Archive for the ‘order’ Category

Summer reading

I discovered a great little book earlier this summer and I commend it to anyone interested in knowledge organization, but especially to those who understand the relationship between the order and structure of knowledge, and the order and structure of everything. The book is The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018). It’s one of those amazing little books (240 double-spaced pages including its index, and also easily handheld at a mere 19.5 cm. tall) but also densely packed with information. I will leave it to others to review the book. What I want to do is just reflect a bit about ideas the book brings forward.

The first is that we do not really understand what is meant by “order.” We think of time as something sequential, carefully ordered and entirely quantifiable. But what do we mean when we think of “order”? Sequence? Did one thing happen before another? How do we know? Rovelli opens (p. 5) with the challenge that “somehow our time must emerge around us, at least for us and at our scale.”

Critical to scientific thinking is (p. 11) “the ability to understand something before it’s observed is at the heart of scientific thinking …. The ability to imagine, reflect and explain something we have not yet seen is the essential intellectual method of science. Thus, to understand time or its order we must be prepared to understand and reflect outside of our own experience, to imagine.

After carefully deconstructing our understanding of time, Rovelli begins to build a more reasonable theory, one that actually synthesizes apparently conflicting points of view, again the essence of science. Among his assertions:

-(p. 96) “the world is a network of events. On the one hand, there was time, with its many determinations; on the other, the simple fact that nothing is: things happen.”

-(p. 119) “there is no need … to choose a privileged variable and call it ‘time.’ What we need, if we want to do science, is a theory that tells us how the variables change with respect to each other.”

-(p. 152) “‘indexicality’: the characteristic of certain words that have a different meaning every time they are used, a meaning determined by where, how, when, and by whom they are being spoken. Words such as ‘here,’ ‘now,’ ‘I,’ ‘this,’ ‘tonight’ all assume a different meaning depending on who utters them and the circumstances in which they are uttered.

-(p. 153): “if we give a description of the world that ignores point of view, that is solely ‘from the outside’—of space, of time, of a subject—we may be able to say many things but we lose certain crucial aspects of the world. Because the world that we have been given is the world seen from within it, not from without. Many things that we see in the world can be understood only if we take into account the role played by point of view.”

-(p. 160): “it is entropy, not energy, that drives the world” … energy is conserved … neither created nor destroyed … what makes the world go round are not sources of energy but sources of low entropy.”

-(p. 194): “a present that is common throughout the whole universe does not exist … Events are not ordered in pasts, presents, and futures; they are only ‘partially’ ordered. There is a present that is near to us, but nothing that is ‘present’ in a far off galaxy. The present is a localized rather than a global phenomenon.

-(p. 201): “physics helps us to penetrate layers of the mystery … but in our search for time … we have ended up by discovering something about ourselves … perhaps the emotion of time is precisely what time is for us.”

At the risk of oversynthesizing, I think I can go so far as to say that I see in this writing confirmation of what I have laconically told students for years, what we do in knowledge organization is impossible. There is no order other than perception, indexicality can have no order because it is entirely dependent on point of view, and if space and time are the same, there cannot be two different facets that represent them unless we admit that we are representing neither but only our perceptions of “here” and “when.” On the other hand, science is a critical tool for comprehending the “network of events” that constitutes observable reality. And the presence of networks means there are potential pathways.

(Ironically, I don’t now recall how I discovered this book, it does not occur on any reading list for knowledge organization that I have seen. I suppose it must have been suggested to me by Amazon or Google!)

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