I think I might as well add what I am currently reading by David Bloor to some of my thinking on the question of subjects/disciplines and the web. This is because I may be using sociology methods or ontologies as one of my lenses for examining the question (once I settle on the question).
And, more importantly, the reading paves the way for a discussion on the social construction of technology ie. it is in contrast to the technological determinism that seems to abound in the media. (Especially the Daily Mail!) Have just got slightly side-tracked here looking at the Wikipedia entry for social constructivism, or social construction. I’m not sure I entirely agree with what’s said there, especially as I have come to social construction in the past from psychology. (This is going to turn into a giant aside, might need another post to link to here. But in essence the entry seems to be framing social construction in terms of by-products of choice, rather than natural laws, which instantly seems to create one of the countless dichotomies that litter psychology and philosophy. Am not certain that such a dichotomy is necessary. )
So, as a part of our reading around the philosophy of science, we looked at a number of thinkers like Lakatos, Feyerabrand, Kuhn and Popper. We also looked quickly at Bloor. In defining a strong programme in the sociology of knowledge, (sorry, am referring to what he says he’s doing, not the title of the article which is the same), he says that rather than trying to define what knowledge is, independently of how people construct it, ‘knowledge for the sociologist is whatever people take to be knowledge.’ He also, rather magnificently, says that, ‘The cause of the hesitation to bring science within the scope of a thorough-going sociological scrutiny is lack of nerve and will.’ He then acknowledges this to be a psychological explanation, although depending on perspective, I think there can be failures of nerve and will that run through entire societies – in which case the treatment of what must apparently then be epistemological deficits cannot be (or at least, should not be?) purely bounded by psychological explanations. My thinking this also points to, I imagine, the fact that I think he’s correct but should perhaps be less apologetic in his approach. The paragraph that instantly caught my eye was the one that began, ‘how is knowledge transmitted, how stable is it, what processes go into its creation and maintenance, how is it organised and categorised into different disciplines or spheres?’ This, for me, was yet another ‘Oh Wow’ moment, as this description first, really mirrors what I wrote above on how knowledge is treated on the web, and second, is actually very similar to the way we talk about curating or maintaining web-pages. (And once I get more advanced, hopefully, how I might start looking at hypermedia, about which I know very little, but I can now see, after today’s lecture, is something I NEED to know about very urgently.) For Bloor’s sentence on knowledge above, it’s entirely meaningful to add ‘on the web’ to everything he says – instantly casting the web as something that is very strongly to do with knowledge, a cognitive extension.
So, I now have some words from sociology (although alluding to or perhaps also sitting within philosophy of science) that fit quite snugly around my set of questions to be refined.
Bloor sets out four conditions that make for a strong framework, which are: causality, impartiality (surely a little question-begging?) symmetricality, and reflexivity. I don’t necessarily think systems of knowledge have to be reflexive: by definition if not everything is founded in inductive, scientific, detached knowledge, then the things being described or observed don’t really need to bootstrap themselves up via the same cantilevered mechanism. (He does discuss this, as I will.) However, I love the idea of the same types of cause explaining both true and false beliefs. Again, I would hedge my bets about causation since almost everything physics seems to tell us is that our notions of cause and therefore of explanation are local, but I think that a lot of what we see and understand in the world is most elegantly alluded to by what we don’t see, what we misunderstand, the ways in which we are wrong about things, the shadows left by a lack of light and the ways in which our explanations break down.