Then how do we know what we know?

I am reluctant to refer too often to Will Richardson’s blog because I know that many of you read it yourself. But on the off chance that you didn’t follow this link on this article, here is a posting by David Weinberger that will really stretch your mind. At least it did mine.

There’s an incredible depth to Weinberger’s article. I can’t pretend to understand all this, but let me just comment on a few issues:

1. Is Weinberger saying there’s a complexity to knowledge and reality that we used to think we (or experts) could reduce to a single, simple understanding, but that now we can’t reduce, because there’s no unique understanding of what it means?

Or is he saying that experts are no longer the gatekeepers, that contemporary web tools are allowing even the unwashed to see that the same reality can be understood in multiple ways that can all be correct in their appropriate contexts?

As Will R. comments, “In fact, meaning and knowledge is evolving through millions of conversations and interactions that were not possible before [.]�

In fact, we are escaping from the old, dissatisfying clash between objectivity (the world as it looks when we’re not looking at it) and subjectivity (the world as it matters to us). With the Internet, we get multi-subjectivity for the first time.

Weinberger”s not saying knowledge is relative, but rather that knowledge reflects different perspectives.

2. Is Weinberger describing reality/knowledge or our cataloging of reality/knowledge?

But when we’re dividing up our laundry, we have to put our socks into one pile or another, but not both (the Law of Identity). Why should the same restriction hold when we’re dealing with ideas? Why can’t ideas go in many piles? Why can’t a single intellectual leaf hang from many branches? …

This makes a mess of your site’s organization. But that’s a good thing. In the digital age, messiness is not a sign of disorder. It is a sign of a successful order. Messiness is a virtue.

I think he’s overstating his case. Disorder is a sign of more fully capturing the complexity of real life. We still need to be able to extract information using different search categories. That’s successful order. The database can and should be messy, but the software to search and organize it should not be.

3. On the Web 2.0 Notion of Connections

On the Net, documents – pages – get their value to a large degree not from what they contain but from what they point to. Without links, there is no Web. This is an ecstatic model (to borrow Heidegger’s term) rather than a container one.

I agree, but again I think he’s overstating his case. There has to be a something that one knows or understands as a result of the journey. There has to be a product, not merely a process. Otherwise, what does it mean to be educated or knowledgeable? How do we know what we know? This is related to a posting of mine last Spring on how does one process multiple data streams

4. On the richness of blog conversations:

If you want to know about an idea, you could go to an encyclopedia and read what an expert says about it. Or you could find a blog that talks about it and start following the web of links. You’ll not just see multiple points of view, you’ll hear those points of view in conversation. That’s new in the world.

Why do I feel that I’ll get more out of a blog on a topic? Because it’s alive, it’s not black & white. It has lot’s of noise, but more chance of a real signal.

There is a deeper meaning embedded in the conversation than in a sterilized encyclopedia article. In the past only the gatekeepers have been privy to the deeper meaning. Now everyone has access to it.

We don’t need perfect knowledge in an age of knowledge abundance. We just need pretty good knowledge, and that’s something we don’t need perfect gatekeepers for.

Analogy: When computer memory chips were expensive and thus used sparingly in PCs we needed programmers who could write tight, expert code to economize on memory [gatekeepers?]. Now that chips are cheap, we don’t need that expertise anymore at least not to the same degree.

5. Postscript: This article helped me finally “get” tags and tagging in the sense that the same item can be labeled with different tags so that it can be a data point in multiple arguments which can be on totally different subjects. It’s kind of like using the same data set to test totally different hypotheses.

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