What does ‘a piece of information’ mean?

There is a Mark Twain quote I have always liked, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.

Have you ever noticed the answers to some questions seem so obvious as to make answering them seem unnecessary? We just know some concepts instinctively and rarely bother to reconsider their meaning or impact on our lives. On the other hand, some ideas play such a significant role in our lives, they are worth our time.

We are overwhelmed with information, like never before in human history. The internet, news, YouTube are all available in our pockets with instant access to anything you want to know about. How are we to process all this and apply information to enhance our lives? Let’s start with the basics. What does ‘a piece of information’ mean, and why does it matter?

What is a piece of information?

A ‘piece‘ of information is the easy part, it is one discrete element of information such as a fact, an idea, feeling, thought, opinion and so on. It is the building block of knowledge and ultimately wisdom on which we base our lives. We accumulate information one piece at a time in what our minds consume. This includes our personal experience, friends, family, media and the internet. One piece at a time, we build our understanding of the world. And in an instant our brains can access that accumulation of stuff and make decisions that will direct the very course of our lives. Not that they are always good decisions. And, of course, they are made worse if we are operating on bad information.

What career path should you choose? Do you get married, raise a family, buy a house? Life-changing decisions are all based on some accumulation of information that you’ve come to rely on.

And if you are not diligent about what you consider a piece of quality information, you can easily make choices that can have a negative impact on your life. On the other hand, if those building blocks of knowledge are well-chosen, you’ll be in a better position to make good choices.

What is information?

This is the hard one. Webster’s says ‘knowledge obtained from investigation, study or instruction’. There are definitions, all equally vague and unhelpful. No wonder we don’t spend time talking about it.

Physical things, those you can touch and see make sense to me. Abstract concepts like information is different. Information is ideas, it’s facts, it’s feelings. You can’t touch or see any of it, but it will play a role in your life and is quite a tool if you put it to work for you. So for our purposes here today, let’s focus on a few actionable concepts.

Data vs. Conclusions

Data is the little bits we assemble. It could be a fact, idea, feeling and essentially the pieces of information that we are acquiring all the time. The tone of the word data suggests that this is verifiably true information, but that isn’t necessarily the case. One of the greatest challenges at this point in human history is the overwhelming volume of both true and untrue information.

Conclusions are essentially your beliefs. These are the things you believe to be true. These conclusions are often formed by the data we have acquired, and other times we just accept the conclusion of people we trust. You should get married, buy a house and start a family. We have all been raised to believe certain ideas about the world. This could be religion, family, national pride, money and countless other values we inherit before we are prepared to know we have a choice in the matter.

What is most meaningful is the impact that your beliefs have upon your decisions and actions. For example, many people dislike arguing with a girlfriend. We call it a fight, because that’s what it feels like, and we just want it to stop. We have concluded that a conflict with a partner is a fight and that fights are bad. What I have learned (the hard way) is 1) partners sometimes need the opportunity to vent and it wasn’t a fight until I made it one and 2) identifying and resolving conflict is part of a healthy relationship. Have you ever noticed that you keep having variations of the same fight? That is probably because you are not resolving it, just rehashing the same frustration.

If you are relying on bad conclusions, you will repeatedly make poor choices around them. Step back and examine why you believe what you do. Is it based on good data or any data at all. I have always hated conflict as I grew up in a conflict rich home. I learned to make conflict stop to avoid the pain, temporary though it was. Bad conclusions (beliefs) will undermine any choices that rely on them.

You Need Good Data For Good Conclusions

If you have an accumulation of inaccurate pieces of information, you’re going to draw incorrect conclusions because you’re not dealing with an accurate foundation. So as you consider what you’re being told and what others share with you as fact is very commonly opinion formed from their world view.

When a real estate Broker (my second career) tells you to go to the bank to see how much you can afford on a house (an inaccurate opinion presented as fact) you will be committing far too many resources to a house and away from other life priorities. You brought bank statements and pay stubs and an incredible volume of financial history for the bank to analyze, it must be accurate.

Nope, they aren’t assessing how much you can afford and be happy. They assess how much you can afford to pay them back with minimal risk of a loan default. They want their money. Your happiness and life satisfaction are not a factor in the equation. Far too many people accept the bank’s conclusion about affordability as an objective fact, it is not. It is a conclusion based on data and it is often presented as factual, which leads us to our next point.

Objective Information vs. Subjective Information

Objective information is data and conclusions that are acceptable as factual from various perspectives. This is the old fashioned idea of a fact. Something reasonable minds can agree upon. I remember those simpler times.

The bank, telling you that you can afford a certain amount on the purchase of a house is a subjective conclusion. They have determined that you are likely to be able to make the required payments and make good on the loan. That is the area of interest and concern to the bank. Whether you will be happy with your purchase is not their concern. They are assuming that you want the house, and decided it will make you happy and they stop thinking about it because they make money by lending money. They don’t see their job as assuring your happiness, but rather lending you money.

If ten observers all saw a car drive through a red light and cause an accident, that might be considered an objective fact. If you ask the driver of the car he might provide a subjective fact that the light had just turned yellow, and he did not run a red light and therefore did not cause an accident.

Objectivity is hard to come by. Everyone has their own world view and agenda. Get good at detecting subjective information and question the motives behind it.

You Need Good Information For Good Decisions

This is the real fly in the ointment. We are surrounded by every imaginable piece of information. Something may sound like a fact, but it could be an opinion. It might be true or untrue. When I was a kid I got the feeling the news was factual. It was an objective report on what happened that day. Now, it seems the news is a subjective interpretation of the days events. So much so, that modern news isn’t far off from propaganda. Be careful what you choose to accept as news or information.

If it isn’t true, is it a piece of information?

At this point in our lives we have collected a large volume of data and conclusions and function with our individual world views. And that is our reality. When you decide that this is how things are for you, that’s how things are. The problem is if you are relying on an inaccurate understanding and making decisions based on bad information. Based on bad information, you’re going to make bad decisions that don’t serve you.

You will make plenty of decisions over the course of your life. Some are truly life changing and others pretty small. Combined they determine the trajectory of your life. Life choices all come with uncertainty and risk under the best of conditions, but you really are just rolling the dice when they are based on bad information.

It is the process of contemplation and deliberation that prepares you to make hard choices. That deep thought needs to be supported by good information, including accurate data and reasonable conclusions. If you have the unconfirmed conclusion that you can safely spend all the bank says you can afford, you might find yourself in trouble. Be careful what you think you know for sure.

Your Life Is What You Think It Is

You’re going to make decisions that align with your understanding of the world and how you think things really are. So if you want to change actions, then you’re going to have to challenge beliefs. And in order to challenge beliefs, you are actually now going to go down to that fundamental level and start questioning the accumulated knowledge that you have about a particular topic. And that means reassessing those pieces of information that you have relied upon for so long.

If you decide that your life is not good enough and choose to be unhappy, then you are unhappy. It is a conclusion you have drawn from available data. You don’t like your apartment or car or job and those pieces of information lead you to conclude that you are unhappy. You can, however, reassess the data on which that conclusion is based. The power of information is remarkable. The fridge is full, you have enough money and a few good friends. More might be better, but your life is far better than the lives of most humans simply trying to find enough food to eat and not die over the millions of years of human history. The power of thought and ideas form your world, which is why information is so much a part of the life that you’re going to live.

What goes on in your head determines the choices that you make and the way that you see your life. So what you think you know formulates your beliefs and what you believe drives your actions. When your beliefs change, so will your choices and actions.


What is it that causes you to believe what you believe and act as you do? If something isn’t working for you it might be time for some self reflection. If you learn to understand things differently, changing your knowledge and belief about it, your attitudes and actions will change as well. You can have a new and better understanding of how things are and you’re able to make better decisions.

Keep an open mind without getting attached to information. Be willing to question what you think is true, be willing to rethink ideas, opinions and beliefs. Keep a positive attitude about how information is, surprisingly, a tool for you to have a better life. Your understanding of the world plays a huge role in your satisfaction with the world and your life in it.

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