[Version 22 April 2007]



The hypertext you have before you started its long journey in late 2000 as my contributions to a flame war on the impact of new knowledge management technologies in relationship to technical writing. My responses were based on my personal experiences with new technologies and cognitive revolutions:

In the flame war it became apparent that things I thought were obvious about technological change in knowledge intensive industries are anything but obvious to most people. I recognized that I would have to do a lot more work to have any hope of explaining why and how the current generation of software tools are so much more (and more powerful) than fancy typewriters and business information systems. I believed that such a work would be of interest to a very broad community ranging from academic philosophers and historians to hard-nosed scientists and business managers, so I judged the project to be worthy of the effort required and while still warm from the flames, I stepped off the precipice into uncharted territory.

My concept of the work is to explore the evolution of human cognition and the impacts of technological revolutions on cognition. What I seek to describe is how cognitive processes have expanded and accelerated from those of our early ancestors, depending purely on genetically determined neuroanatomy, to the use of culturally transmitted cognitive tools, to technologies that actually extend cognition beyond our organic capabilities.

From the outset the work was conceived as a hypertext, because:

I established the structure more-or-less as it is still represented in the Table of Contents, and started to develop this explanation over the 2000/2001 holidays. In this first period of work I was able to roughly complete the initial discussion of the issues of epistemology and scientific revolutions, and history of microelectronics technology and the origins and spread of the World Wide Web. The intellectual demands of my job as a documentation systems analyst and designer in the defence industry are high, so slow progress was made on the work through the rest of the year.

During the 2001/2002 holiday period, I took two months accumulated leave to "finish" the work. I thought the episode on organizational knowledge management would be easy to write because I had some very firm ideas as to how the subject should be approached from my decades of experience collecting and managing knowledge.

What I found when I began to dig into the academic and professional literature on organizational knowledge management was for me a nearly incomprehensible chaos of competing and incommensurable paradigms in epistemology (objective vs personal knowledge), organization theory (resource view vs environment view), how to analyze knowledge in the organization (individual view vs social view vs critical and alternative views) and how organizations create knowledge (cognitivism vs connectionism vs autopoiesis) amongst others. I clearly could not complete the work as planned without making enough sense of the differing paradigms so I could compare these views with my own, and I could not do this without access to a major academic research library and knowledge management research centre.

A fortunate meeting with Dr Frada Burstein, Director of the Knowledge Management Lab of Monash University's School of Information Management & Systems led the University to grant me an Honorary Research Fellowship, providing full academic access to their library facilities, including remote Internet access to electronic catalogues of library holdings at Monash and around the world, electronic journal subscriptions, and interlibrary loans for materials they do not hold themselves. The electronic journal subscriptions provide light-speed access to perhaps half the significant journal articles I have sought. During the 2002/2003 holidays I was able to spend 1½ months in residence in the KM Lab, and subsequently, Tenix Defence has supported my collaborative work with the KM Lab with one day per week release time, that provides physical access to the library on a weekly basis for material that is only available on paper.

Other than referencing seminal works that are available only as physical books, my referencing philosophy here is still to use materials that will be as available to general readers as they are to me. However, some of the issues are sufficiently problematic, complex or important that I have been forced to use source material that is only available through subscriptions to academic libraries. For this I apologize, and as I discuss in my Cadenza, it should be only a few more years before the whole of our World 3 knowledge is available free-to-the-web.

What I have ended up with in this project after weaving my own personal threads together with the many paradigms of epistemology and knowledge management is a theory of the evolutionary biology of knowledge and organizations that may offer new and radical insights on the evolution and roles of cognition in individuals and organizations. In this work the application of biological concepts of evolution and cognition to organizational entities is very much more than just a metaphor. As I will show here, and others have already shown elsewhere, organizations clearly have the property of "life" and "cognition" in a way that transcends the lives of their individual members; and the life sciences thus help to clarify many aspects of organization that should be of interest to those who think they manage or own organizations.

Many of the ideas and concepts of the evolution of cognition and organizational biology are not original with me, and my discoveries of these ideas in my own thinking have certainly been modified and reshaped as I found them in earlier sources. However, I believe that I am the first to present them from a genuine background in evolutionary biology. The intellectual forebears of the biological approach presented here include the following seminal works:

The book as presented on this Web site is still in progress, although, except for minor changes, work halted by mid 2003. As I made sense of the academic and professional literature on organization theory and knowledge management, I eventually concluded that it would be impossible to complete Episode 4 until I reinvented organization theory and provided an underlying theory for organizational knowledge management and presented the work for criticism by my peers in these disciplines. 

Published papers in this "reinvention" project include: 

Several other academic papers are in progress. When these are completed I will return to the book project, and start it over from the beginning - which is why I am now happy to release the present version to the Web. As formally published, the book will cover the same ground, but I now know so much more than when I started the present version, that all will be substantially rewritten.

The book may be cited as Hall, W.P. 2004. Application Holy Wars or a New Reformation? A Fugue on the Theory of Knowledge. Unpublished Web version - cited with the author's permission, but any citations should include the date and version number of the section being referenced, as all sections are subject to arbitrary change and updating. Ideally, if the paper has been captured by the WayBackMachine (http://www.archive.org/), citations should link to that version as a stable reference point.

After three years of non-maintenance, many HTML links in the work to follow are still intact, others will be broken. Where the link is of interest, chances are quite good that the material of interest can still be recovered with minimal effort. In many cases, the link is broken only because the website holding it has been reorganized, and the referenced material can be found by searching for the work's title on Google (be sure to include titles in double quotes, e.g, "The Title I Want"). In other cases the material is no longer available on today's Web, but can be found in the Web Archive's "WayBackMachine". Enter the not found URL into the WayBackMachine field, taking care that http:// does not appear twice, and click the [Take Me Back] button. For example, a version from Dec 2003 has been captured: http://web.archive.org/web/20060311215026/http://www.hotkey.net.au/~bill.hall/No+Robots/Part1/Default.htm. This is missing graphics that can be found in the present version.

Application Holy Wars – the Tech Writer List Manager’s Nightmare

Virtually everyone writes down things to aid memory. Most of us would not pay a lot of attention to what we write with. By contrast, technical writers are highly professional authors employed to capture, distil and transmit practical and essential knowledge for other people to use. They can become quite passionate about the tools they use for writing documents and managing document content. Subscribers to the Techwr–l Internet forum for technical writers would know that frequent topics for some of the most passionate discussions in the early years of the decade related to the relative merits of different software applications used in their work. The tools most commonly compared are Microsoft’s MS Word and Adobe’s FrameMaker that have some interesting fundamental differences in how they work and how they are used. Neutral bystanders called such “discussions” "application holy wars" because they often degenerate into irrational and personal attacks known as "flames". The List Manager periodically needs douse the flames, and in at least once case I recall, the name-calling led to litigation threats between the name callers. In fact, it was my own participation in one such application holy war that started my writing of the present work1

Holy wars over writing and document management tools are symptomatic of some extraordinarily fundamental technological changes in the way humans record, manage and retrieve knowledge. These changes are currently redefining the meaning of human cognition, our relationships to the world and to each other. By better understanding the underlying processes driving the changes, we may be able to better understand them and forecast their implications and impacts on our lives and on the organizations we belong to.

In hopes of assisting this understanding, and because I think the work explores fundamentally important issues in philosophy of knowledge and the nature of humanity, I will review some aspects of revolutions in tools that extend human cognition. My point of view is that of an evolutionary biologist with printer’s ink in his blood, who – as a technical writer – has had hands–on contact with almost all stages in the evolution of computer technology, and who is currently implementing state of the art knowledge management systems into a large defence contracting organization.

Because I believe the revolutions in our cognitive tools are changing the nature of humanity itself in a new Renaissance, I think it is appropriate to base the development of my ideas on one of the greatest cognitive artifacts evolving out of the ferment initiated by the last Renaissance - the fugue2.


SUBJECT - Epistemology and Knowledge Growth