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2002-07-06 00:10:16 ]


Some synthesis from experience with augury, portreview and unrevdb
on the nature of knowledge, representation and the need for

It's linked from one of the augury revisions, but I thought it
should be in here.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2002 23:03:23 -0500 (EST)
From: cdent@burningchrome.com
To: ba-unrev-talk@bootstrap.org
Subject: Re: Knowledge Representation/Access (wasRE: [ba-unrev-talk] Where
    is Kananaskis?)

Elaborating on why (I think) knowledge access structures are far
more important than knowledge representation formalisms.

There's a lot of context for this for which there isn't really
space. If I seem to leave something out, feel free to ask me
about it. These ideas are fairly rough, as I'm trying to
synthesize pretty much everything I've learned in the last year
or so into a simple lesson. Much or most of this is opinion. As
far as I can tell none of this is particularly revolutionary, it
has all been said in similar ways by other people in other

It is common in the information science field (that's the course
of study I'm on at the moment) to categorize aspects of the human
comprehension and communication of signal as data, information,
knowledge and wisdom. What these things are is an open debate,
and rests in the land of religion, but a model I like goes like
this: the four are arranged as a pyramid with data on the bottom,
information next, then knowledge, then wisdom.

Data is essentially perceived phenomena.

Information is data which has been placed in context or
identified as having pattern. Facts.

Knowledge is the discovery of new perspective through the
synthesis of information. It is considered by some to be
contained in individuals only, but the notion of institutional
memory or knowledge throws this into doubt. It is the
multi-faceted lens through which we see the world.

Wisdom is an ethical perspective, a distillation of knowledge
that has value for a community.

Learning can be thought of as a process of gathering data, using
learned perspectives to make it information, synthesizing the
information into knowledge.

An adjustment in the view of this model reveals it to be a
dynamic model.  One person's knowledge can be someone else's
information, from which they may create knowledge.

Okay, that's the stage. The conclusion I make is that knowledge
generation is a synthetic, creative and perception altering
process using information, all kinds of information, as a source
of fuel.

I conceive of knowledge generation as a process of accretion. We
start with some small concepts and gather new learning about them
to form greater capacity to perceive. Sometimes concepts collide
and we have the paradigm shift that educators love.

I do _not_ think of knowledge generation as part of the
scientific method. The scientific method is for proving or
disproving recently generated knowledge. Knowledge creation might
be considered hypothesis generation, except frequently we accept
our knowledge without question, trusting the analogous process
which has brought us to new knowledge.

Formal knowledge representations, by their nature, are closed
systems and thus not knowledge at all. Some claim to be able to
represent all things, but if they are in fact complete and precise
languages they are, to me, by definition, resistant to synthesis.
Interpretations of those people who dig them suggests they like
them for precision in the processing of facts. Knowledge is not
facts. Knowledge is interpretation (of all sorts of stuff,
including facts).

That's problem one: formal knowledge representations are not what
they think they are. Problem two is a simple question of
usability and distribution of power, and leads directly into the

Knowledge generation is a process of gathering and comparing. To
effectively gather and compare one needs access to a lot of
information. Human discourse is not a strict formal
representation (although we could argue that language is in some
ways a formal representation because it exists in social space,
but that's a different discussion) so in order for it to be used
in a formal representative system it needs to be translated to
the new representation. There's no way to correctly automate this
(with computers) and I don't think there ever will be.

This is because computers can _only_ work with formal
representations and translating human discourse is an intepretive
or comparative or (if I'm getting the word right) analogous

Getting an army of people to translate discourse to a formal
representation would be a huge process. Some might think it
worthwhile. I don't. Here's why:

It is presumably possible to declare, within a subset of the
population, that henceforth we will attempt to communicate with
formal representations so we might engage in an orgy of
precision. Unfortunately this won't work very well:

- formal representations must be learned
- formal representations are hard to use
- formal representations are not very expressive or persuasive
- formal representations exist for inference not communication

In addition to being hard to use, attempting to use formal
representations for communication raises questions about elitism.

But most importantly: while a computer can easily be instructed
to make inferences from a formal representation a human can't
easily read them and thus can't do much in the way of knowledge
generation. Yes, they can establish fact, but that's not the
same thing (although it is an important thing).

Also, discourse exists to convince. Communication is an art.
Facility with the language, especially nuance, makes the art.
Precision is antithetical to nuance. Nuance creates intepretive
resonances in the receiver which may cause them to adjust the

Formal representations are important in the way they can augment
a human trying to make decisions. In a collaborative knowledge
environment they are a crucial part of the picture but not the
crucial part.

As was made evident to me from the discussion on the portreview
list, failed collaboration is the result of an inability of
people to reach a shared change in perspective. A change in
perspective is new knowledge. Here on the bootstrap lists the
underlying motivation is solving complex and urgent problems. The
belief is that through collaboration and augmentation we can make
progress on problems that unaided we can not address.

Addressing information (or knowledge if you choose to use that
term) is the key to creating knowledge. In order for me to learn
a new thing I need to be able to compare some stuff. Likewise, in
order for me to convince you, or for us reach a consensual new
perspective, we need to share information, evaluate it, place it
in context, and synthesize it. At the same time, we can be more
effective if we can easily discover that we are treading covered

So, whether the knowledge (actually information) is stored in a
formal representation or in human discourse being able to access
it in effective ways is the crucial key to collaboration.

On Wed, 26 Jun 2002, Jack Park wrote:

> At 04:21 PM 6/26/2002 -0500, Chris Dent wrote:
> >Earlier today I decided that knowledge access structures are far more
> >important than knowledge representation formalisms. Access helps to
> >generate new theory while avoiding repetition.
> >
> >(Formal information representations is another cup of tea entirely.)
> Chris,
> Having nicely sidestepped the personal labels ascribed to you, you finally
> opened up a great area for discourse.  So, I relabeled the thread.
> You said: "Earlier today I decided that knowledge access structures are far
> more important..."
> In the context of unrev, I don't see where that happened.  I see hints of
> it on the PORT list.  So, let me ask you to elaborate.
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