|—||Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark (via hollandmatt)|
|—||Typotheque: Typeface As Programme by Jürg Lehni re: donald knuth|
Just remembered that all I know is only what I think I know :(
I don’t believe that individual people are objective. They bring their biases, conscious and unconscious, to pretty much everything they think about. If you dig into Wikipedia’s underpinnings, you can see those biases clashing as people edit and counter-edit each other.
But I do believe there is such a thing as truth, and that argument among all of us half-blind people moves us closer to it. Wikipedia as a whole is way closer to the whole truth than any one contributor to Wikipedia can be. And you’d like to think that Wikipedia, and even the entire internet, will move closer and closer to the truth. Maybe, long after even the electronic edition of Britannica is gone, the idea of Britannica can remain for us what it once was for me—a kind of Platonic ideal that we aspire to evolve toward even if we can never reach it, something that has a kind of reality even if we can never touch it.
|—||Katherine Hayles (via endofinquiry)|
Kateoplis posted a “Moon model by Johann FJ Schmidt at Chicago’s Field Museum, 1898.” One can scarcely imagine a more beautiful representation of knowledge, that strange abstraction which exerts so much control over the irreducible physical cosmos; as David Deutsch noted in his first TED talk:
Now how do we know about an environment that’s so far away, and so different, and so alien, from anything we’re used to? Well, the Earth —our environment, in the form of us— is creating knowledge. Well, what does that mean? Well, look out even further than we’ve just been —I mean from here, with a telescope— and you’ll see things that look like stars. They’re called “quasars.” “Quasars” originally meant quasi-stellar object. Which means things that look a bit like stars. But they’re not stars. And we know what they are. Billions of years ago, and billions of light years away, the material at the center of a galaxy collapsed towards a super-massive black hole. And then intense magnetic fields directed some of the energy of that gravitational collapse. And some of the matter, back out in the form of tremendous jets which illuminated lobes with the brilliance of —I think it’s a trillion suns.
Now, the physics of the human brain could hardly be more unlike the physics of such a jet. We couldn’t survive for an instant in it. Language breaks down when trying to describe what it would be like in one of those jets. It would be a bit like experiencing a supernova explosion, but at point-blank range and for millions of years at a time. And yet, that jet happened in precisely such a way that billions of years later, on the other side of the universe, some bit of chemical scum could accurately describe, and model, and predict, and explain, —above all— what was happening there, in reality. The one physical system, the brain, contains an accurate working model of the other, the quasar. Not just a superficial image of it, though it contains that as well, but an explanatory model, embodying the same mathematical relationships and the same causal structure.
Now that is knowledge. And if that weren’t amazing enough, the faithfulness with which the one structure resembles the other is increasing with time. That is the growth of knowledge. So, the laws of physics have this special property. That physical objects, as unlike each other as they could possibly be, can nevertheless embody the same mathematical and causal structure and to do it more and more so over time.
It is not solely humanity which is capable of this; all life, to some degree, embodies knowledge as a function of selection processes which reward, so to speak, successful adaptive responses to environments. But humans have a vastly greater degree of precision and accuracy in their knowledge than any other creature, in part because our knowledge is so often explicit, rather being than coded into inexplicit, lossy genomic systems; in part because our knowledge is representational in many ways, rather than merely responsive to stimuli; in part because of our capacity for abstraction and generalization; and largely because ours is aided, in innumerable ways, by tools we have constructed to help acquire knowledge.
These tools now themselves contain models precisely as our minds do; inside this room is a model of the moon, just as inside your mind are the models for countless phenomena you will never witness, never touch or feel, and yet whose shape and behavior you can predict with stunning accuracy. We know a great deal through statistical computation, but all such computation is contingent on explanatory models which “embody the same mathematical and causal structure” as this or that element of the natural world.
Man is above all else the maker of models. Real knowledge is not merely predictive but virtualizes; one needn’t go to the moon; one merely keeps a model of it at hand.