Sunday, March 05, 2006

[[IMMERSIVE]] Technologies of knowledge creation

Recently my wife and I have been retiling our bathroom. I am also writing my doctorate. These two experiences means that I speak with some conviction about the following…

If I saw a tile by hand it takes all day. If I buy a tile cutter it takes a matter of minutes. This makes one appreciate the tile cutter as one of a miracle of industrialisation.

If one reads a book, it takes all day. In that day maybe a few important connections will be made. If one reads Wikipedia you can gain the same information in a matter of minutes. This make one appreciate Wikipedia as one of the miracles of the knowledge revolution.

However with both miracles something is lost - with the former in terms of craft and with the latter what might be called a craft of scholarship.

Let me indulge you in a little myth spinning. Before the industrial revolution, objects were produced by craftsmen. They were not uniform or particularly perfect creations but they had what might be called "soul". Is the soul a by product of the time it took to create them? It possibly is For example I wonder if the modern preference--of some of us--for rough hews earthy furniture (see treehugger for details) a nostalgic throwback to the days of craft? What thoughts does one have when one spends all one's days making furniture?

If you agree that some soul is lost in the mass production of goods. Is this because perhaps the "soul" of education is lost in the information revolution? In terms of value, people tend to value most what is for them hardest to obtain. Does the value of knowledge then get defined in the struggle to obtain it?

While it is true that we certainly do not value stuggle for its own sake. But it also goes without saying that some of us (me) do value the products of struggle. For instance if I confessed a preference I'd have to say that I prefer Beethoven's music to Mozart's, and it I were asked why. I think it is because Beethoven's music has more stuggle in it - and therefore more soul. A propos, Wittgenstein said something to the effect that you can measure the value of anything piece of work in terms of what it cost you. Which reminds me...what exactly does one think about when one is reading a books all day?

Cutting and pasting one's doctorate from the pages of Wikipedia seems like a duplicitous thing to do. After all how much of a contribution to knowledge can a piece of work make when it was produced like that? Why do I really want to do it then? I have several theories....

If knowledge increases exponentially, then the contribution a scholar can make is in the analysis not the gathering of knowledge. However, if knowledge is increasing then the categories for analysis are also increasing and one needs to find short cuts to be able to refine those categories so that the real work can be done.

Why is it that you don’t produce anything meaningful without a struggle? Is it in fact the struggle itself that defines what is meaningful and what is not? I think perhaps it is. There is much toil in the production of anything, but it does not make the results of that toil necessarily worthwhile. On the other hand, there hasto be toil in the productions of things worthwhile, or else they would lack the sufficient meaning.

I do not want to do without the struggle, but at the same time I do not want to be outdistance by the subject before I have finished writing about it, which can happen when one's subject is tehnological innovation.

As a scholar I think I have to find ways to work faster to really get inside a problem, Is this the solution? What do you think?


Mason said...


Open source knowledge is valuable if understandable by users and of a type that lends itself to reuse and extension. I suppose that Wikipedia and others of this ilk have grains of knowledge strewn across numerous words and links. But it takes work to compile the grains into something with mass and then shape the mass into something that is unique.

You make an interesting point about toil dictating the value of a creation. You can see, if you are a musician, the work that went into Beethoven's music. But as a less skilled listener you are aware of the music’s beauty but perhaps do not value its uniqueness and total value.

I’ve been interested in assessing the end products of human creativity in the context of the tools that are applied. Cutting bathroom tile with power tools versus chiseling a statue maybe overstating the concept. Of more interest (to me anyway) is the relatively simple notations that some graphical portrayals utilize to suggest complex and unique works. Musical notation comes to mind as does set theory and Boolean constructs. Scraps of these notations can be reshaped and used for other works in a macroscopic and more efficient manner when compared to, say, object oriented software development.

I like your writing style – nice blog. Sorry about all the tile cutting…


The Guy said...

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.