Interrogating Texts: A timely utterance: 28th April 2005

Paul Dowling

Here are some items for reflection before (during or after) the session.

  • 'The seed comes before the harvest.' (T-shirt worn by a young woman in Shin Yokohama Station, April 2004).

  • 'In the field of the relationship to knowledge, to learning and to skills, Michel Authier and myself have managed to give a technical form to this apparently purely philosophical idea. Called the "tree of knowledge", it is a map of all the skills present within a given community organised on the basis of the order in which they were learnt. Everyone has an apprenticeship "curriculum" with small icons that represent their skills divided up into elementary units. A great variety of skills and know-how are included and not just those currently accredited by formal education and official diplomas. On the basis of these curricula, a computer charts the skills of the community, not on the basis of a re-established theory of knowledge, but on the order in which people have learnt things and the co-existence of skills in the curricula. In the trunk of the tree we have what people learned first, those skills that are common to everybody and, at the top, what people have learned during prolonged study or long experience. On the same branch you have what is generally combined in the curricula of individuals, but which are not necessarily disciplines. Let's give an example. If, in a given group, all mathematicians play tennis and all tennis players do mathematics, you are going to have maths and tennis on the same branch. The tree is permanently up-dated whenever anyone learns something new. Each time a new person arrives in the group the tree is recalculated in real time. Everyone can locate himself or herself within this map by charting his or her curriculum in the tree, to obtain what we call that person's "blazon": a snapshot of the state of his or her current knowledge against the background of the skills map. The individual can fix a personal itinerary for learning on the basis of where he or she is in terms of the knowledge and know-how of the whole community, and not according to a predetermined cursus. Everyone in the community is situated in this virtual picture. It is not, however, the kind of virtual reality as we know it now that duplicates physical reality. It is an space for meanings that do not exist elsewhere, representing a new generation of communication systems.' (Pierre Lévy at

  • If you were impressed by the previous item, try Lévy, P. (2001). 'Collective Intelligence: A civilization.' Crossings. 1(1).

    is what (some of) the scientists (seem to) think.

  • Then again, scientists aren't always right. See this and this from The Guardian, April 12th 2005.

  • Excerpt from Cryptonomicon.

  • 'Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression, I reflected on the subject of my spare-time literary activities. One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with. A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.' (Flann O'Brien. At Swim-Two-Birds. (1939. London, Penguin Edition).)

  • sakiccho & haachuu no koi no waruagaki

  • Web pages for this seminar, including access to written versions of what I shall introduce (see the 'references' page). Have a look at some (or all) of the extracts, the tables probably won't make much sense without reference to the written articles.