Archive for the ‘facets’ Category

Noesis revisited

IMG_0158 - Version 2Here is a sign I saw recently. It was in a public space and in a country where I had never visited before, but then again it was in a university hall, so I can’t really say that I was so culturally shocked that I didn’t comprehend it. Still, I took it’s picture, didn’t I?

I had a lot of contemplative time that day because I didn’t really speak the language in which most of the discussion was taking place, so although I could read the slides people were showing and sort of follow along, I also had time to let my mind drift. I looked at this set of images, and I laughed a bit to myself and resolved to take a picture when the next break came along. Then I got to thinking about Otto von Neurath and his attempt to use visualization to advance human communication, in particular to use images as a sort of universal language. One supposes it is from that impulse that we get the confusing array of icons on the dashboards of new automobiles today. The point is that even simple images, like those shown here, can be confusing.

That brings me back always to phenomenology and the notion of noesis, that humans perceive through ego acts, or, to try to put it more simply, we see new things always through a lens of those things we have experienced in our past. The reason I laughed (not quite out loud) when I looked up at this sign was that I read in my head “no cigarettes, no radios, and no hamburgers.” Well, why not? The cigarette is clear enough I suppose. But to my unfocused gaze that image in the middle looks like the kind of radio we all had when I was a teenager. You’d set it in the sand near your ear so you could listen to it but it wouldn’t bother the other people on the beach, the sound of the surf providing useful cover. And if that isn’t a hamburger on the right I don’t know what it is! Ok, with a large soda, but obviously no fries. Maybe this means “no carnivores”?

Well that’s the majority of my point I think, that we simply cannot take a simple notion of “concept” seriously as a concrete entity because there just is no such thing. All concepts, no matter how simple, are perceived along a zillion personal continua. Knowledge organizations can provide frameworks but precision will always escape us.

Which is why we need to move to faceted systems–not categorized systems, but true facets–that embrace contexts, because it is the contexts that mediate individual perceptions. A faceted KOS that permitted contextual entry first and conceptual second would allow users to gauge the parameters of noeitic mediation involved in a given search, or in a given set of assigned semantic concepts. Just for fun, here is the uncropped image. I admiIMG_0158t it isn’t the best example; still it shows a column, in fact the top of a column in an industrial strucutre with cinderblock walls and an airduct there on the ceiling–that makes it relatively clear this is some sort of public space, like a classroom, and that also makes it a bit more clear why those certain things are prohibited.

I know now that thing in the middle is a mobile phone, because they don’t want people chattering. The sandwich and drink on the right probably mean “no eating or drinking” (see, I did get it, after considering the context). Still, it would be more useful to show someone with a full mouth I think and that hash mark across it.

This was in Rio de Janeiro, by the way, at the recent ISKO Brazil conference held at Fundação Getulio Vargas: Portal FGV.

Posted July 14, 2013 by lazykoblog in facets, phenomenology

Tagged with , , , , ,

More Otlet … a lot more!

It was recently my great honor to participate as an examiner in defense of a new Ph.D. dissertation by Wouter Van Acker, at the University of Ghent in Belgium. Interestingly enough, the dissertation was produced in the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture. The title of the work is Universalism as Utopia: A Historical Study of the Schemes and Schemas of Paul Otlet (1868-1944).

I want to draw attention to the work in a couple of ways. First, I think the dissertation is not to be made public through deposit, so we should make all conscious efforts to urge the author to publish the work. It is an immense synthesis of Otlet’s career, and includes many illustrations from his papers at the Mundaneum and elsewhere. There is immense value in both the compilation and the sensitive synthesis. So, keep an eye peeled for dissemination of this work. I won’t even attempt to review the work here, but I do want to draw attention to it.

I was interested as a participant to see how wide-ranging a discussion we had about the disciplinary roots of this research. Of course, many of Otlet’s “schemes and schemas” were systems for knowledge organization. As I read the dissertation, and as I pondered how to participate in the conversation, I kept reminding myself that the document was not produced in an iSchool division of knowledge organization, because it might well have been. Certainly much of the work of Otlet, even that explicitly directed at the founding of a world-city, was essentially an extension of knowledge organization. What I take, then, from the conversation, is a renewed sense of the critical importance of knowledge organization as substrate for everything else.

I also was quite specifically interested in the physical specifications of space for knowledge repositories. That is, Otlet’s ideas about how to organize everything, from a seaside resort to a movable museum, reflected a sense of the human in the physical space surrounded by knowledge, and thus the organization of the knowledge was more than just an abstraction, it was also structure in which human activity could take place. That was a pretty common idea, I think, at the turn of the 20th century. We see it in Martel’s 7 Points for the Library of Congress Classification, for instance. And there are many other examples of classifications designed to fit specific physical spaces. KOS as architecture, literally, in other words. I think there is a fascinating set of historical hypotheses in there somewhere.

Questions also arose about the UDC, and based on my work with the Knowledge Space Lab (tracing the growth and evolution of the UDC over time;, I found myself wondering about dimensionality and facets. That is, if faceted KOS have the possibility of facilitating multidimensional knowledge representation, and I’m certain they do, then why do we get the usual list of suspects in the UDC (space, time, language, and so forth). I think my question is too ill-formed as of yet, so I’ll have to beg your indulgence while I ponder what it is I really mean to say here. My colleague Charles van den Heuvel suggested the mutildimensionality was there, not in the specific elements of the facets but rather in their potential for multiple combination. We’ll see where this leads us.

Perhaps on a more humorous note, I was quite impressed with the process. There were two defenses (2!), one private and one public. The public defense was quite formal, and I might add I enjoyed it immensely. Here are some photos of the event:

Finally (for now), congratulations to Wouter Van Acker for a brilliant defense of a magnificent piece of research.