Archive for the ‘phenomenology’ Category

On an Epistemic Center

A SIG/CR panel at this year’s ASIST annual meeting in Copenhagen was devoted to the concepts of global and local knowledge organization. It was a continuation, of sorts, of the 2015 conference held under the auspices of the Royal School of Library and Information Science at the University of Copenhagen,  orchestrated by Jens-Erik Mai, to consider whether approaching knowledge organization from the dual poles of global and local might shift the domain in new and useful directions from its standard dichotomy of universality versus domain-specificity. A report of the conference appeared in Knowledge Organization (Martinez-Avila 2015). The ASIST panel spent only a small portion of the allotted time in presentations, choosing instead to pose a series of questions in order to promote discussion.

One of the more intriguing ideas arose from John Budd, who spoke from the floor for a bit about phenomenological approaches to knowledge organization. I also have embraced phenomenological KO from time to time because of my conviction that a core problem in any form of KO is perception. A basic problem always exists because perceptions are not fixed, even in any particular individual, let alone in a community or among strangers. If KO is based ultimately on the atomic concept, how can concurrence on ontological distinctions ever be reached if every concept is subject to individual perception? There is no good answer to the question. There only are utilitarian explanations about what, in fact, is done in individual knowledge organization systems or applications to force perceptual concurrence. The central problem remains.

In his comments, which I by no means remember in full, Budd made reference to work by Paul Ricoeur in which the notion of “just institutions” plays an important role. Institutions that are just, in a phenomenological sense, must become so by arriving at, negotiating, navigating or even simply hovering over an epistemic center. Budd asked the group to consider whether there is an epistemic center in KO. If there were, presumably it would be located between and overlap the interests of both global and local considerations.

It’s an interesting question, by which I mean it is a critical question for KO, to consider how or whether an epistemic center, or epistemic centers, exist or function in the domain. If so they would provide a kind of unity, or maybe community is a better term, of perceptual conceptual loci. There are various approaches to phenomenology, of course, but most assert the role of the individual as a lens for perceiving reality. In Husserlian phenomenology (see Smiraglia 2014b, 28-29), noesis is the action by which the individual perceiving any entity sweeps his own ego for experienced perceptions and settles on, however briefly, a synthesis of experience that becomes in that moment the perception of that entity. When the entity is a concept, it means the noetic act involves sweeping and synthesizing cognizance based on experiential evidence. The problem for KO, of course, is that, if every individual is perceiving every concept individually, there is a high probability of misunderstanding from one individual to another or from individual to community. How can there be a knowledge organization based on concepts, if all concepts are subject to perception, and perception is a function of individual lived experience?

The answer has to lie in this notion of an epistemic core, a central gathering space as it were of overlapping perceptions that arrive at overlapping noetic synthesis and thus an agreed (conscious or not) ontology of any particular concept or set of concepts.

Such an epistemic center (epistemic because it relies on knowledge) has to be what we often refer to as culture. In Cultural Synergy in Information Institutions I wrote (Smiraglia 2014a, 1):

Cultural forces govern the synergistic relationship among information institutions and thus [shape] their roles collectively and individually. Synergy is that combination of forces whose power is greater than the individual power of its constituent elements. Culture is that base of knowledge that is common to any particular group of people, such that it shapes their perception as well as their behavior as a group and as members of that group. Cultural synergy, then, is the combination of perception- and behavior-shaping knowledge within, between, and among groups that contributes to the now realized virtual reality of a common information-sharing interface among information institutions.

Culture then, such as it is, must be the ethos of an epistemic center. If so, it must necessarily be a dynamic space, much like Peirceian semiotic space (see Smiraglia 2014b, 23-26), in which a constant process of synthesis on the part of individuals and groups sweeps experience for perceptual understanding arriving momentarily simultaneously on overlapping ontologies of concepts. (By ontology of a concept I mean its definitive boundaries, and the factors that determine what is or is not an exemplar.) Such a dynamism is the combination of semiosis with noesis.

The epistemic center must be the space in the universe of knowledge where perception takes place, leading to signs and concepts, the combination of which constitute works, which in turn constitute taxons, which constitute canons that represent cultures (see Smiraglia and van den Heuvel 2013, 374). The epistemic center (or any epistemic center) is the working place from which knowledge organization arises; it is the foundry where Paul Otlet’s grinder chugs away rearranging perceived knowledge into newly discoverable clusters (378). Culture, in all of its meanings, defines the boundaries of epistemic center. Ontological boundaries must therefore be constantly shifting (this we know already from common sense and more recently, empirically from ontogenetic studies of KO).

 

References

Martínez-Ávila, Daniel. 2015. “Global and Local Knowledge Organization, Copenhagen, August 12, 2015. Knowledge Organization 42: 470-3.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2014a. Cultural Synergy in Information Institutions. New York: Springer.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2014b. The Elements of Knowledge Organization.  Cham: Springer.

Smiraglia, Richard P. and Charles van den Heuvel. 2013. “Classifications and Concepts: Towards an Elementary Theory of Knowledge Interaction.” Journal of Documentation 69: 360-83.

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Posted October 23, 2016 by lazykoblog in epistemology, phenomenology

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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

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Bandwagons (originally posted 7-10-2010)

I suspect in the year 2010 the bandwagon is so old a metaphor few remember what they actually were like. Originally it was a wagon that carried a band in a parade. All of the recent meanings of the term derive from this, because the music is the fun thing in the parade that makes spectators want to follow along or climb aboard. Oh well.

As I read study after study of social tagging I began to wonder about the behavior of taggers. Most studies have demonstrated various properties of the tags themselves, and several studies have suggested tagging is some sort of egalitarian indexing-for-the-masses that would be ever so more useful if the taggers would just stick to a thesaurus. But I considered both of those assumptions unlikely. For one thing, if you inhabit a social networking site just enough to watch the tags go by out of the corner of your eye each day you see a surprising number of them that are self-centered expressions (not just “todo” though there is plenty of that, but also “wtf” and so forth). Also, again watching out of the corner of your eye, the really fascinating thing about the tags is the network of associations among them–in other words, what happens if you click on one, and then when you get to that destination click on the first one there, and so on–you’ll not be following any road that a thesaurus would have led you along (stay tuned for a blog entry about my work at VKS with Wikipedia). There was a lot of discussion about the difference between the main tags and the little ones populating the outer corners of those tag clouds as well, and that reminded me of the problem of noesis, which is the ego-act of perceiving through one’s own experience–this is a hallmark of Husserl’s phenomenology.

I designed a study of tags as exploratory, with the purpose of surveying the tags assigned to a random sample of sites in Delicious.com. I wanted to compare what I would find to prior studies to see whether there was any theoretical potential (there was), and then subsequently to analyze the behavior of the taggers to look for noietic behavior. I submitted an abstract to this effect to the 11th International ISKO Conference in Rome, and also I drew my sample all in one day. I based a sample-size calculation on prior studies’ figures about the proportion of affective tags, and then in my enthusiasm drew twice as many cases (sites) as I needed for 95% confidence. I was excited to get my feet wet with this kind of research. I’m glad I drew the sample manually so I could watch the data as I downloaded the sites and their taggers and their tags. But now I know why people use crawlers for this! My abstract was accepted, and along with it came some helpful referee comments, which sent me to the literature of cognitive linguistics. Bear with me, I was on a learning curve here.

For the conference in Rome I wrote a summary paper about the behavior I observed among the taggers. I discovered plenty of noietic behavior, and interestingly enough, although I was able to affirm the proportion of affective tags–the figure from my study fell within the confidence interval of the prediction from prior studies–the surprise was that the noietic tagging was not affective tagging. I also analyzed the entire sample to see what I could learn about co-tagging–in other words, which taggers were tagging together, and here was my first surprise. A substantial core of the taggers were, in fact, all focused on work on the same sites, and their co-tagging was nested in two clusters, which I was able to identify roughly as web designers and programmers (remember, we’re talking about Delicious.com); the web designers’ tags were descriptive and the programmers’ tags were slightly more likely to be affective.

All of this convinced me I had figured it backwards–the noietic behavior was not the weird stuff in the long tail, but rather was the common ego-act perceptions of the tightly-knit group of co-taggers. In other words, here was a group of taggers all leaping on a bandwagon and in so doing classifying their commonly tagged sites with some very specific and (for taggers) relatively precise terminology.Here is a slide from the PowerPoint presentation of that paper. On the left you see the clusters of taggers, and on the right their tags. The point was that most of those tags could be seen as semantically related to two conceptual clusters–noesis as bandwagon effect. The paper is available in the ISKO Proceedings of the conference at Rome (Richard P. Smiraglia “Perception, Knowledge Organization, and Noetic Affective Social Tagging” pp. 64-7) but here is the abstract:

Knowledge organization can be postulated as existing on a continuum between classificatory activity and perception. Studying perception and its role in the identification of concepts is critical for the advancement of knowledge organization. The purpose of this research is to advance our understanding of the role of perception in knowledge organization systems. We briefly review the role of perception in knowledge organization and some preliminary evidence about affective social tagging, which is seen as a form of everyday classification. We consider how Husserlian phenomenology might be useful for analyzing the role of perception in affective social tagging. Finally, preliminary results of an empirical study are reported.

Because this was for ISKO I was intentionally focussed on the KO issue, which I here stated as a continuum between classificatory activity and perception. I gave a paper on noesis at ISKO in Montréal as well (scroll down, it’s the mailbox paper). I think that we think too often that classification is about putting things in little boxes, and therefore that we think too little about how fuzzy are the boundaries of those boxes. So here is just a glmpse at that issue.

As I said, the referees had sent me to cognitive linguistics, and I found particular resonance in the writing of Ronald Langacker (Langacker, Ronald W. 2005. Dynamicity, fictivity, and scanning: the imaginative basis of logic and linguistic meaning. In Pecher, Diane and Rolf A. Zwaan eds., Grounding cognition : the role of perception and action in memory, language, and thinking. Cambridge : Cambridge Univ. Pr., pp. 164-97). Scanning is the linguistic activity in which a kind of shorthand is used to project a landscape on which perceived activity is taking place; it results in “fictive” or at least unfactual language, but common understanding allows and even encourages this. Here’s a PowerPoint slide from my presentation at CAIS in Montreal in June.

The example is the phrase “my teacher’s books keep getting longer.” What is meant is that each time the teacher writes a book (or, one supposes, even buys a book) it is longer than the last. But that isn’t what was said at all, and obviously the idea that the teacher has a stack of books that is somehow stretching is absurd. It seemed likely that some of the variation in tagging might be due to scanning.

I wanted to complete the statistical analysis of the data and to present a fuller account of the study apart from the philosophical issue of noesis, so I submitted an abstract to CAIS for this year (2010); that abstract was accepted. To my chagrin, instead of the typical complete CAIS-paper, this year someone had decided to allow only what they called “extended abstracts,” which gave one precious little space. Nevertheless, I gave a presentation during the conference, and the “extended abstract” (Smiraglia, “Self-Reflection, Perception, Cognitive Semantics: How Social is Social Tagging?”) is in the proceedings, here: http://www.cais-acsi.ca/proceedings/2010/CAIS055_Smiraglia_Final.pdf.

This was pretty exciting for a couple of reasons. One was that the Globe and Mail got wind of it and kept asking for more text. Unfortunately all I had was the extended abstract, which must not have been enough because I never saw myself quoted. Still, for a moment there I was flirting with the thrill of being reported in the press. As I say often, oh well.

The research itself was exciting enough however. The fictive scanning was there, although once again in small proportions–less than 1% of the total. But more important was the extension of this notion of social classification. It turned out that all of the sites in the study had clusters like those we saw above. In fact, most of the tags were somehow or other associated with the bandwagon effect. There were typically 4 or 5 clusters per site, 2/3 of the tags fell into the clusters, and 1/2 of the tags fell into the two largest clusters. Voila, classification that is social.

I really want to go make a cup of tea but I suppose I should finish with the conclusions, which were:

The taggers collectively are generating a classification with a social basis.

Also, the clusters are not mutually exclusive, demonstrating that a natural classification is not necessarily either hierarchical, or mutually exclusive. But it does remain collectively, potentially, exhaustive.

Warrant becomes a new issue in such a classification, because there is no accountable literary warrant—rather warrant is cultural (as Beghtol predicted).

Those look like some interesting hypotheses for future research to me.

I suppose I should write this up for a journal. But what I really want to do now is look for the same effect on more social social-networking sites.

19th century lenses (originally posted 3-12-2010)

I guess I’m fairly often overheard saying I became a historian because I got so old I remember everything. It’s a little bit true. After all, I learned to catalog using AACR1 (blue cover) writing on 3×5 cards; then graduated to typing on 3×5 cards, that would go off to another division someplace to be reproduced. I then became a librarian at Illinois where we had legions of card typists who did that part; we the catalogers would type on worksheets, which gave us more space for our reviewers to write in red ink all over our cataloging. “No double punctuation!” When major changes came–such as the shift from “negroes” to both “Blacks” and “African-Americans” in LCSH, we had to pull thousands of cards, and all of the main entry cards that went with them, erase, and re-type and refile them. We had truly armies of card filers in every division of the library whose job was all day long just to file the thousands of cards we produced every day.

That was the information society as people in cataloging knew it (in part) in the 1970s. All of that has passed away into the dimness of memory. And yet what a feat of engineering it took for those armies of people, all of whom understood the physics of the syndetic structure of the catalog, to maintain bibliographic control.

History is useful of course, not just for telling the story of the past, but for understanding the present and the future as well. We are situated historically in every moment, and the better we understand the circumstances of that situation the better job we will do pushing society and our own domain forward.

I am doing a lot of work right now on 21st century phenomena with lenses produced in the late 19th century. Their usefulness became clear only once technology brought us to this point. Yet these thinkers–specifically Otlet, Peirce, and Husserl are the folks I’m working with at the moment–saw clearly how the problems that engaged them were historically situated. Well enough that when the time came we discovered the lenses they’d provided.

Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in phenomenology

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Perception (originally posted 1-25-2009)

Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth ….

Okay, so I’ve been working with noesis, which is a matter of perception. The work all boils down to a basic question: how do we organize knowledge conceptually so long as every concept is perceived differently by everybody? The answer is that the whole process is a huge and constant brain-massage, wherein we shove a little to the left and then a little to the right and back and forth and on and on, trying to get everybody to agree to a common set of perceptions. Which, of course, was the idea behind universal KOS.

I thought this cartoon was perfect:

Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in phenomenology

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Noesis (originally posted 3-14-2009)

Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology is just one of the 20th century’s fascinating schools of philosophical thought that is directly relevant to notions of knowledge and information. I have been experimenting with the differentiation of otherwise like entities by attempting to identify their perceptual differences–Husserl calls this noesis, or the act of perception through one’s own ego. Trivial examples are most entertaining so here are two. This sign from a hotel in Amsterdam puzzled me for years:

The text says “Wat to doen bij brand,” which as you can see means “what to do in case of fire.” (The photo is fuzzy, which is a shame, because it means I will have to fly back to Amsterdam to take a better picture!) The first time I encountered this I was rather jet-lagged and thought “how odd, instead of running apparently you are supposed to scream.” What did I know of Dutch culture? But the more times I pointed this out to people in the hotel the more times they said to me “looks like he’s dancing.” So there you have it–the picture shows a person by a fire. I see someone screaming, many others see a person dancing. Those are ego-acts–noesis–self-experiential interpretations. It is one reason classification can be so difficult, because the same thing can mean different things to different people. Here is a set of pictures from the intersection of Frauentorgrabe and Kartäusergasse in Nuremberg; this is where you turn to approach the Germanisches Nationalmuseum:

Clearly, in Germany in order to cross the street one must stand atop a bicycle. Note that if the light is red one is compelled to balance there at rest until it turns green. Obviously this is problematic for some citizens–the older gentleman in the last photo has acquired the requisite bicycle, but although the light is green he is hesitant to leap onto the bar to cross the street.

Okay–point made? I always think it is an interesting philosophical exercise to approach a scene as though one were a creature from outer space and ask oneself “what am I seeing here?” Do you see that long line of earthlings on the right in that third picture? They have evolved to a high capacity and even seem to float as though on wheels; when they become excited their eyes shine enough to brighten even the night. Unfortunately, all of them are infested with two-legged parasites. Their civilization must learn to deal with these infestations before we can settle among them.

(Are you curious about how much traffic I stopped taking these pictures? I’m interested to know whether anyone has noticed I’ve taken hundreds of infrastructure photos around the world recently as part of this study!)

What is the use of this research stream? At present an obvious implication is the explanation of divergence in Web 2.0 applications–when is a tag meaningful and to whom? But there is much more potential here as well. For instance, in my paper for last summer’s ISKO conference I developed the idea of noesis as the synthesis of perception. Here is the abstract:

Perception is a crucial element in the viability of any knowledge organization system because it acts as a filter that provides contextual information about phenomena, including potential categorical membership. Perception is moderated culturally, but “social” systems exercise little or no cultural conformity. “Every day classification” is rife throughout human experience; but classification arises as a system of formal constraints that embody cultural assumptions about the categories that are the products of human cognition. Noesis is a perceptual component of Husserl’s phenomenological approach to human experience. How we perceive a thing is filtered by our experiential feelings about it. The purpose of this research is to increase understanding of the role of cognition in every day classification by developing a fuller profile of perception. Photographs of mailboxes (a mundane, every-day example) from different locales are compared to demonstrate the noetic process. Tag clouds are analyzed to demonstrate the kinds of perceptual differences that suggest different user perceptions among those contributing tags.

(“Noesis: Perception and Every Day Classification.” In Arsenault, Clement, and Tennis, Joseph, eds. 2008. Culture and identity in knowledge organization: Proceedings of the 10th International ISKO Conference, Montreal, 5-8 August 2008. Advances in knowledge organization 11. Wurzburg: Ergon Verlag, pp. 249-53.)

While trying to illustrate this process I realized that the heretofore supposed origin of perception is not in the information object itself, but rather is in each person who interprets it. So this accords with the phenomenon of instantiation. Instantiation says there are many perceivable iterations of information, and phenomenology says there are many potential noetic acts of perception. What is the chance that any two of these streams will meet in a human mind and form an understandable chain? A million research questions now follow; stay tuned.

Posted November 17, 2010 by lazykoblog in phenomenology

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