Data are not a description of reality but opportunities to act

This part is at the heart of this article. What exactly is written down in data?

The common view on data is that data are facts, facts about the world, facts that are established by objective measurements, facts that can be established by everyone who follows the rules for thorough investigation (empirical research, proving an hypothesis, excluding all alternative explanations), facts that cannot be denied even if you want to, facts that can be seen if you have the proper understanding of the real world.    

Once one starts to see data as knowledge (as suggested previously), this whole notion of data changes. Knowledge is always measured by the performance of the beholder: what can the knowledgeable person  do? When studying knowledge we are not looking at structures nor definitions. Instead, we study knowledge by looking at the individual who is performing certain tasks. Whether we study chess players, people who are trying to remember syllables or students that graduate, we always look at behavior: "What does the person who has the knowledge, do?"

If we look at data as knowledge, than data are mere possibilities to act and not facts about the world. If data were facts about the world, the goal of the data would not play a role. That data cannot be separated from the objectives for which the data are created, was denied previously in this article. 

So how come we still think there is an objective reality? In this article We can only come to 'objective' facts when we share enough context: when the things we want and do are enough the same. If we want to understand each other, than we try to share more context. When trying to share context, we find out what the other person wants and what he does. 

If data would contain facts about the real world, there would not be so much change in data, only changes in the real world would be reflected. Yet this is not the only cause for  data to change. Take for example the earth. Today we see earth as big ball that flies through space. But only 400 years ago, we thought the earth was a pancake and one has to watch out that you don't fall of. 

This holds for all things that we call truth. Name one thing and very likely you can think of when people saw this differently. Almost everything has changed. For example, you may think that the formula for gravity holds (the gravity between two bodies depends on the mass of the bodies and the square distance they are apart). However, today we are already investigating whether the distance in square should be replaced by maybe distance to the power 2.01. Nothing remains, everything we know about reality has changed and will change. You may feel that people who thought the earth is flat, were wrong. But how can you know for sure that in a couple of centuries your current truth will hold?

"But that was only a different interpretation" you might say "the reality itself has not changed". Probably you are right. But the thing is that we only have our interpretation of the world, nothing else. There is no way we can know our real world by sort of skipping the interpretation. We only have our senses and our possibilities to interact. If we would have new senses and new ways of interacting, our understanding of the real world would change accordingly. This way of looking at the dilemma of 'an independent reality that exists also without any people knowing it' versus 'there is no such thing as an objective reality but only what one knows about reality' is brought together in the philosophical school called "pragmatism".

A theory that gives us a more correct and more complete picture of what data are, is Activity Theory. Activity Theory claims that what we see, are possibilities to act. What the real world is, depends on the interactions we had before with the world. These interactions arose from our needs (or questions). All learning takes place by noticing how our interactions with the real world help us or hinder us to reach our goals. So what we see when we look at the real world is possibilities for action that will lead to or may hinder our goals. This model is strongly supported by research that shows we have learned little until we have successfully applied the new knowledge. When we read about some skill or when we see someone else doing it, we hardly learn. Only when we perform the task successfully for the first time, only than we learn. 

Other research shows that we do not learn if do not have a question (need). Would there be a concept 'length' if we could not move? Would there be a concept of 'building' when we would not need shelter to live and work?

Our perception is only a part of the cybernetic loop in which we learn from our actions. When we think, we relate our perception to our experience that tells us what opportunities we have to act (see research on mirror neurons).  

If we apply Activity Theory on what is contained in data, data are opportunities to act in order to reach a goal. Despite that data look like objective facts about the real world, data describe what actions can be undertaken to reach the goal of the data.  

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