Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Information Triangle

I've always found diagrams helpful to clarify my thoughts. Does anybody of you have experience with the currently available online tools for mind maps? I've come across one or the other, but they didn't impress me much, i.e. I'd prefer an old fashioned notepad over them. Either way, here is what was on my mind this day: the interrelationship between Information Technology (IT), Science and the Society

[Click to enlarge]

Any feedback, comments, crititcism is welcome. Is this somehow helpful? Interesting? Well structured? Readable? Thought stimulating? Other adjectives?

The quotation above the upper left arrow refers to the following:
"Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.''
~ Stewart Brand, Quoted in ''The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution'',
John Brockman, Touchstone (1996).

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  1. I really never understood the name itself "mind maps" although I seemed to be using them quite frequently for reference and for some further indepth thinking.

    Intuitively arranging the information we have, for some leap of understanding through perserverance and work, mathematical or otherwise. You had to know how to get there.

    Infinite regress leads to self-evident information? There can be a leap from there?

    I know of no software.

    Could we expound more in terms of the mathematical structure at the basis of social constructs(law)?

    Yet, we might get lost in the everyday language of personal events, stories and distilling the basis of argument for solving the correct and moral conclusion which society will deem from it's resolve for a cultured society.

  2. It is well-structured and readable, but it has to illustrate some narrative, it cannot be a narrative in itself.

    (IMO. "Off with his head", said Her Majesty. :) :) )

  3. "Information" assumes an empirical source, a neutral conduit, and a capable destination. The mob is long past understanding anything of its infrastructure. The mob embraces "higher concepts" while exulting in its clarified ignorance. The Media are whores - and not in a good way.

    Those who venture into nothing new suffer no unknown risks. They die of mediocrity.

  4. You don't mention what you've tried already, so I'm not sure what features you like / don't like, but I have some thoughts FWIW.

    First, mindmaps are very good for sorting ideas, organizing information and planning projects, but for science, I think concept maps are often more suitable. Two reasons: Concept maps have greater freedom in linking - you're not stuck with the rigid hierarchy so a node can be under several nodes as well as have several child nodes; and concept maps encourage the mapper to think about why concepts are connected. Trivially, say, [An ozone molecule] {consists of three} [oxygen atoms].

    Second, software:
    These are the web-based ones I know of:,,,,,,,,,,

    Several of these are capable of producing professional-looking mind maps and can import and export from FreeMind and MindManager. But for full concept mapping you would need

    As academics, you would be able to get CMAP free and that has a server, so can be used on an intranet, but AFAIK there's no public CMAP server that you can just sign up to and use, like Kayuda. CMAP is probably the ultimate concept mapper, but as academics, you must have come across this already, I guess.

    There’s a search engine focused specifically on mind mapping at http://www.MindMapSearch.Org and it has all the authority sites on mind mapping organized into category pages as well - might be useful.

    The master list of mind mapping &
    information management software

  5. I said "cultured society"-you can make "mob rule" out of even good scientists uncle:)

  6. Sure, I like mind maps. Here is an example of one, where I picked apart a paper. I don't agree with all of the authors' hypotheses and conclusions, and I know where are the points we don't agree.

  7. Ah ha amaragraps! Freemind! I like Freemind for my students because it tends to impose structure and the majority of what we think benefits from structure. I'll leave the unstructured tools to others.

    Technology may have been predictable at one time. The way people adapt to it and vice-versa is certainly fun to watch. Can I squeeze that into our definition of Technology and Society? Go SIG X!

  8. Ah, no in fact, I have never heard of any of these software tools. Despite me writing a blog I am not actually much of an online personality, just not patient enough to engage in virtual realities I guess. Either way, that by itself belongs somewhere in the above diagram: Do all these nice tools actually help us to structure thoughts better, or is this just a flashy version of what we've done all along? Does online networking actually benefit progress, or is it more of a distraction? Does one actually find information online faster and more efficiently, or does one (as I often do) spend an awful amount of time looking for the right key words and ends up in confusion?

    As to mind maps, I like the concept in some sense, but I'd wish these maps wouldn't be constrained to two dimensions. I mean, the two dimensions I can draw on a sheet of paper, but in an electronic version I'd want to have an n-dimensional diagram that I can project on arbitrary axis. I find it hard to arrange my 'mind' in two dimensions, I guess I need at least 26 or so.

    (e.g. if one tries to set up a website with subsubsubmenues or write a book (part 2, chapter 1, section 1, subsection 3) one easily gets higher rank tensors that can't be sensibly drawn on a paper anymore. I've had that problem repeatedly.)

    Hi Plato:

    I doubt one can build the basis of social constructs on a mathematical structure, though one can probably get much closer to this than currently. One thing that often bothers me is the lacking definition of used terms. I.e. take the human rights. What means 'human'? I know it might sound like a funny question, but it's actually not trivial, and in a broader sense an issue that comes back to haunt us again and again. When does a 'person' start to be 'human', what genetic defects or modifications still qualify as 'human', what about our closest relatives among the apes, etc.

    The important thing about the basis of our societies is not actually its fixed structure but the way to readjust it. A bit of scientific method would be good there.

    Dear Arun:

    Well, the picture actually comes with a three pages narrative. While writing I just found myself repeatedly talking about the IT triangle that probably nobody except me has ever heard of. So I thought why not just draw that damned thing that I have in mind. That is to say, it illustrates a longer explanation (that however isn't so really finished, and it doesn't actually say anything that is not also in the figure above).

    I'm much more Alice than the Queen I guess ;-)

    Dear Amara:

    Oh wow, that map looks much more sophisticated than mine. Do these maps come with some kind of caption or so? I mean, in what context do you use these symbols (?, x, check, and the others?).



  9. Do the tools help us structure our thoughts better? Well, everyone's different but they do for me - I've been using the technique on paper for over 20 years and in software for the last 11 (concurrently, not consecutively).

    If you've used paper diagrams to help you think, they are probably not much different, but being able to easily push things around on screen, and edit freely without making a mess on the paper is something I appreciate. Not needing to re-draw from time to time is great as well. With the web-based versions, something that was cumbersome before became much easier: supporting groups collaborating across timezones and borders.

    People involved in kicking business ideas around may not be too keen - wondering who might be looking at their work in the company that runs the servers, but that should be less of a concern in the academic world. I'm assuming the average joe looking after Internet servers would not be interested in theoretical physics.

    You mentioned not wanting to be limited to 2D. If you want multi-dimensional mind maps, the best I can suggest is 3D Topicscape. I use it and like it a lot, but it can't handle 26 dimensions (you'll be amazed to hear!) It does let you put the same thing in several places though - multiple instances, not multiple copies. Neat.

    The master list of mind mapping &
    information management software

  10. Hi Vic,

    Thanks, I will try that out. You are of course right that our online connectivity has made many things possible that would have been impossible only two decades ago, like fast and easy global collaboration. And sure, virtual pictures have their advantages over real ones. I just think that these advantages go along with drawbacks, and that not enough thought is invested into how to optimize the system for our purposes, not for its own, i.e. growth above all.

    E.g. as I mentioned above, the actual information 'organization' on the web is not all that functional (it is without doubt still much more efficient to ask the guy next door who knows what I am talking about). Then there is the problem with information archiving. As much as I like the internet, all the information that is *only* stored there can very easily become completely inaccessible. What will happen to all these Wiki's in 100 years, 200 years? Books you can open and read (Restrictions apply). What do you do with a CD if the technology to read it got lost?

    There are many other points that worry me. I.e. the distribution of power and influence on the internet, which is whatever people say *not* democratic, but the facto somewhere between monetarism and communism. Plus, there are just an enormous amount of meta-spin offs with no actual effect on the real world whatsoever, a fantasy world that distracts us from reality. Brave new world? Alpha or epsilon? Who is fit enough to survive Tomb Raider? Can we undo our mistakes?

    Real world processes are irreversible, we have an arrow of time, and we should carefully consider if we want to go wherever technologies open possibilities.



  11. Sorry.. long day (*). The symbols X and checkmarks and so on, I placed on the node in order to help me clarify the authors' points, that is what they say doesn't work for a water source, and why.

    (*) My wallet was stolen. All passports, identifications, credit cards, bank cards, drivers licenses, ... two weeks before I make an international move (that's _why_ I'm carrying all of that, I'm closing out all of my accounts, visting bureaucratic offices, making reservations, plans and so on.) If you don't mind, I'm calling today "Black Monday". Probably notime else in my life, except when I was a kid, have I been reduced to a single piece of authentic identification: my birth certificate.

  12. Off topic, for which I apologise, but important in view of part of amaragraps' comment.

    I have an interest in the data privacy field and routinely collect background information on that and identity theft.
    If you have lost so many identifying documents at one time, I recommend you visit these sites and take steps outlined there:

    Email me at vic at mind-mapping dot org if you want me to email more material to you offline.


  13. Bee:I doubt one can build the basis of social constructs on a mathematical structure

    A Theory is Born

    This science is unusual in the breadth of its potential applications. Unlike physics or chemistry, which have a clearly defined and narrow scope, the precepts of game theory are useful in a whole range of activities, from everyday social interactions and sports to business and economics, politics, law, diplomacy and war. Biologists have recognized that the Darwinian struggle for survival involves strategic interactions, and modern evolutionary theory has close links with game theory.

    Nothing worse then having to quote myself and as follows:)

    Plato:I first started to come to the conclusion in regards to the "social construct" and the relationship it had to the mathematical environmental when I saw the movie, "The Beautiful Mind." It was based on the story of John Nash.

    I once talked in your comment section about Ramanujan, and how he received his mathematical constructs.

    While it may seemingly unassociated to the value of what good scientists do(social constructs), it is a much more "in depth analysis" of what is currently assumed reading what you just wrote. :)

  14. Dear Bee,

    that's a very informative & informed information triangle, and thank you that you tell us where we are on this map ;-)... ehm, but I do not quite understand, what do you mean by "opinion making process" going from "IT " to "Science"? Fast electronic communication? Or are there other aspects that I am missing?

    What will happen to all these Wiki's in 100 years, 200 years? Books you can open and read (Restrictions apply). What do you do with a CD if the technology to read it got lost?

    Very good question and a good point. I should use it as an apology for the ever-growing piles of books at home... But seriously, I have the impression these are points people other than archivists are just starting to become aware of.

    Best, Stefan

  15. Hi Plato:

    I think we have a misunderstanding here. I definitely do think that maths (and/or models of theoretical physics!) can help us to better understand, predict and shape our society to our own well-being (that's essentially the point of the LightCone Institute). What I said is that I don't think it is possible to build a society on a mathematical structure. What I meant is that the terms that we use (truth, justice, freedom) are not mathematically well defined, and I don't think one can possibly do so. Therefore I think it is impossible to start with a set of axioms and derive a recipe for maximal happiness out of postulates. What we need instead is a well functioning scientific management of our societies, economy and politics, and this can - without any doubt - done much better and more efficiently than it is done today. Best,


  16. Dear Stefan:

    but I do not quite understand, what do you mean by "opinion making process" going from "IT " to "Science"? Fast electronic communication? Or are there other aspects that I am missing?

    That is what I meant, though I think you underestimate the importance of this factor. I have mentioned this problem repeatedly previously. There is no doubt that 'fast electronic communication' has an major impact on the way science is done, and not all of these changes are necessarily good. For example the amount of information that we can have on a certain topic affects our opinion about it, but also the way we get to know about it, and how often we hear about it etc. The most trivial examples are that hearing about a topic more often makes you think it must be somehow important, or reading about it on highly frequented websites might make you think its worth looking into it. That might be the case - but not necessarily so.

    And especially when it comes to scientific discussions, public online discussions can distort the actual content significantly. Yes, you would think scientists should not be affected by this, and most would of course say they are not - but it is hard to go beyond our evolutionary developed senses on how to filter information for important (heard repeatedly or by somebody who is important). We are not immune to this effect, and just denying it is very naive and not helpful. It is a problem that the internet and the environment it provides makes worse, and it's an effect that is not payed enough attention to.

    I have briefly addressed other points elsewhere, like e.g. the challenges for communication or the disadvantages of information overflow and the illusion of knowledge. Best,


  17. Sorry, last link is broken, should lead here



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