book report

Too Big To Know, Part 2

I still have about 40 pages more before I can mark this book as “read,” but I am becoming less and less convinced of the validity of his ideas.

One serious problem with his arguments is that he seems to have absolute no idea what axioms are, as he talks about “axiomatic certainty” on page 45 while and on page 149 he talks about “making unfalsifiable claims is not science.” The thing is that anyone with a mathematical background knows that axioms are by definition unfalsifiable claims (and must be unfalsifiable in order to do their job), and yet any logical argument must begin with these unfalsifiable claims, or else it’s just “vacuously true.”

Naturally, then he continues to sing praises of evolution (page 150) as if there were no unfalsifiable claims, which is of course false, because if there were no unfalsifiable claims then there would be no axioms and therefore no logic to speak of. Evolution, if it really is science, must contain—and in fact must be based on—unfalsifiable claims.

Both evolution and creationism are based on unfalsifiable claims, and must necessarily be so because the laws of logic demand it. And creationism is in fact very much valid science. If he is not even aware of this, how can he persuade us to believe his other ideas?

Too big to know

I read our assigned reading—chapters 4 and 5 of David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know (ISBN 978-0-465-02142-0)—on the train, so I didn’t have any “resources” when I thought something wasn’t right, but I still spotted three obvious problems while reading.

Weinberger argues that “mere diversity of ethnicity is not” relevant (p. 74, second-last line), which he based off Scott Page’s The Difference. While Page is someone I respect a lot, I have to disagree to the categorical claim that “mere diversity of ethnicity is not.” According to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, mere diversity of ethnicity (or rather the history of the person’s ancestors, even if the person’s life circumstances have been completely disconnected from those of their ancestors) can be relevant—for reasons that are not yet understood.

The second problem is that Weinberger quoted Howard Rheingold as saying “Even the mere presence of moderators—even if they never moderate a single posting—is enough to keep out the trolls” (p. 78, second paragraph, last two lines) and believed it at that. This might have been true in the olden days, but anyone who is on an open group on LinkedIn and plagued by a never-ending spam problem can attest that the “mere presence” of moderators is not enough; in fact even the presence of hard-working moderators who moderate hundreds of articles (as is the case of AIGA’s official group) is not enough to deter trolls.

The third obvious problem is that he stated that “of sixty randomly chosen political sites, only 15 percent put in links to sites of their opponents” (p. 82, paragraph 3, lines 4–5) and thought this signals a problem. However, whoever has worked in an organization knows that perhaps upper management is just apprehensive of linking to anything. The lack of linking is not indicative of a problem except if you consider ignorance of what links mean to be a problem (but I do consider this to be a problem, especially when many lawyers seem to count among the ignorant ones…).

In any case, I will continue reading after I get the urgent stuff done. Maybe my opinion of it will change, or maybe it will not; as for right now, I think while his argument has merit, it also has holes, and, judging from what these holes are in the two chapters I have read, probably quite a number of them.

Random notes related to site specificity and other things

As cited by Vince Dziekan in Virtuality and the Art of Exhibition (p. 42), Nick Kaye defines (in Site-Specific Art: performance, place and documentation, Routledge, 2000) site-specificity as encompassing “a wide range of artistic approaches that ‘articulate exchanges between the work of art and the places in which its meanings are defined.” The artwork is in some sense inseparable from the site in which it is exhibited. Meaning exists within the interaction between the site and the artwork. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

(During the artists’ presentation at Multipli{city}, there was indeed a strong consensus that the exhibited artwork took on a separate meaning when they were transplanted to the Graduate Gallery. The graffiti wall became a work with a completely different feel, for example, and the re-created makeshift shack space could only serve as “documentation.” After the panel discussion the artist talked with other people and agreed that if transplanted to a small town, for example, his installation would then take on even more wildly different meanings.)

Site specificity is opposed to media specificity (p. 191). In a sense, site specificity is treating the site as a material support. That said, in the digital realm, “media” is “fundamentally” just “data streams” (Cubitt as cited by Dziekan) and perhaps we can talk about “the liminality of borders in the digital age” (Dziekan, p. 144, although not referring to this context). The site is also not just the physical space, as “the artistic investigation of site never operates along physical or spatial lines exclusively but rather operates embedded within an encompassing ‘cultural framework’ defined by art’s supporting institutional complex” (One Place after Another: notes on site-specificity, 1977, p. 88, as cited by Dziekan).

According to Dziekan, modern curatorial practice very much hinges on site specificity (e.g., p. 42). He also mentioned other processes in curatorial design, such as choreography (p. 93).

Random questions not mentioned above:

What is a “programme architecture”?

What is a “facture”? “digital facture”?

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