Analogies, Context, and Zettleconversation with Joel Chan [Idea Machines #24]

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Intro

In this episode I talk to Joel Chan about cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer, zettlekasten, and too many other things to enumerate. Joel is an a professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies and a member of their Human-Computer Interaction Lab. His research focuses on understanding and creating generalizable configurations of people, computing, and information that augment human intelligence and creativity. Essentially, how can we expand our knowledge frontier faster and better.

This conversation was also an experiment. Instead of a normal interview that’s mostly the host directing the conversation, Joel and I actually let the conversation be directed by his notes. We both use a note-taking system called a zettlekasten that’s based around densely linked notes and realized hat it might be interesting to record a podcast where the structure of the conversation is Joel walking through his notes around where his main lines of research originated.

For those of you who just want to hear a normal podcast, don’t worry - this episode listens like any other episode of idea machines. For those of you who are interested in the experiment, I’ve put a longer-than normal post-pod at the end of the episode.

Key Takeaways
  • Context and synthesis are two critical pieces of knowledge transfer that we don’t talk or think about enough.
  • There is so much exciting progress to be made in how we could generate and execute on new ideas.
Show Notes

More meta-experiments: An entry point to Joel’s Notes from our conversation

- Wright brothers - Wing warping - Control is core problem - Boxes have nothing to do with flying - George Vestral - velcro

- scite.ai - Canonical way you’re supposed to do scientific literature - Even good practice - find the people via the literature - Incubation Effect - Infrastructure has no way of knowing whether a paper has been contradicted - No way to know whether paper has been Refuted, Corroborated or Expanded - Incentives around references - Herb Simon, Allen Newell - problem solving as searching in space - Continuum from ill structured problem to well structured problems - Figuring out the parameters, what is the goal state, what are the available moves - Cyber security is both cryptography and social engineering - How do we know what we know? - Only infrastructure we have for sharing is via published literature - Antedisciplinary Science - Consequences of science as a career - Art in science - As there is more literature fragmentation it’s harder to synthesize and actually figure out what the problem is - Canonical unsolved problems - List of unsolved problems in physics - Review papers are: Hard to write and Career suicide - Formulating a problem requires synthesis - Three levels of synthesis 1. Listing citations 2. Listing by idea 3. Synthesis - Bloom’s taxonomy - Social markers - yes I’ve read X it wasn’t useful - Conceptual flag citations - there may actually be no relation between claims and claims in paper - Types of knowledge synthesis and their criteria - If you’ve synthesized the literature you’ve exposed fractures in it - To formulate problem you need to synthesize, to synthesize you need to find the right pieces, finding the right pieces is hard - Individual synthesis systems: - Zettlekasten - Tinderbox system - Roam

- Graveyard of systems that have tried to create centralized knowledge repository - The memex as the philosopher’s stone of computer science - Semantic web - Shibboleth words - Open problem - “What level of knowledge do you need in a discipline” - Feynman sense of knowing a word - Information work at interdisciplinary boundaries - carol palmer - Different modes of interdisciplinary research - “Surface areas of interaction” - Causal modeling the Judea pearl sense - Sensemaking is moving from unstructured things towards more structured things and the tools matter

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