Saturday, April 26, 2008

Weinberger on Pepper on Topic Maps

David Weinberger of Everything is Miscellaneous fame writes about a talk by Steve Pepper on Topic Maps in his blog. He seems to endorse the claim that there is something wrong with the "document-centric" approach that characterizes much of the thinking and praxis of knowledge management. We should become more "subject-centric" because "documents are about subjects. Subjects exist as concepts in our brains. They’re connected by a network of associations. Docs are how we happen to capture and communicate ideas. “Hypertext has been barking up the wrong tree” ever since the memex. ... We should be organizing information around topics/subjects, not around documents."

Topic maps are also said to "reflect the way we think."

I am not sure that this is true. Perhaps topic maps reflect one of the ways we think, perhaps they reflect some of the implicit presuppositions of the way we think, but perhaps they do nothing of the sort and simply reflect what some people have thought. But I will have to think about it.


trondpet said...

As far as I can imagine, you're right in implying that no one can ever be 100% certain of how we really think, and that this will remain a mystery -- at least for quite some time to come.

However, when people like Steve Pepper assert that the human mind works associatively, they are backed up by both educational as well as cognitive psychology. Research suggests that learning is all about relating new knowledge to existing knowledge -- creating a network of knowledge about different subjects -- not documents (obviously).

Since organizing information in a more subject-centric way would be closer to how our brains relate knowledge, it is likely to think that one could build powerful systems on top of semantic technologies (that allow us to express and organize information around subjects which are inter-connected -- not limited to hierarchical organization of files).

MK said...

I did not mean to say that we will never achieve certainty in research about thinking.

Nor did I mean to deny that "association" may be important in understanding thinking and knowing. In fact, I believe it is.

However, I am far from sure that topic maps are "closer to how our brains relate knowledge." For one thing, it seems that "brain" and "knowledge" belong to quite different contexts of discourse. To say that "our brains relate knowledge" therefore seems to involve a category mistake. And this is only part of the problem.