VibeWise

March 26, 2007

Getting down to brass tacks

Filed under: praxis, semanticweb, theory — bentrem @ 2:44 pm

Yesterday I read through William Clancy‘s “Notes on Epistemology of a Rule-based Expert System“, the sort of thing I was working on in the late 80s. In the section that’s showing he writes, “I knew what all the words meant, but I couldn’t understand why the rule was correct. … More than a decade would pass before I realized that to have a representation in your pocket is not to be intelligent.” You see, I’ve come to an understanding of how that implicates itself into society’s deliberations concerning public policy, of how it ramifies itself down into the lived experience of the citizen.

Relating to Gnowis, a project of DKFI Knowledge Management Lab, Leo Saurman wrote me with what he called “my motivation for gnowsis:”

* I want to write down information. I want to write down what I know. But language, even hypertext, is not information. Because when writing sentences like “I am writing to Ben about gnowsis” involves concepts about you and gnowsis, resources, ideas, that are connected. By writing down information, we want to express facts about ideas and concepts in your own, subjective world. The gnowsis is a personal semantic web, a personal “digital Weltbild”.

Now the fact is that I’ve forever been a fan of PIMs and writing tools like outliners (“ThinkingCap” for the C=64 was easily the best I’ve ever found … go figure.) But I think there are bigger fish to fry. Or, to put it another way, we have real alligators to fight as we try to keep the swamp from flooding us out of house and home.

What I’m thinking of isn’t just a new sort of forum. Imagine a social/interactive way of accessing *say* the NYTimes’ archives, or CIAO net (“Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) is a comprehensive source for theory and research in international affairs.) My reply to Leo was an attempt to set that out:

As I described it today (to a friend who teaches theology but is primarily interested in community building) while doing primitive IT for a resource center, creating presentations having to do with international trade, development, and global poverty, I found that I was communicating a very small set of concepts while using rhetoric (skilful presentation, rather than sophistry) to persuade and convince. In short what I was doing could not be described as education. And, given my motivation (our present form of democracy is the least-bad option) that bothered me.

What I’m suggesting approaches this from another perspective, informed by the needs of activities such as a) debating (say) public policy and b) reaching a decision on such as (say) what sort of blade servers to buy.

I’ve been gnawing at this since ’75. As I described it today (to a friend who teaches theology but is primarily interested in community building) while doing primitive IT for a resource center, creating presentations having to do with international trade, development, and global poverty, I found that I was communicating a very small set of concepts while using rhetoric (skilful presentation, rather than sophistry) to persuade and convince. In short what I was doing could not be described as education. And, given my motivation (our present form of democracy is the least-bad option) that bothered me.

The fact is what I was talking about in the late 70s really has arisen as “e-democracy”. And the web really has enabled fabulous new ways to communicate, blogs and such. Mailists, and forums … thousands, hundreds of thousands … and hundreds of thousands and millions of people exchanging views using formats that silo their words and thoughts, never to be seen again … all that so often well motivated energy and engagement generates very little more than heat.

“But”, you might say, “what about the concept mapping software that’s come out in the past few years?” I have to say that even the finest of concept mapping systems just don’t fit the bill. I think concept mapping systems such as CMap and Compendium and Rationale miss the boat because they are addressing all possible concepts. I’m not saying that’s fruitless, no. But concept mapping has very clearly failed to rock the world.
My method is informed by dialectics and discourse ethics … not just “information in motion” (which can be nothing but churn) but actually task oriented, which is where the “evidence-based discourse” notion comes from. It’s fine and dandy to talk theory, that can be a big part of planning, but when push comes to shove (Heard that we’d figured out a solution to over-population and global warming recently? Well me neither. And that mess in Iraq shows no signs of straightening out any time soon.) things should get a little more gritty. Should, but most times don’t. And I think that’s just plain wrong.

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