What is the shape of knowledge?

August 3, 2011 in Technical

Many people have attempted to categorise knowledge. One of the most permanent expressions of this is the Dewey decimal system. There are many others. Wordnet is a hierarchy of words, moving from general at the root through to specific at the leaves.

Books and words are fine, but what about knowledge itself? One of the most explicit recent attempt to develop such a hierarchy is the Cyc project. Cyc attempts to synthesise common sense knowledge. The project creators use this diagramme to explain how the system works:

A hierarchy of knowledge areas in the shape of a triangle, with general concepts at its apex and more specific concepts at the base.

Cyc Knowledge Base Map - A hierarchy of knowledge areas, with general concepts at its apex and more specific concepts at the base.

However, I recently discovered Kah Seng Tay‘s delightful interactive visualisation of Quora’s ontology. Here is a static image of the graph from quoratown.com:

Quora Topic Ontology - behaving as a sprawling directed graph, rather than a tree

Quora Topic Ontology - behaving as a sprawling directed graph, rather than a tree

This left me wondering about two things, 1) what does knowledge really look like, 2) why are we always creating hierarchies in nature? The empirical evidence seems to defy us whenever we attempt that.

1 response to What is the shape of knowledge?

  1. This is a really REALLY complex issue. I think most of this work assumes a single knowledge structure in which everything can be situated. I think it’s is overly simplistic. Its not uncommon for a person to have one internally consistent system of knowledge (say a religion) and in parallel subscribe to an entirely different knowledge system that is also internally consistent, but contradicts the other system.

    I just finished this paper, which attempts to uncover the structure of semantic meaning in fMRI images of brains belonging to participants concentrating on nouns: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0008622

    I knowledge is like the brain, thousands of dimensions of relation through which activation is propagated.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> <section align="" class="" dir="" lang="" style="" xml:lang=""> <style media="" type="" scoped="">