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The synchonicity of intertwingled knowledge

Yesterday I finished the rough (rough!) draft of Chapter 5 of my book. It’s on the nature of the “leaves” of knowledge that we’re piling up willy-nilly. The aim of the chapter is to show how different that approach is from the traditional assumption that knowledge is a stable, inter-generational domain, divided into disciplines, to which we may get to contribute if our contributions are judged worthy by the gatekeepers.

But what is one of these so-called leaves anyway? I end up arguing that unique identifiers (unique to particular namespaces, although because this is supposed to be a book of general interest, I don’t use the word “namespace”) are important nodes around which meaning clusters, and that’s about as close as we get to there being actual leaves. And since there are multiple namespaces, and then there are all the clusters based not on IDs but on hyperlinks and meanings, the “pile of leaves” metaphor implies too much neatness and order. Knowledge is much more “intertwingled” than that.

“Intertwingularity” was coined by Ted Nelson and is a word that really works.

In the course of the chapter, I talk about ISBNs, the book identifiers. Out of the blue, I chose the edition of Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent because I was fascinated by the copy my parents had when I was a kid. So, I go on and on about ISBN 0679600108. Yesterday I googled 0679600108 and discovered that it is the example others have used when writing about ISBNs. Out of the gazillion books, why did I choose this one?

In Chapter 5 I also talk about Universal Price Codes and, oddly, go down a path (that I’ll probably delete) about the 1989 decision to expand the UPC to include enough digits to encode information for individually-weighed portions of seafood. (Yes, that’s just how fascinating my book is.)

Then I went for shabbos lunch to our neighbors’ apartment. The husband works in the deli department of a local grocery store. And guess what he starts telling us about? How he individual wraps and prices particular cuts of seafood in order to meet the kosher needs of the community. What are the chances of that coming up in conversation?

Yes, these are at best coincidences. But call ’em synchronicity and a little chill can run down your spine. [Tags: ]

4 Responses to “The synchonicity of intertwingled knowledge”

  1. There is a related and well-understood mathematical phenomenon in cryptography, called the birthday paradox, which examines the likelihood that any two people in a room have the same birthday (but not any particular two people).

    For any given thing, the chances of it coming up in conversation a few times in rapid succession are small, but given the number of things, the chances of some one of them coming up twice is actually pretty high.

  2. As far as I had hummered my head over coincidences and reciprocity,
    there are few explanations for them appearing in a conversation.
    The “birthday paradox” is actually a law in the field of ‘big numbers’, i.e. in a staduim with 80.000 people there Must be tens of couples with the same birthday.
    so in a crowded conversation like the internet coincidences should be a law as well,
    in the mean time a mind trained throuw the net, instead of books, should be able to manage and produce coincidences, even if in a pre-cognitive way at this stage.
    point is that sincronicity is also the alphabet of liking each other and creating networks of people.
    of course this discourse is not, by any means, a rational and linear one and could not satisfy your question at all

  3. You do remember the birthday paradox from Jan Plan 1970? What is old is new.

  4. David,

    I sure hope you intend on responding to the critique Morville offers in Ambient Findability of your “leaf piling” concept of knowledge.


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