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October 3, 2006


I can see synapses being charged with energy, creating fresh nodes that reach out like sightless sea stars groping for something familiar. The synapses do not branch like trees but like rhizomes growing from sister nodes in all directions. To grasp the meaning of connections between data bytes involves freezing the movement for a moment so the pattern can emerge, not as meaningless noise but as a sign signifying, linking something new with something already stored in memory.

We’ve always depended on two-dimensional models of space and frozen fragments of time. Now our ability to comprehend time and space has been transformed.

How can technological tools that work with concepts, key words, categories and tags clarify patterns of knowing, create new topologies of knowing?

Will it become an elusive cartographic nightmare?

I had a dream one night in the mid-1990s when I was just beginning to understand the awesome potential of interactive multimedia hypertext. In the dream I had created a hyperlinked database without a concept map. It was so detailed that I could not find or understand anything within it. The computer screen could never be large enough to view it.

When I read Borges story called On Exactitude in Science I remembered this dream. It raised provocative questions.

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography achieved such Perfection that the Map of one single Province occupied the whole of a City, and the Map of the Empire, the whole of a Province. In time, those Disproportionate maps failed to satisfy and the Schools of Cartography sketched a Map of the Empire which was of the size of the Empire and coincided at every point with it. Less addicted to the study of Cartography, the Following Generations comprehended that this dilated Map was Useless and, not without Impiety, delivered it to the Inclemencies of the Sun and of the Winters. In the Western Deserts there remain piecemeal Ruins of the Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars. In the entire rest of the Country there is no vestige left of the Geographical Disciplines. Suarez Miranda, Viajes de Varones Prudentes, etc.

I read Crimp (1993:222) who laughed out loud while he read Foucault’s Les Mots et les Choses who was inspired by Borges in his discussion of heterotopia who cited”a certain Chinese encyclopedia” in which it is written that “animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn from a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”

Foucault’s taxonomy, The Order of Things reminds us of our limitations or perhaps of the folly of depending on one system of thought. As we learn to use ‘tags’ to find kindred souls seeking answers to similar questions, how can we be inclusive enough to interpret patterns without becoming deafened by white noise?

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