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[2b2k] Heading towards facts

[This talks about the book I’ve just begun writing, Too Big to Know.] I’ve polished the opening few pages a bit, but I still worry that they’re not “grabby” enough. They lay out some figures about information overload, give a little history of the term and how it went from a psychological syndrome to a mere fact of the cultural landscape, and then promise that I’ll have something interesting to say about knowledge real soon now.

This morning I added three very brief examples — gestures, really — of what it means for a field to be “too big to know”: science, business, and government. It’d probably be better if I gave some actual examples, rather than the general purpose swipes I currently make at it. But since the opening is likely to get thrown out anyway, I don’t want to get too hung up on it. Yet.

I transition to the next section (which may not be announced as a new section — I tend to over-divide my chapters as I write, and then take out subheads afterwards) by saying that the overload of knowledge changes just about everything we know about knowledge, beginning with the role of facts. So, now I have the task of opening up the section on the history of facts.

I’ve been reading a fair bit about this and have lots of little pieces I want to include, but I’m not sure how to tie them together. So, I made the mistake this morning of thinking that I could start with the modern role of fact-finding missions, which in fact go back only about 100 years. I thought I’d get a good, recent example of one, and for some reason decided to use the UN’s fact-finding mission about the January invasion of Palestine by Israel. But, it’s a terrible example to use: The politics of it distracts readers from my point. And, worse, it’s just a bad example of how fact-finding missions are supposed to work: They’re supposed to determine the facts free of values, whereas this particular one was chartered with all sorts of language condemning Israel. So, I suppose I’ll have to tear that example out and find a different one.

From there I want to talk about why fact-finding missions started being used around the turn of the previous century, and from that go backwards to the role of facts in the Victorian social reform movement. My aim is to tell the reader that our current assumed architecture of knowledge, with facts as its foundation, is recent and not set in stone.

And then I have more I have to do in this opening chapter. And at the moment, I’m thinking the whole chapter is misconceived :(

9 Responses to “[2b2k] Heading towards facts”

  1. Stop thinking about the book, think about the content. In June you’ll have time enough to reorganize things and make a book aout of it. And if not you’ll still have a great discussion in the current social media. Started to follow you on twitter. Do more with it than just referncing to your website! Try to trigger people as they are a source of information for your book.


    Mickel Langeveld

  2. Facts are often in the mind of the beholder. The recent issue on climate would surely be proof of that with the issue polarizing many in the science community as well as people in general. I’m a glass half full person so I think the premise that the knowledge architecture is based on facts is wrong anyway, I think it’s based on deception.

  3. Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Heading towards facts…

    Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Heading towards facts…

  4. Mickel, I’ve thought about the content for years. Now my task is to write a book. Now, not June. June is when I hope to be rewriting my book :)

    As far as twitter goes: I reviewed my previous 25 tweets, and didn’t once link to my site. Am I missing something? (I’m dweinberger at twitter.)

    Jeremy, I’m not willing to say that facts are in the mind of the beholder, although I am not willing to say they are purely in or of the world either. If facts were really in the minds of the beholder, one of the blind men would have tried to pick up the elephant and would have said “It’s light as a feather!” So, I don’t know how to get that right exactly, but I don’t think I have to (fortunately!) in this chapter. My only task is to show the reader (well, some readers) that knowledge is far more complex than we ordinarily assume it is.

  5. I guess I have more general thoughts tonight about Knowledge Overload:

    During my last trip to Vilnus, I visited the grave of famous Vilna Gaon. He lived about 250 years ago and almost surely he knew by heart all the Torah (Five books of Bible) and whole Talmud. In addition to this, his wisdom and judgmenet is famous till today.

    In fact there (in old Poland) we had tens if not thousands of Jewish sages that were famous of memorizing the Holy Scriptures.

    I guess, if we tried to do it today, we:
    (1) would not be able to do so
    (2) will be completely overloaded

    My friends say – over last centuries the humanity degenerated its ability to grasp knowledge.

    So the question is – could we guess that Gaon z Vilna, Bach, Remu, Akiva Eiger – etc – were overwhelmed by the knowledge ?

    In some sense it does not matter it was religious, or that it was within Judaism. Stories of people memorizning Holy books or even poetry hundreds of years ago are quite common in many faiths.

    Even lay people did so – my parents told me stories of their friends memorizing all 12 books of Polish-Lithuenian epic “Mister Thaddeus, or the Last Foray in Lithuania” …

    What is in our PRESENT knowledge that overwhelms us even at much lower amount of it ???

  6. David, ignore the sentence about referencing the website. I have no clue why I wrote it…. information overload? :-)

  7. Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Heading towards facts…

    Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Heading towards facts…

  8. Facts support a deepening of rationality as the only verifiable knowledge. Facts also reinforce the extent to which materialism has dominated our worldviews. Facts are essentially indisputable and so they build up the indisputability of the material world and the indisputability of a constructed cultural world in which we believe. We manufacture theories from facts as we manufacture products from natural resources.

    The video you posted on the Known Universe is based upon facts yet it is an imaginal journey to the edge of the universe. We can use facts to solidify our view of everything and therefore create The Belief in Certainty or we can use facts to open ourselves to the inherent mystery and awe that the unknowable universe inspires. Facts have been used to convince us that our beliefs are truths. Yet truth lies beyond a mere collection and arrangement of facts and lies even beyond matter itself. The ideas of Plato were much closer to truth, yet in our increasing materialism we have traded truth for certainty. We have abandoned unknowable uncertainty for a reduced certainty based upon known facts.

    The extent to which facts dominate our understanding, indicates the extent to which the project of rationalism has eliminated all other modes of consciousness. Ancient mythologies are only looked upon as primitive and inadequate from the point of view of this rationalism which reduces the universe only to what we know about it with certainty, and only to what can be known through thinking,logic,reason.

    We are led into a world where we can no longer trust our senses, our intuition, or our imagination. Only our thoughts are true and facts are used to verify this knowledge.

    The journey to the edge of the universe and then back once again to the earth is an imaginal journey.No one has ever made it. This imaginal journey opens us to the uncertainty of the unknowable and to the certainty that we know very little after all. Yet this journey provides an experience of knowing that, although based upon facts, is much more than factual. Every ancient culture used imaginary journeys to intuit truth. The ancient practices of Shamanism allowed one to leave ordinary reality and to journey into non-ordinary reality. These techniques are still available today yet rational materialism denies the very possibility of their existence or their leading toward truth precisely because they are not factual but imaginary.

    In fact the entire impulse of Art from fiction to film to landscape painting is to lie in order to tell the truth. If we confine ourselves only to facts, we limit the avenues toward the apprehension of truth. We also foster a belief that we know, and that everything can be known. If everything can eventually be known, then only the factual is reliable and only the scientific -ologies that discover facts are credible pathways toward truth.

    But we are so far immersed into our rationalism, we can not even conceive that there may be other avenues to truth. Strangely enough our religions, which should create vehicles toward these mysteries, have actually become rational, material, and therefore certain. They fight amongst each other to prove that their belief is more certain than all others.

    Images open us to truths through their metaphorical and symbolic contents. Yet our obsession with the photographic materialistic surfaces of both things and ourselves has consigned metaphor and symbol to mere literary technique.

    Carl Jung posited a psychology based upon four psychic functions: thinking, sensing, intuiting, and feeling. I would replace his function of feeling with imagination and would say that the apprehension of truth involves all four avenues or modes of consciousness.

    Because of our need to believe in certainty, rational thinking has eliminated the credibility of intuition, imagination, and sensing. From within the viewpoint of rational consciousness, we need only facts to become certain. Becoming certain has taken precedence over discovering truth.

  9. Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Heading towards facts…

    Joho the Blog » [2b2k] Heading towards facts…

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