Monday, July 8, 2013

Knowledge Maps

Now running on the Objectivist discussion site, Rebirth of Reason, is a set of multilateral exchanges comparing and contrasting the epistemologies of Karl Popper and Ayn Rand.  I believe that independent of partisanship many of the presentations are taxed by a lack of common vocabulary.  

Often, writers intend different meanings from the same word.  This is a hallmark of discussions with Objectivists for whom selfishness is a virtue.  One sub-thread differentiated “risk” from “uncertainty” with different assertions originating in the varied life experiences of the writers.  To engineer Fred Bartlett, a machined bolt of 8.5 cm +/- .03 is unarguably defined.  Is “authority” always unarguable?  Political authority is easily contradicted, but what about the “authority” of reason? 
 
From Frege's Lectures on Logic: Carnap's Student Notes (2004)


Certainly, the Objectivists are not alone in their quandaries.  Every non-trivial communication risks failure, from slight to partial to complete.  Common schooling left us all with the implicit belief that if you can look a word up in a dictionary, you can rely on an objective definition that everyone understands.  However, the important elements of our lives cannot be expressed in a handful of words, delivered as phrases, rather than sentences.  (Dictionaries do include pictures.)  On a different plane of understanding, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises acknowledged that capitalists and socialists often agree on the facts – in a certain place, at a given time, some commodity had a known price.  Where they disagree is on what the facts mean.  Such meanings cannot be found in a dictionary.  They require more complicated, nuanced, and subtle explanations, often including analogy and allegory. 
 
In the Star Trek: Next Generation episode “Darmok” 
we met the Tamarians who communicated in allegory. 
(See Memory Alpha here.) 
Tamarian Captain and Jean-Luc Picard.
Picard recites from the Gilgamesh before the wounded Tamarian dies.
Even if the philosophers could decide on a common vocabulary and a common narrative, the primary constraint may be the very dependence on verbal expressions: graphs might serve everyone better.  Outside of information systems, we do not study means of graphical representation, except, of course, for actual artists. 
Order Entry Program Code Documented
with Nassi-Shneiderman Diagram

Microsoft’s Visio delivers many graphical tool sets.  You are not morally obligated to engage the Database shapes and connectors only for the design of databases.  In the machine shop, we do not use screwdrivers as chisels or calipers as clamps; but, a thousand years ago, when mastodons roamed the streets, my friend Geoff saw VisiCalc for the Apple // and said, “You could make a pretty good word processor with this.” 
 
From Carnap's Notes (2004)
Gottlob Frege developed a graphical representation for logic.  It presaged the notation systems of electricians.  The electrical schematics for series and parallel circuits, for Normally Off and Normally On, led to the circuit logic we accept today.  That much is all fine for planar arrays of linear logic.  What about events that unfold over time?
Star Trek Enterprise, "Cold Front"
Crewman Daniels shows Captain Archer
a map of their problem

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