11.0642 Knowledge Loss

Humanist Discussion Group (humanist@kcl.ac.uk)
Sat, 14 Mar 1998 19:10:22 +0000 (GMT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 11, No. 642.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

Date: Fri, 13 Mar 98 09:48:38 CST
From: Jim Marchand <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: Knowledge Loss

>> From: "Jim Marchand" <marchand@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>

I am back craving your indulgence one more time. I have been worrying
for some time about knowledge loss, so I thought you might be interested in:

Some animadversions on knowledge loss.

[Knowledge has to be put in some kind of concrete form in order to be
transmitted. Knowledge is, of course, not all cognitive, aristotelian,
either-or, but if we just stick to that for the moment.]
1. It can be lost by the thinker failing to put it into concrete form, see
the introduction to Thurneysen's Old Irish Grammar.
1a. In fact, it can be lost by not being such that it can be put in such form
(would that the tongue could utter), see Croce.
2. The encoding can be such that the key to it is lost, see Etruscan.
3. The encoding is often of such a nature that it cannot be "translated". See
belles infideles.
3a. Even where it can be translated, loss may occur through lost
intertextuality, see Old Norse kennings, medieval patristic references; e.g.
we may not realize that Sling of David means Virgin Mary.
4. Transfer from one medium to another may involve loss, see editions of the
Gothic Bible, almost any edition of any manuscript.
5. Means of medium transfer may be lost. Who has a 78 deck to convert old
78s to modern tapes? Even old tape decks are slowly going out of date; cf.
Marchand's complaint.
6. The medium in which the knowledge is encoded may disappear, see brittle
books, runestones.
6a. This involves inevitably attempts to rejuvenate, refresh, etc., with
their accompanying problems, see Swedish churches, painting in of runestones
and rock carvings.
7. Transliteration, transcription, etc., see ASCII. Once you have
transliterated Gothic o with a dot in it as hv, people are going to think it
is hv.
8. Replicative experiments as a means of recovering lost knowledge, e.g.
Lejre in Denmark, Sutton Hoo harp, Viking ships.
9. Non-intrusive measures, see problem of Etruscan graves, votive ships.
10. Knowledge packaging and labeling. The problem with LOC Headings, upfront
engines, false-friends and the like.
11. Each of these represents a chapter in a book which I am working on but
which will undoubtedly never see the light of day and so will represent
itself an example of (little) knowledge lost.

Jim Marchand.

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