The New Nature of Knowledge

Stephen Downes, Half an Hour, Mar 23, 2009
Commentary by Stephen Downes

On my way home Friday I took the time to read Tony Bates on the question of whether knowledge is changing in the internet age, and to add my response arguing that, yes, knowledge is changing. Bates responded, clarifying a number of his points, and I answered back, clarifying a number of mine.

The key point, to me, is this: "The central tenet of emergence theory is that even if stuff flows from entity to entity, that stuff is not knowledge; knowledge, rather, is something that 'emerges' from the activity of the system as a whole. This network - and subnets with the network (aka 'patterns of connectivity') - may be depicted as knowledge. A second way of representing knowledge, and one that I embrace in addition to the first for a variety of reasons, is that patterns of connectivity can be recognized or interpreted as salient by a perceiver."

Why is this important? Because if this description of knowledge is correct, then the methods and objectives of traditional academic enquiry - "deep understanding, general principles, empirically-based theories, timelessness, etc." - are misplaced, and should be abandoned.
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