LinkingVsCiting (ThoughtStorms)

One from the vaults. In response to DavidWeinberger :

> Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2001 7:53 PM

> To: David Weinberger

> Subject: on academic philosophy



> Hi David,


> just read your February JOHO on academic philosophers as gatekeepers.


> Here's a couple of thoughts. I have a lot of empathy.


> I've just fucked up my Phd after 7 years, and I'm feeling pretty

> out of sympathy with academia. I worked in an area (Artificial

> Life) which

> allowed a lot of interdisciplinery reading and dialogue between AI,

> philosophy, biology, psychology etc. I loved the interdisciplinery

> atmosphere, I loved the discussions, I loved hanging out with smart and

> enthusiastic students. But I was also unable to discipline myself,

> too easily sidetracked by one idea after another. My actual work seemed

> narrow, and lacking in content. I couldn't read real academic papers

> because of the extraordinary dullness of the language. My eyes slipped

> over the words and equations, taking in nothing.


> So I screwed up. I wrote a pathetic thesis in the last 6 - 8 months of

> my 7 years. I didn't sleep properly. I wrote sarcastic footnotes and made

> puns and used ironic quotations, because I was too tired to care

> that this

> wasn't the correct way to write. The examiners

> said I demonstrated no understanding of scientific method (in fact I read

> too much Popper and Fayerabend) - and worst of all I didn't cite

> hundreds of other sources to demonstrate that my work was the result

> of systematically reading all the possibly relevant literature.


> Naturally enough, failing is very very painful. It's great to be in

> academia when you feel you have a right to be there. But the moment you

> fail, you feel delegitimized. How can you sit in on a talk and ask

> demanding, critical questions of a speaker when you (and your

> colleagues) all know that the speaker is qualified but you aren't?


> At the same time, I've been an avid reader of web writing, of Cluetrain,

> of the weblog phenomenon. In a sense I feel like someone realizing that

> they're gay, and struggling to accept their sexuality. On the one

> hand I'm

> seduced by the sense of freedom, the exhuberance of web-writing. And the

> possibility : "I can take my research, my philosophical thinking and

> writing to the web. I can discuss freely. I can say something meaningful

> using aphorisms, or anecdotes, or weblog entries. I don't have to be

> scholastic to contribute to knowledge."

> OTOH there is a repressed side, where the academic super-ego still

> dominates. "Publishing outside the official journals, without

> peer review,

> is for the eccentrics, the nutters. Only those whose work isn't valuable

> enough to publish in journals will resort to vanity publishing on the

> web. That's for the coloured crayon brigade. Without the self-discipline

> to organize your ideas into a thesis format, to survey the relevant

> literature, your ideas will be half-baked. " And perhaps its true.



> Anyway, that's where I'm coming from. But when I read your piece something

> clicked into place for me, and weirdly web cultural theory has made me

> suddenly more sympathetic to academia. The realization I just had was that

> "citing is linking". Of course, in a sense, that has been obvious all

> along. But culturally the two stood (at least in my mind) for entirely

> opposite things. Citing was part of the mystic rites of academia. Boring

> days in the library searching and photocopying papers that said pretty

> much nothing more than you expected them to (or that a dozen others

> also said) in laboured detail. Why does it matter to note that Hegel

> said something similar two hundred years ago? I'm saying it now!


> Whereas linking stood for the alchemical magic of the web. The chain

> reaction that let the world's online knowledge reach critical mass and

> explode in a utopia of free discussion. When I think about the hyperlinked

> web, I am happy that due to blogrolling hundreds of weblogs say pretty

> much the same things, each from a slightly different perspective. I am

> happy with pages that serve no function other than to link other

> resources

> and whose only real contribution is that they present a different

> clustering criteria for these resources.


> Suddenly, now I realise that citing is linking, I can forgive

> exegetic philosophers that behave the same way. Perhaps when your

> correspondant sent you a large list of previous philosophers who have made

> similar points, the spirit isn't RageBoy's cynical "shut the fuck up" but

> a present of a page of links to other resources,


> Thinking about it, before computers could automate the process, the skills

> of "scholarship" (a word I used to detest) were the only way for humans

> to animate a web of hyperlinked information. And of course, (I think

> optimistically) now that computers DO automate the process for us, we

> really don't need to do it for ourselves. There is no other magic

> of scholarship that we need to concern ourselves about.


> What, Panglossian? Me?


> regards


> phil jones


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