all Belkins
Anomalous Statesof Knowledge (ASK) model from the philosophical perspective of French
philosopher Jacques Lacan. According to Day, the concept of needin the ASK model [...]
doesnot belong to a subjects cognitivestate, but rather,it belongs to the conditionof the subject
in a symbolicorder(Day, 2011, p. 82). In other words, theconcepts of needand information
denotenothing cognitivewithinthemselves, but rather,something symbolic.Namely, as long
as [...]theterminformationrefers not to a real entity [...], what is informationare those
things that we term information’” (Day, 2011, p. 84).
Belkin (1978), however, believed that individuals were not troubled by a definition of
information, but rather by a concept. A definition indicates what a phenomenon is, while a
concept is a way of seeing or interpreting a phenomenon or situation. For Belkin, cognitive
models are images [...] that the components of the system have of one another and of
themselves(Belkin, 1984, p. 111).
Besides other aspects of the cognitive viewpoint in LIS, mainly focused on information
retrieval (IR), we remain exclusively interested in the cognitive viewpoint on the phenomenon
of information in LIS. In our opinion, such an approach is thoroughly presented in Brookes
papers (Brookes, 1975a,1975b,1977,1980). Regarding the cognitive approach to the notion of
information, Brookes developed what he would call the fundamental equation of information
science,which has been widely discussed in the literature (Belkin, 1990;Todd, 1999;Bawden,
2011). The equation states that the knowledge structure K[S] is changed to the new modified
structure K[SþΔS] by the information ΔI, the ΔSindicating the effect of the modification
or K[S]þΔI5K[SþΔS](Brookes, 1980, p. 131). At the same time, he admitted that the

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