The Digital Library in the Ashes of Alexandria: What Good is a Universal Library?

For a course in Digital Libraries with Professor Richard Arias-Hernandez, on 6 November 2014, I submitted an essay about the dream of a universal library: a collection containing one copy of each work.

Stacks in the Library of Alexandria.

Source: Vicky Charitopoulou at flic.kr/p/7mEVg5, of the current Library of Alexandria.

That essay and its sensationalist title follow:


The Digital Library in the Ashes of Alexandria: What Good is a Universal Library?

“The idea of the Internet as a universal library contains a false promise: such a library cannot exist, or if it existed, it would be chaotic and impossible to use.”
—Miroslav Kruk

Some of the more optimistic among us have dreamt of a universal library, variously imagined as a collection of all human knowledge or a collection of all human works. The earliest library to have such an aspiration was the Library of Alexandra—or, anyway, the library Alexandria is imagined to have had—but the dream has recurred throughout history, famously in Vannevar Bush’s memex and H. G. Well’s World Brain. More recently, the Internet and digital libraries have made this dream seem possible again. Yet it is almost certainly no more than a dream; as many have argued, such a library would be impossible to create, impossible to maintain, and even more impossible to use. Even if it were possible, it might not be desirable; building and maintaining that library might violate rights to intellectual property, rights to privacy, and rights to cultural integrity. Despite these challenges, the dream itself might not be misguided, so long as it remains an aspiration in balance with other goals and principles.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Shape of Truth and of Error

Even if you’ve only been paying attention to me since I started this blog, one thing you might have noticed is that I am interested in other people’s various worldviews. In particular I find myself compelled by their structures or their shapes.* I enjoy looking at these worldviews on their own, but I also like gathering together different tools for analyzing each worldview. For instance, I wrote about contextual and idiosyncratic theology and philosophy, and in the course of that I described W. Paul Jones’s theological worlds. Even more than Jones, Richard Beck’s writing at Experimental Theology on Terror Management Theory, derived from the insights of Ernest Becker, especially influences my thought. Beyond my own favourites there are many ways of describing the shape of a worldview.

Source: Rob Deutscher at flic.kr/p/dLctyw

Source: Rob Deutscher at flic.kr/p/bF8brf

When I mention these general ways of organizing worldviews to friends, family, and acquaintances, some people respond well and some people are resistant. I suspect that many people resist because looking at the forms and functions worldviews generally take calls into question how true those worldviews can or might be. Should we be suspicious of a worldview that looks quite generic in its shape, if not in its details? What are the odds that a worldview is true if it is good at resolving psychological tensions, what many people call wish-fulfillment? I think, though, that this is the wrong way of looking at the problem.

Continue reading

Revisiting: Bloom and Creativity

Every third Saturday of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted blogs or tumblogs: The Thinking Grounds, Learning to Read the Internet, or Dreamtigers and Silent Skies. This one, from The Thinking Grounds, is about one of the things we can learn from Harold Bloom, despite his less-than-glowing welcome in English lit departments these days.


Bloom and Creativity

An Observation

Blossoms (or blooms, if you like) in Vancouver, probably the UBC campus.

I do not have much of a thesis for this post; I just want to record an observation I had some time ago but keeping forgetting.

Continue reading

Idiosyncratic Philosophy?

[Note: An unedited version of this post slipped my notice and was published. The changes were in the order of the material presented, in correcting typos, and in adding links.]

I have another question for you.

Last week I asked about a possible analogy in philosophy for contextual theology; if all theology is contextual, because in different contexts people have different questions and people who ask different questions find different answers, surely the same must be true for other forms of inquiry, like philosophy? And if some theology makes explicit its origins in a particular context, is there or could there be some philosophy that makes explicit its own origins in its own context?

Source: Steve Rhodes at flic.kr/p/e8p8tR

Source: Steve Rhodes at flic.kr/p/e8p8tR

Well, now I have a new question.

While describing W. Paul Jones’s 1989 Theological Worlds with my brother the other day, it occurred to me that psychology, personality, or idiosyncrasy might play a role in a person’s philosophy as well. Of course it is obvious to say this in the sense of lay philosophy, of the attitudes and approaches all people carry about with them, but I’d like to think about how academic philosophy might be idiosyncratic as well. Bear in mind, of course, that my experience of academic philosophy is distant at best (I read it now and again, and I took a few courses in my undergraduate: an Intro to Philosophy, the Philosophy of Mathematics, and an Ethics and Social Philosophy course).

Let’s begin with Theological Worlds and then move on to more general ideas. (I am going to describe the Worlds at some length in order to help you get a sense of what Jones means; if it becomes too much, read only the next three paragraphs and then skip to the bottom.)

Continue reading

Contextual Philosophy?

The same professor taught both the Catholicism and the Christian World courses that I took for my undergraduate Religious Studies minor, so I cannot always remember in which course I learned what information; in one or both of those courses, however, he taught us about contextual theology. In its simplest formulation, contextual theology attempts to address the following truth: people in different contexts ask different questions, and people who ask different questions get different answers. What we might call the contextual theology movement came especially out of Latin American theology, though African American, Asian, queer, and feminist theologians also gravitated towards the term. These communities were noticing that traditional European theology—what is often called systematic theology—did not offer much that engaged their contexts or bore any meaningful fruit in their members’ lives. The theological work that they did among themselves, of course, did make valuable contributions to their own lives. Living in a very different political, material, and discursive context than did Augustine or Anselm or Aquinas, they asked different questions and so they received different answers.

Image Source: David Sasaki at flic.kr/p/pRVZ

Image Source: David Sasaki at flic.kr/p/pRVZ

Continue reading

Monthly Marvel: Duende

On the first Saturday of each month for at least the next little while I intend to share here one of the Weekly Wonders from that previous project. The first is duende, an artistic principle I find intriguing but hard to emulate.


DUENDE

This week’s idea is duende. It can be roughly translated as “soul”; the phrase tener duende means “having soul.” It is a heightened state of emotion, expression, and authenticity in art, especially flamenco. Duende is a spirit of artistic evocation like (but in many ways unlike) a muse. When art gives you chills, or makes you cry, or makes you grin, that art has duende. Duende is especially likely in art informed by vox populi, the human condition of joy and sorrow.

Image source: Flavio~ at https://flic.kr/p/aBpfyr

Image source: Flavio~ at https://flic.kr/p/aBpfyr

Continue reading