In a recent discussion, Stephen Downes identifies some vagueness in George Siemens’ criticism of his work. Siemens spoke very generally about knowledge and “knowledge elements”, and Downes asks what he means by the term.
I think we often tend to become too vague when we are trying to find very general insights about “the nature of XY”. We ask “What is XY?”, we assume that XY can be defined by a generally valid description, and sometimes neglect that the word XY has several senses.
The word “knowledge”, for instance, has at least two senses, roughly:
- the knowledge that is forming in some individual(s), or
- the stock of knowledge of society that is thought of being stored in libraries, encyclopaedias etc.,
When we consider the relationships, or connections, between XY and other nodes in the network, they normally involve only one particular sense of XY. A concept is determined by the various connections, contrasts, and similarities to other nodes.
(Siemens’ issue of objectivity vs. subjectivity has to do with the above sense b. However, from the angle of the data – information – knowledge context, it is only the sense a. that matters, since in this context, b. is merely data and information, or facts.)
So, a concept is not a whole node in the network. It is probably best compared to a port of an internet network node. When my browser at node 188.8.131.52 connects to the web site 184.108.40.206, it is only interested in this node’s http port 80, not in, say, smtp port 25. At the port, that is where a connection starts or ends (or the “glue” point in the common lines and boxes diagrams).
Concepts involving ports, not nodes – this is how I would probably answer Downes’ question about Siemens’ elements, “What does he mean by ‘elements’? Concepts? Nodes in the network? Entities?”
(The ports model could even be extended to provide for definitions and what-is questions: The connection ending at a “definition” type port would then simply be part of a special, edge case network, namely a hierarchical tree where the root were some authority for truth, certainty, or classification, if such an authority was desired, and you could also have multiples of these tree views, if a plurality was preferred.)
Sorry that I was also too vague. I hope it is tolerable in a learning diary / blog to note immature, emerging thoughts. And of course, I am not philosophically trained and have lots of problems with the language.