Last Person to Know Everything

Has anyone grasped all human knowledge? Aristotle, two millennia before the printing press? The lesser-known Thomas Young, who published on tides, light, bridges, languages, and Egyptian hieroglyphics? Will our technological progeny ride an exponential growth curve to catch up with all human-computer knowledge? Or does the shoreline of the unknown inevitably expand with the island of knowledge?

My aim, less ambitious than knowing everything, is knowing where my knowledge fits into the totality, the context of my knowledge. Start with science: a map could show us how concepts connect. Any science demonstration or experiment could be located–Your phenomenon is here 👉🏽 and it connects to related phenomena. Students could start anywhere, with the most recent experience provoking their curiosity. With persistence to follow their curiosity, they could reach all of science, or at least know where their interests fit in a big picture.  That would give them a sense of place and a seed for future research.

Science concept map

The map here is a draft–perhaps it will always be a work in process because of the nature of knowledge. One of my students is interested in quarks, so the science concept map frames and guides our discussions, clarifying what we don’t know. And then the map grows from those discussions. Other students will add their own areas to the map.

Some students may go “meta” by reorganizing the map or porting it to virtual reality so that detail can be intelligently hidden, keeping the map uncluttered but progressively revealing what interests individual viewers. Or dynamically-generating the map from meta-tags on Wikipedia or Google Graph.

Conversations with professors and grad students from nearby universities have resulted in interest in the map, but no recognition of it already having been developed. Perhaps specialization makes those familiar with the details that would go into this map too busy with their field or sub-field to develop such a general map.

If this map already exists elsewhere, please comment on this post. But even if it does, my students and I learn from creating it, so we would learn from those parallel efforts, not abandon our own.

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