August 22, 2015
August 22, 2015
August 21, 2015
August 20, 2015
Shakespeare is bringing before us both the vastness of the ocean and the indistinguishability of one drop from another, and maybe even the way in which drops in an ocean are artificial constructs. But for us, “a drop in the ocean” is the standard signifier of an amount so small that it makes no difference at all. A drop in the bucket could still add up to something. A drop in the ocean could not.
You can see the power of this image in the startling effect its inversion had in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Ice Nine. A single drop of this fictitious chemical would crystalize the entire ocean. Imagine, a mere drop in the ocean having such an effect!
Of course, when it comes to racism, for a long time in this country (and only this country), having one drop of “Negro” blood in your veins — a black ancestor in any generation back to the presumed-white Adam and Eve — was enough to make you subject to all of the racial and social restrictions white America had devised. [More] Unlike an ocean drop or bucket drop, a blood drop could make all the difference. But, racism is all about being inconsistent, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.
When it came to tiny bits that didn’t matter at all, a drop in the ocean was the measure.
Not any more. All those drops have added up. Depending on where you’re floating, if you were to withdraw a drop from the ocean, there’s a measurable probability that you’ll come down with hepatitis. In some parts of the ocean, your dropper will get clogged with plastic. No drops for you.
We used to say that the ocean is forgiving. It turns out it was just nursing a grudge.
We have suffered from the Fallacy of Scale. We are now learning the power of drops. Perhaps too late.
1Speaking of Comedy of Errors, don’t miss the hilarious version at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, Mass. It’s set in NJ, and they play it entirely for laughs because, well, it’s a comedy.
August 18, 2015
The New Atlantis has just published five essays exploring “The Unknown Newton”. It is — bless its heart! — open access. Here’s the table of contents:
Snobelen attributes this to Newton’s recognition that the universe consists of forces all acting on one another at the same time:
To maintain the order represented by perfect ellipses required nudges and corrections that only a Deity could accomplish.
August 17, 2015
I got a little interested in the question of Isaac Newton’s connection to astrology because of something I’ve been working about casuality. After all, Newton pursued alchemical studies with great seriousness. And he gave us a theory of action at a distance that I thought might be taken as providing a rationale for astrological effects.
But, no. According to a post by Graham Bates:
Bates says that a book on astrology that he purchased as a boy led him to learn about Euclid’s theorems so he could construct an astrologocial chart, but that is the extent of his known interest.
Bates also does a good job tracking down a spurious quote:
The actual quote refers to theology, not astrology. So, no, Newton was not practitioner of astrology and there’s no reason to think that he gave it any credence. (Me neither, by the way.)
The post is on the Urania Trust site, which I had not heard of before. The group was founded in 1970 “to further the advancement of education by the teaching of the relationship between main’s [sic] knowledge of, beliefs about, the heavens and every aspect of his art science philosophy and religion.” Given its commitment to taking astrology seriously, the fairness of its post about Newton is admirable.
(Now if I could only find out if Newton played billiards.)
August 13, 2015
I just came across an article from my old JOHO newsletter, from May 2005, that I wrote for Esther Dyson’s Reality 1.0. It was titled Trees and Tags— An Introduction, and it was about the limitations of taxonomies and the rise of tags. I must have been writing or researching Everything Is Miscellaneous at the time.
Here’s the introductory section. If you’re interested in ancient history, you can read the whole thing.
The Three Orders
The narrative that tells of the first man and woman encountering the tree of knowledge focuses on its tempting fruit. But after we took the bite, we apparently looked up and got the idea that knowledge is shaped like the tree’s branching structure: Big concepts contain smaller ones that contain smaller ones yet. Over the millennia, we have fashioned the structures of knowledge in just such tree-like ways, from the departmental organization of universities (liberal arts contains history and history contains ancient Chinese history) to the hierarchy of species. The idea that knowledge is shaped like a tree is perhaps our oldest knowledge about knowledge.
Now autumn has come to the forest of knowledge, thanks to the digital revolution. The leaves are falling and the trees are looking bare. We are discovering that traditional knowledge hierarchies that have served us so well are unnecessarily restricted when it comes to organizing information in the digital world. The principles of organization themselves are changing now that they are being freed from the constraints of the physical world. For example:
These differences are so substantial that we can think of intellectual order as entering a third age. In the first, we organized the things themselves: We put books on shelves and silverware into drawers. In the second, we physically separated the metadata from the data: We built card catalogs and drew diagrams. In the third, the data and the metadata are digital, untying organization from the strictures of the physical world. In response, we are rapidly inventing new principles and tools of organization. When it comes to innovation on the Internet, metadata is becoming the new content.
But traditional taxonomic trees aren’t something we can throw away without a thought. They are an amazingly efficient way of organizing complexity because they enable us to focus on one aspect (e.g., that’s an apple) while keeping a universe of context (it’s a fruit, part of a plant, a type of living thing) in the background, ready for access. Tree structures are built into our institutions. They may even be built into our genes. So we are in a confusing and fertile period as we try to sort out what works and what doesn’t. Without trees, how would we organize college curricula, business org charts, the local library, and the order of species? How will we organize knowledge itself?
We may be on the path to finding out.
August 12, 2015
When we slept in caves
With no blanket but your pal
But now we act as if
What’s natural is that we stayed up.
August 11, 2015
The British Library has posted one million public domain images — images not subject to any copyright restrictions — at Flickr. (They did this at least a year ago, but it’s still worth noting, isn’t it?)
The public can view them, copy them, and reuse them freely in every regard. An article in Quartz by Anne Quito reports:
The Library posted them not only so they could be enjoyed and reused, but so the public would do what the Library is not staffed to do all by itself: add tags. Says Quartz:
I can’t figure out how to search within a collection at Flickr, but this view at least does some clustering.
Categories: copyright, libraries, misc Tagged with: copyleft • copyright • libraries • photos • public domain
Date: August 11th, 2015 dw
August 10, 2015
The Wall Street Journal has run an article by Robert Lee Hotz that gently ridicules scientists for including thousands of people as co-authors of some scientific publications. Sure, a list of 2,000 co-authors is risible. But the article misses some of the reasons why it’s not.
As Robert Lee points out, “experiments have gotten more complicated.” But not just by a little. How many people did it take to find the Higgs Boson particle? In fact, as Michael Nielsen (author of the excellent Reinventing Discovery) says, how many people does it take to know that it’s been found? That knowledge depends on deep knowledge in multiple fields, spread across many institutions and countries.
In 2012 I liveblogged a fantastic talk by Peter Galison on this topic. He pointed to an additional reason: it used to be that engineers were looked upon as mere technicians, an attitude mirrored in The Big Bang (the comedy show, not the creation of the universe—so easy to get those two confused!). Over time, the role of engineers has been increasingly appreciated. They are now often listed as co-authors.
In an age in which knowledge quite visibly is too big to be known by individuals, sharing credit widely more accurate reflects its structure.
In fact, it becomes an interesting challenge to figure out how to structure metadata about co-authors so that it captures more than name and institution and does so in ways that make it interoperable. This is something that my friend Amy Brand has been working on. Amy, recently named head of the MIT University Press is going to be a Berkman Fellow this year, so I hope this topic will be a subject of discussion at the Center.
Categories: liveblog, taxonomy, too big to know Tagged with: 2b2k • authorship • knowledge networks • science
Date: August 10th, 2015 dw
August 8, 2015
The Gregory Brothers at it again. Please enjoy not just ridiculousness of what they’re parodying, but the musicality of what they’ve produced and in such short order:
Personally, I want to see the Trump meme “We need brain” not just songified but also zombified: “WE…NEED…BRAIN. WE…NEED…BRAAAAIN.