SUBJECT - Epistemology and Knowledge Growth

Thesis – "Holy Wars" Highlight Fundamental Changes in the Creation and Use of Knowledge

My central thesis is that the growing shift - partly associated with the growth of the Internet - from format oriented writing tools3 such as MS Word, to structure and content oriented tools such as FrameMaker,4 arguably forms part of a fundamental revolution in the ways individuals and organizations create, manage, retrieve and use knowledge. I will also argue that this current revolution is the most fundamental and far–reaching of several cognitive revolutions in human evolution and history. Only by understanding the nature of the current revolution can we fully grasp the implications of what the new Internet technology means to humanity – and, on a more practical level, be able to rationally discuss and choose appropriate tools for capturing knowledge without resorting to “flames” and ad hominem attacks.

My own background and history are relevant to what follows.

One of my grandfathers was a printer and my father was an industrial engineer. Following this cultural heredity, practical courses I took in secondary school included commercial typing, and a year each of mechanical drawing and print shop. In the latter course, I learned typography and page design the same way Gutenberg and Benjamin Franklin did. We set and spaced moveable type in composing sticks and then laid out and imposed (formed) the rows of type and furniture into the chase for printing. My school still ran a manually fed and inked platen press5. The major conceptual difference between this technology and chipping text onto stone slabs with hammers and chisels is that the printing press allowed multiple copies of the document to be produced far faster and for much less cost than being hand copied by scribes.

I began university as a physics major. On rare occasions students in the lab actually were allowed to use the electrically driven mechanical calculators to help reduce our lab data. Later, as a zoology student before I could afford the first transistor calculators I was able to use a Monroe electrically driven mechanical calculator (Figure). My first hands–on experience with stored program computers was in 1958-59 with an early vacuum tube Burroughs machine using a 32 bit x 1024 word magnetic drum "memory"6, and IBM's 709. I eventually completed my PhD in Evolutionary Biology. As a research biologist, I learned the power of computer generated indexing services such as Biological Abstracts, Science Citation Index and Index Medicus (now PubMed Central), all of which were already available in research libraries in the 1970’s.

To pay the $A 7,000 cost my first personal computer7, I operated a one–person academically oriented word processing bureau and graduated into technical writing and building user interfaces for a software house. From there I went on to implement and manage document authoring and delivery systems for a bank and then a large defence contractor. In the latter role, I am currently involved in implementing what I believe to be the worldwide state of the art XML–based document and content management system8 as a corporate knowledge management system.

Karl Popper's Epistemology and Thomas Kuhn's Scientific Revolutions