Wednesday, June 06, 2007

the Knowledge of Monkeys Higher Primates HUMANS

Well, I've finally settled into a viable summer routine. I use my mornings (about 8 AM until noon) to work on the Allen Mandelbaum collection. I then grab a quick lunch, take a walk outside to remind myself there's still sunshine and sky, and then settle into my favorite place on the sixth floor of ZSR library at my alma mater, Wake Forest, and I read. Finished De Trinitate today. Shall begin City of God tomorrow. I spend the last half hour of my day outside reading, if it's nice, waiting for my ride home (ah, the joys of carpooling with my mom -- she knows as much about Augustine as I do this week, given that I'm so desperate for human contact at the end of the day I tend to babble on and on about temporality for the entire twenty minute drive home. She's a very patient woman). I come home, have dinner, go for a run, and then zone out in front of the TV with my sisters and my adorable Italian Greyhound puppy (who's twelve, but never mind). Somehow, in the midst of all this, I rarely find time to catch up on emails. But I'm working on getting email time in there somehow.

But over all, it's good to be home.

However, to make my morning of sorting go a little faster, I've taken to listening to NPR podcasts (with the BBC world service mixed in) to help me engage intellectually when Dr. Mandelbaum's papers get repetitive. This morning, I listened to Fresh Air, and there was a very interesting commentary on Wikipedia by Geoff Nunberg that has to do with the viability of "human knowledge." I spent the last ten minutes typing this up -- you can download the podcast on the Fresh Air website , and it's in the last ten minutes. I hope that NPR won't mind my reproducing these here. So, Nunberg's closing remarks:

The most exasperating thing about all these arguments about Wikipedia is that everybody seems to assume it’s a single entity, the way an encyclopedia is. The Wikipedians explain how this open collaborative process is lurching toward a neutral and methodical synthesis of all human knowledge. The critics charge that it is undermining the conceptions of expertise and intellectual order that the encyclopedia has embodied since the Enlightenment. But in one form or another, that picture of human knowledge was always a grand illusion, even back when we could believe in the unity of high culture. By now the Encyclopedia and the Dictionary are really just symbols that we honor with inattentive piety. Actually, it’s my guess that most of the people who “harumph” about how Wikipedia is nothing like an encyclopedia haven’t actually opened one for some time. But then, Wikipedia is steeped in exactly the same bookish nostalgia. That’s implicit in the name Wikipedia itself, and in the ferociously Oedipal rivalry the Wikipedians feel with the Britannica. And it explains the exaggerated deference that Wikipedians pay to published sources, even though a lot of the books and articles that contributors cite turn out to be no more reliable than Wikipedia itself. The irony is that Wikipedia really signals the end of the Encyclopedic Vision. It’s only when you actively try to implement that view of collective knowledge that you realize how fond and delusional it is. You deposit this multitude of strangers in a single place, you shouldn’t be surprised when you come back and find nothing but a jumble of footprints in the mud. That’s actually a fair picture of what human knowledge has always been. But it was never so evident before now.

So I guess the answer's in -- infinite monkeys + infinite time + infinite typewriters will never = Shakespeare. But with all that said -- I have to wonder still. We're not developing a perfect system of knowledge, and we know that there's no such thing as a coherent, unbiased collection of all things that are "known." But I can't help but ask -- isn't there also some inherent value to the variations of those footprints? Could that be the most human knowledge of all?


Anonymous said...

I listen to NPR when driving between my home in south western Nebraska and my honor caddy job at Ballyneal Golf Course.

Thanks for sharing. Did you know the speed of light is not a measurement, it is a definition?

Anonymous said...

I think Nunberg puts these things up at his Berkeley web site.