Computational Knowledge

After reading a post from Stephen Wolfram’s blog, I was particularly intrigued by one passage. 

Here’s a kind of fun example that I did. It relates to personal analytics—or what’s sometimes called “quantified self”. I’ve been a data-oriented guy for a long time. So I’ve been collecting all kinds of data about myself. Every email for 23 years. Every keystroke for a dozen years. Every walking step for a bunch of years. And so on. I’ve found these things pretty useful in sort of keeping my life organized and productive.

Earlier this year I thought I’d take all this data I’ve accumulated, and feed it to Mathematica and Wolfram|Alpha. And pretty soon I’m getting all these plots and analyses and so on. Sort of my automated personal historian, showing me all these events and trends in my life and so on.

I thought this was a really interesting idea, to take all these small quantifiable aspects of your life and track them so that you can later chart them and have an “automated personal historian” as Wolfram puts it. However, I have to question the actually effect this has on him and if it has any effect at all. I’m not sure how much effort he puts into this tracking, but I wonder if the end product is worth it. For example, in my personal experience, I know when I analyzed my Facebook data (an example he cites later in the article), I certainly found it interested and fun, but I don’t think I learned anything useful and new about myself or the people I am friends with, certainly not anything that I could apply to myself or my life in a meaningful way. Sure, it may be fun to attempt to quantify your life and it is entirely possibly that this is useful to Stephen Wolfram, but I am not yet convinced.

When I myself used the Facebook analytic tool on WolframAlpha, I did find some things that I didn’t except. For example, the fact that I have significantly more female friends than male. ImageIn addition, my female friends were more likely to be in a relationship. Image

I also tried to use WolframAlpha to explore my EE topic. However, since I haven’t narrowed down my EE topic yet and only have the broad category of literature, that is what I chose to search. It suggested many much, much more specific topics, including notable texts (such as the US Constitution and the Bible) as well as novels, plays, and poems.

To do a frivolous search on Wolfram Alpha, I chose to use the random feature, which informed me of various random things, such as the fact that Achilles died in Troy, a comparison between three major American television networks, and the number of robberies in Iowa.

With a technology like WolframAlpha, there are undoubtedly some knowledge issue questions that are going to come up. For example:

To what extent is the “knowledge” of a tool like WolframAlpha superior to that of a human? To what extent is it inferior?

How much trust should we put into a tool such as this?

In addition, the question comes up that was discussed at length by Conrad Wolfram: is using WolframAlpha in math class cheating?

I think this is a difficult question to answer because the answer is different in different situations. Should a young student who is just learning their multiplication tables be able to use a computer to do all of these computations? Since what they are trying to learn is something basic, something that is fairly necessary to know without the aid of a calculator, it would be cheating to use WolframAlpha because it defeats the purpose of what the teachers are trying to test. However, in higher level courses, it often wouldn’t be cheating because it is more conceptual math, less about finding the right figures but figuring out how to apply them. In cases such as this, once the basic math has already been mastered, I don’t consider it cheating to use WolframAlpha to eliminate the possibility of simple, foolish errors as well as to save time.

Lastly, after reading the article on Siri, I was really impressed by how much data and information about you goes into the “thought process” of Siri every time you ask her a question and also the sheer volume of information she has about you. Some of this surprise came from the fact that my limited experience with Siri hadn’t led to her working anything miraculous. I found a cartoon that I found interesting online:

ImageI thought it was interesting because not only does it speak about the sort of intrinsic fear that we have of technology growing more powerful and “human” than us, it also shows the fear we have of technology and companies knowing too much about us.


Course Companion Work Ctd.

Why do other languages have several different words for “to know”? What are the constraints of English?

As a student of French, I know two different words for what we call “to know”: savoir and connaitre. Savoir encompasses both knowing a fact and knowing a certain skill. “Je sais que c’est lundi aujourd’hui” (I know that it’s Monday today) and “Je sais faire cuisine” (I know how to cook) use the same verb. The other word, “connaitre”, means to be familiar with, and can be used for places or people. I think this is useful because it is evidently different to know my best friend and to know what 2 plus 2 is. In English, I don’t think our lexical gap is too problematic however; it is very easy to differentiate which type of knowing the person means depending on the context they use it in.

The Five Stages of Knowledge

According to Mohammed Youssef, there are five Arabic words for knowledge in the Koran, which correspond with five different levels of knowledge, all of which come before wisdom. The first level is something which you have just begun to be introduced to; for me, an example of this is maybe a new concept that I have just been introduced to in math. The second and third levels are slowly gaining more experience; for me, these would be the concepts that maybe I learned in the beginning of the year in math that I keep using over and over again. The fourth level is maybe something I learned a few years ago in Algebra 2 or Geometry that I’ve had lots of practice with. The fifth and final level is the last level before wisdom; I think of this as basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. These are things I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember and I am very comfortable with.

Types of Knowledge

The first type is experiential knowledge, which is something that you know through direct experience. I think that the biggest area that I have for this is social interaction: how to talk to friends, classmates, teachers, parents, children, strangers, etc.

The second type is procedural knowledge, which is knowing how to do a certain skill. This often pertains to sports, hobbies, and other physical, “muscle memory” sort of things. For example, I know how to walk, run, swim, dance, ride a bike, etc.

The last type is knowledge claims, which are more like simple facts. I know how to spell “knowledge”. I know what “TOK” stands for. I know my multiplication tables.

I think that the knowledge claims are the easiest to learn because they don’t require any activity or experience. It’s book knowledge, and anyone can read and commit something to memory. However, I think that the other two types tend to stick with you longer, especially experiential knowledge. Facts are easily forgotten, procedures stay with your muscle memory longer but you can become “rusty” after being out of practice, but experiences stay with you the longest.

Ways of Knowing

There are four different ways of knowing: sense perception, language, emotion, and reasoning. I think they can all apply to different types of knowledge, but some are more relevant to certain types than other. For example, sense perception I think is relevant to all of the different ways. We notice that the sky is blue or that sugar tastes sweet: a knowledge claim. We see what kinds of facial expressions correlate to different emotions in people: experiential knowledge. We feel the sensation of walking and falling until we are successful: procedural knowledge. I think that language ties really well with knowledge claims but not much else because we learn most of our facts through language, whether it be written or spoken. I think emotion and reasoning both work best with experiential knowledge, because after we have done something, we can either gauge how we feel about the experience or look at what happened logically and use this to inform ourselves.

If I heard someone say “I’ve heard about that”, I would probably classify that as a knowledge claim. Since they haven’t actual done it, they can’t have experiential knowledge or procedural knowledge.

Theories of Learning

This article talks about six different theories of learning: behaviorism, cognitivism, pragmatism, constructivism, social constructivism, and connectivism. I think that of these, the IB program combines cognitivism and constructivism, both being taught but also being self-directed in your search for knowledge. Personally, I think that it is difficult to choose one that I find the most helpful because all of them are necessary to some degree in different aspects of life. For example, for procedural things, pragmatism is the most useful, but for most of school, cognitivism is necessary.

Types of Memory

Procedural memory- This is the memory for the performance of a particular type of action. It is often “subconscious” memory, especially for processes and actions that we perform often. They can usually be automatically retrieved and used.

Working memory- This is the shorter term memory that holds multiple pieces of information in your mind and allows you to process and use them for various tasks. This type of memory requires monitoring and attention.

Long-term memory- This type of memory holds associations among items for, evidently, a longer amount of time than the working memory and the short-term memory. It differs structurally and functionally from these memories.

Declarative memory- This is a type of long-term memory that can be consciously recalled. It included facts, knowledge, and personal experiences, but not procedural (or non-declarative) memories.

Episodic memory- This is a type of declarative memory that refers specifically to autobiographical events that can be stated. This includes times, places, emotions, and similar types of knowledge.

Tests for Truth

The tests for truth are coherence (does it agree with other claims I believe?), correspondence (does it match previous evidence?) and pragmatic (does it work in practice?). I think that in our DP subjects, we mainly use correspondence in class, but personally we use the coherence test (we are not likely to believe something is true if it contradicts our previously held beliefs). We do utilize the pragmatic test occasionally, especially in math, when we test out formulae to see why they work or do our own proofs.

Truth v Lies

The difference between sincerity and correctness is that a sincere statement can be completely factually wrong, as long as the person who is making the statement wholeheartedly believes it to be true. Similarly, a false statement and a lie differ. A false statement can be made with the intention of being sincere.

Justification Types

I think that various types of justification are important in our classes. A lot of the time, we use intuition to help guide us when we aren’t completely sure. I think this helps more in classes where answers are less concrete, such as English and history, versus in math, where intuition may help, but having formulae memorized is a must. Emotion is also a more important justification in such subjects, but also in the arts classes, such as theatre and art.

Intensity of Belief


Evaluating Knowledge Claims

I’ll be evaluating my recent learning about the Haitian Revolution in history class.

Source: My source is both Mr. Webb and a series of online readings and videos put out by Brown University. I don’t think that either of these sources have any motivation to deceive me and I believe them both to be reputable. The facts that they have given do fit in with other sources that we have examined that speak about the revolution, so it passes the coherence test.

Statements: The statements made do not have a context which would make them unreliable. The backgrounds of those presenting the information are open; one of the men who makes videos for the Brown program is, in fact, from Haiti. There are visuals that accompany the readings and videos, some of which are emotionally affecting, but seem to be fairly balanced. There are not contradictions.

Self: I think that I do have an inclination to believe simply whatever the teacher tells me, especially in regards to something that I have no prior knowledge about, such as the Haitian Revolution. However, I don’t think I have personal biases that would affect the way I perceive this piece of history or affect my belief in it.

Knowledge and the Search for Truth (Course Companion)

1. Take a book you’ve read recently and answer the four questions on this page (page 90).

I chose to answer the questions about the book I most recently finished, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

  • Out of all possible topics or ideas regarding knowledge, what have the authors selected to give you?

The author uses the device of an unreliable narrator whose sanity is slipping, particularly by the end of the book, when Patrick Bateman is clearly hallucinating (although some may argue that he had been all along). The knowledge that we receive from his predominately first-person narration may not even be true in the context of the fictional novel. In addition, within the novel, Patrick attempts to confess to his crimes many times but no one believes he is telling the truth or they simply do not pay enough attention to process what he is saying. The truth is ignored repeatedly throughout the book.

  • Out of those topics and ideas treated, what have they emphasized, and how?

I think that the unreliability of Patrick as the narrator is really emphasized, especially as time goes on. In the beginning of the book, it seems much more like a period piece of the 80’s presented somewhat “normally”. However, as the book progresses, reading about it through the eyes and mind of such a deranged character warps it into something near a dystopia. This is contrasted to when the book does reference something firmly grounded in history (often a famous musician or band), when you are reminded that this is supposedly something that happened in the United States in a real period of history.

  • What kind of language have they used, and what emotions or values do you identify in the word choice? What images of photographs, drawings, or diagrams accompany the text, and how are they, too, selected and used?

The language that Patrick used is very frequently cold and without emotion, which helps to portray him as a psychopath. If there is an emotion to be associated with the word choice, it is almost always anger. The author makes the choice to include lots of descriptive words about the clothes, technology, and extravagant food of Patrick and everyone that surrounds him, sometimes filling pages simply with these paragraphs. Not only does this show the extreme superficiality of this world, it also contrasts greatly with the complete lack of description of people, their emotions, and personalities. There are no photographs to accompany the novel, except for the cover. It shows what I would imagine to be our titular “American psycho”, Patrick Bateman, looking cold and unfeeling but still undeniably human. The exterior, which looks like that of any man, evidently does not match the inhuman psyche beneath it.

  • What is the context in which the book is written – by whom, for what purpose, and within what framework of declared and implicit values?

I really would like to ask Bret Easton Ellis what compelled him to write such a horrifying book. It begins as a bit of a social commentary on the superficiality of the “yuppies” of the eighties, but becomes increasingly shocking and disgusting. The purpose is, I suppose, an extreme example of the danger of superficiality, self-centeredness, and objectification of humans. It works within the implied framework that the actions of Patrick Bateman are horribly, horribly wrong.

2. Read the green box from Yeshey of Bhutan. Then read about and watch Thomas Pettitt, a Danish philosopher, discuss the Gutenberg Parenthesis and his view on books. Answer the following questions.

  • What are your thoughts about the sanctity of books and how did you arrive to your decision?

I think that a physical book is simply two covers and a bunch of paper held together by some glue, created by a machine. The physical manifestation of the ideas held in the book isn’t a holy thing, and harming a book in no way harms its ideas. I understand that there is symbolic value in harming a book that stands for something you do not agree with (such as burning a Bible or a Koran) but I think a book only has as much value as we assign to it. If we choose not to be more upset when our favorite book is ripped than when a blank book is ripped (as it doesn’t affect the ideas contained within whatsoever), then there is nothing wrong with it. However, I don’t recommend destroying books for the fun of it. It’s wasteful, just to prove a philosophical point.

  • Do books really “hold learning”?

Can anything really “hold learning”? I don’t think so. Learning isn’t a physical thing, and it can’t be held, not even by a teacher. Books can undoubtedly help us learn, that’s true, and some may have more potential for learning than others, but a book can’t force you to learn anything. Not everyone will learn the same thing from a book; in fact, not everyone will learn anything from a book.

  • How would you rate where you get knowledge – media (various), books, teachers, family, friends, celebrities, etc.?

I think I probably get the majority of my practical knowledge from the people I surround myself with, namely family and friends. My “book” knowledge comes mainly from teachers. My often random but always interesting knowledge comes from books and the internet, because these are the things that I use to seek out information that I personally want to know, not that a curriculum or any people think I need to know. I think that each source can’t be rated easily, because their reliability changes for each fact that I learn.