A blog about ideas relating to philoinformatics (or at least that have something to do with computer science or philosophy)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Philoinformatics and Categories of Informatics

How does philoinformatics relate to general informatics?
I will once again answer this using MS Paint. I think informatics (information science) can be usefully looked at as a kind of fan-like spectrum from general informatics to specific informatics. On the pointy handle end, you have fundamental informatics. As you move along to the edges of the fan, you find general domain informatics. At the edges on the right you have specific informatics fields such as bioinformatics, socioinformatics, and philoinformatics. Those are the grey and beige slices.

You can think of any very specific topic being placed on the edge of the fan under the title of "Informatics of X" or "X informatics" or, if you're lucky enough to have a nice prefix representing the topic, even "Xoinformatics"!

Domain Informatics
Just taking a look at the wikipedia page on informatics begs for some subcategories to help organize the discipline. The problems that are solved by the same mechanism in multiple specific informatics disciplines are more appropriately put deeper (to the left) in this fan picture, in the direction of general fundamental informatics. This is the realm of domain informatics. Domain informatics is arguably the most interesting area of informatics. Fundamental informatics is quite stable and almost completely content-neutral. While most advances in a specific informatics domain can usually be generalized to a certain point under certain conditions. I'd put things like information entropy, communication channel theory, cloud computing, and generic encryption issues in the 'fundamental informatics' category. In order to explain where philoinformatics lies in this picture, I'm going to try to identify and categorize the domain informatics.

Qualitative vs Quantitative
I think a major distinction to make when categorizing the growing amount of domain informatics is between qualitative and quantitative content. All disciplines, of course, need to deal with both quantitative and qualitative data, but some disciplines (like physics) have quantitative measurement at their cores, while other disciplines (like history) have qualitative reports and observations at their cores.

A Third Q?
Abstract disciplines like philosophy, law, math, economics, and computation, which are "removed" in a sense from direct empirical observation are interesting cases. They all seem to allow for more rigid models than qualitative observations but are generally not amenable to numerical models in the way quantitative measurements are. Unfortunately I can't think of an appropriate catchy word that starts with a 'Q' to add to the Quantity/Quality (false) dichotomy. But I think we can roughly partition all of domain informatics into Feature, Model, and Measurement Informatics. These are the yellow, blue, and red parts of my beautiful map of informatics above.

Categorizing Philoinformatics

Content in philosophy is published in chunks on the paper and book level. Some of these papers can get heavy in symbols but generally we're talking about free text and almost does a paper get heavy on numbers. Philoinformatics to handle this traditional form of philosophy becomes largely encompassed by general Publishing 2.0 initiatives which is a part of domain informatics. Registries of philosophers, registries of papers, and construing bibliographies as dereferencable (aka "followable") URIs are not unique to philosophical publications. This initiative involves simple feature informatics (by which I mean 'simple features' not 'simple task'). It's also a task that is extrinsic to philosophy in the sense that it is neutral to the content.

The more radical goal of philoinformatics that I mentioned in my philoinformatics manifesto draft involves cracking into the content itself whether by extracting from traditional publications or inventing new types of publication. Much of this content will involve trying to serialize identified ideas, concepts, and definitions that would be only available as unstructured freeform text in regular publications. As important as this is, even these items are somewhat general in that they are going to be used in all kinds of publications. But I should stress that these are the kinds of things that are currently rarely captured in a formal machine-readable kind of form, and would be a major enhancement to the entire domain.

So what content is unique to philosophy, or at least almost unique? The motivation for distinguishing philoinformatics (and any subdiscipline of general informatics) is that there is a different quality of the content that makes it somewhat unique. The content that is almost unique to philoinformatics is the handling of thought experiments, the free use of 'Xian' where X is any philosopher's name, and possibly the modeling of widespread but uniquely philosophical notions like internalist/externalist, foundational/coherentist, objective/subjective, absolute/relative, contingent/necessary. With a proper foundation with terms and links combining these items with to publications and endorsement and rejection statements, we could start computing over philosophical notions to find general properties of philosophical positions such as hidden inconsistencies, distance from evidence, robust multidirectional support and other relations that could potentially be defined in terms of this foundational data. Basically, traction and then real progress may finally be possible.

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