The Intelligence In Disagreement

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 15 2012 @ 8:47pm

David Weinberger theorizes that the Internet has changed how we conceptualize knowledge:

Knowledge was traditionally about driving out difference and settling things, and not coincidentally the medium of knowledge was amenable to that. If you print a book, you can’t really change it. Books settle things, and so does knowledge. … But in the networked world that’s shifting a bit. It’s not simply that diversity is a good means to the ends of knowledge, but knowledge consists of a network of people and ideas that are not totally in sync, that are diverse, that disagree. … We are beginning to think of knowledge itself as having value insofar as it contains difference.

Evgeny Morozov isn't impressed:

This is an ambitious thesis. It’s also not original.

"The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge," a famous 1979 book by the French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, makes a similar claim about computerization. “Along with the hegemony of computers comes a certain logic, and therefore a certain set of prescriptions determining which statements are accepted as ‘knowledge statements,’” wrote Lyotard. Weinberger doesn’t mention Lyotard by name but claims that “the Internet showed us that the postmodernists were right.”

Too bad, then, that his argument is ridden with familiar postmodernist fallacies, the chief of which is his lack of discipline in using loaded terms like “knowledge.” This term means different things in philosophy and information science; the truth of a proposition matters in the former but not necessarily in the latter. Likewise, sociologists of knowledge trace the social life of facts, often by studying how and why people come to regard certain claims as “knowledge.” The truth of such claims is often irrelevant.

Michael Moyer interviewed Weinberger back in November. You can watch the documentary On The Brink featuring Weinberger, among others, here.