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Jos de Mul. Encyclopedias, hive minds and global brains A cognitive evolutionary account of Wikipedia. 立命館言語文化研究29巻3号. Ritsumeikan Studies in Language and Culture. Volume 29, no.3 (2018), 143-153.


Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced, hypermedial encyclopedia, available in more  than  290 languages and  consisting  of  no  less  than  40 million  lemmas,  is  often  hailed  as  a  successful  example  of  the ʻwisdom of  the  crowdsʼ.  However,  critics not only  point  at  the  lack  of  accuracy  and  reliability, uneven coverage of topics, and the poor quality of writing, but also at the under-representation of women and non-white ethnicities. Moreover, some critics regard Wikipedia as an example of the development of  a  hive  mind,  as  we  find  it  in  social insects, whose  ʻmindʼ rather than being a property of individuals is a ʻsocial phenomenonʼ, as it has to be located in the colony rather than in the individual bees. In this article an attempt is made to throw some light on this controversy by analyzing Wikipedia  from  the  perspective  of  the  cognitive  evolution  of  mankind.  Connecting  to Origins  of  the  Modern  Mind (1991) of neuropsychologist Merlin Donald, in which three stages in the cognitive evolution -  characterized by a  mimetic, an linguistic, and an external symbolic cognition  respectively  -  are  distinguished,  it  is  argued  that  the  development  of  the  internet,  and crowd-sourced  projects  like  Wikipedia  in  particular,  can be understood as a fourth, computer- mediated form of cognition. If we survey the cognitive evolution of hominids and the role played in this evolution by cultural and technical artefacts like writing, printing press, computers, and internet, we witness a process of increasing integration of individual minds. With outsourcing and virtualization  of  the  products  and  processes  of  thinking  to  external  memories,  and  the  fast development of implanted computer interfaces, we appear to be at the edge of the materialization of the  hive  mind  in a  ʻglobal brainʼ.  The article ends  with  some  speculative  predictions about the future of human cognition.

Keywords: encyclopedias, Wikipedia, wisdom of the crowds, cognitive evolution, hive mind, global brain

A sinnerʼs confession

Let me begin this article with a confession. Iʼm a sinner, too. According to Michael Gorman, former president of the American Library Association, “A professor who encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equivalent of a  dietician who recommends a  steady diet of Big Macs with everything” (quoted  in: Jemielniak  2014b). To  make  my  case  worse,  I  not  only  encourage  my students to use Wikipedia, but Iʼm also guilty of using Wikipedia myself quite frequently. However, I immediately like to add that I hardly ever eat Big Macs, and almost ever read and discuss primary texts and reliable secondary literature with my students. So why do  I  sin?  Well,  probably  the  most  obvious  reason is the overwhelming amount of information to be found on Wikipedia. At this moment - August 3, 2017 - the number of articles in the English version alone already has reached 5,453,005, and if we include the articles written in the more  than 290 Wikipedias  in  other  languages (including the 1,070,000 articles the Japanese Wikipedia had in July 2017), the number exceeds 40 million. Moreover, no other encyclopedia is so up to date (the fact that I was able to mention the exact number of articles in the English version of Wikipedia  today,  is because the Wikipediaʼs lemma on Wikipedia just has been updated). No wonder that Iʼm not the only sinner: as of February 2014, Wikipedia has 18 billion page views and nearly 500 million unique visitors each month! A second reason I love Wikipedia is the free-access and free-content character of this encyclopedia, offering – worldwide - millions of people, many of them  deprived of  books  and  libraries,  a  wealth  of  information,  knowledge,  and  sometimes  even wisdom.

It seems that Wikipedia even has a divine ring. It promises to provide us with an omniscience that once was attributed to God. Together with technologies like telepresence and virtual reality – which  express  the  human  desire  to  obtain  two  other  divine  qualities:  omnipresence  and omnipotence– Wikipedia promises to guide us right through “the pearly gates of cyberspace” (Wertheim 1999).

Why then this guilty feeling when I use Wikipedia? Well, maybe my feeling to be a sinner is not the result of violating my beliefs, but rather of catching myself believing. After all, I do not have a real  talent  for  religion, both in its sacral and profane  forms.  Being  an  academic,  having  digital culture as one of my research subjects, Iʼm well aware of the drawbacks of Wikipedia. Most of them are related to the fact that Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced project, so that every user in principle can be an editor as well. The English version alone has about 130,000 active editors (out of 27 million registered users) and more than 1300 administrators (editors who have been granted the right to perform special actions like deleting articles, blocking malfunctioning editors etc.). Because of this open character Wikipedia lacks, according to its  critics,  accuracy  and  reliability.  There  is,  for example, no methodological fact-checking. Moreover, there is a rather uneven coverage of topics, the quality of the writing often is poor, and there are many cases of deliberate insertion of false and misleading information  and  other  types  of ʻintellectual vandalismʼ.  Other issues that have raised criticism are explicit content (like child pornography), sexism, and privacy violations. Indeed, for many reasons the Wikipedia community resembles a church.  And the list of drawbacks I just gave is far from exhaustive. (For a more complete list – oh irony - it is worthwhile to visit the lengthy and well-documented  Wikipediaʼs  lemmas  such  as ʻCriticism  of  Wikipediaʼ and– ʻAcademic  studies about Wikipediaʼ).

Encyclopedias and hive minds

Instead  of  giving  an  exhaustive  overview  of  its  drawbacks,  in  this  article  I  want  to  focus  on  one essential characteristic of Wikipedia, which has led to much controversy: its collective character. According  to  enthusiastic  supporters  of  Wikipedia,  this project  is  a  paradigmatic  example  of  the so-called Wisdom of Crowds. According to this idea, popularized by James Surowieckiʼs book with that  title  from  2004,  group  decisions  are  often  better than could have been made by any single member of the group (Surowiecki 2004). As the accuracy of crowd wisdom largely depends on the crowdʼs size and diversity, is it not surprising, according to Wikipedia supporters, that a survey of Wikipedia,  published  in  Nature  that  same  year,  which  was  based  on  a  comparison  of  42 science articles with Encyclopedia Britannica, found that Wikipediaʼs level of accuracy closely approached this esteemed encyclopedia (Giles 2005). The diversity of the crowd guarantees the neutral point of view,  which  is  one  of  the  key  editorial  principles  of  Wikipedia,  aiming  at  a  fair  and  proportional representation of all of the significant views on the topics.

However,  more  critical  minds  rather  see  Wikipedia as a result of  ʻthe stupidity of crowdsʼ. According  to  computer  scientist  and  philosopher Jaron Lanier –  who, as one of the pioneers of virtual reality, cannot easily be accused of hostility against digital culture - the most questionable aspect of Wikipedia is what he calls digital Maoism and the Oracle illusion. In Youʼre not a Gadget Lanier argues that, just as in the heydays of cultural revolution in China, in Wikipedia the majority– opinion  perspective  rules  (Lanier  2010).  Despite  of  the  open  character of  the  Wikipedia  project, which,  in  principle at least, can be joined by everybody and welcomes a variety of opinions, in reality controversial topics often evoke so-called ʻedit warsʼ, in which particular entries are updated at  a  rapid-fire  rate  by  representatives  of  competing  political,  religious  or  ethnic  ideologies. According to Dariusz Jemielniak, a long time editor of Wikipedia and the author of the informative book  Common  knowledge?:  An  Ethnography  of  Wikipedia,  conflict  is  the  dominant  mode  of interaction in the Wikimedia community (Jemielniak 2014a).

Actually, the majority, having the loudest and most persistent voice, rules. Or rather, we must say, a particular majority rules, as Wikipedia exhibits systemic bias, too. The Wikipedia community is heavily dominated  by  young,  male,  white,  wealthy,  English speaking techno-geeks, whereas women  and  non-white  ethnicities  are  significantly under-represented. For example, in a data analysis of Wikipediaʼs lemmas, the Oxford Internet Institute found that only 2.6% of its geo-tagged articles are  about  Africa,  which  accounts  for  14%  of  the  worldʼs  population  (Oxford  Internet Institute 2012).

Moreover, according to Lanier, “open culture, [especially] web 2.0 designs, like wikis, tend to promote the false idea that there is only one universal truth in [...] arenas where that isnʼt so”. As a consequence, Wikipediaʼs digital Maoism evokes what Lanier terms the Oracle illusion. As he explains in his book Youʼre not a Gadget:

Wikipedia, for instance, works on what I call the Oracle illusion, in which knowledge of the human authorship of a  text is suppressed in order to give the text superhuman validity. Traditional  holy  books  work  in  precisely  the  same  way  and  present  many  of  the  same problems. This is [one] of the reasons I sometimes think of cybernetic totalist culture as a new religion. The designation is much more than an approximate metaphor, since it includes a new kind of quest for an afterlife. Itʼs so weird to me that Ray Kurzweil wants the global computing cloud to scoop up the contents of our brains so we can live forever in virtual reality. When my friends and I built the first virtual reality machines, the whole point was to make this world more creative, expressive, empathic, and interesting. It was not to escape it (Lanier 2010).

The phenomenon Lanier refers to is also known as the hive  mind, as we find it in social insects, whose ʻmindʼ rather than being a property of individuals is a ʻsocial phenomenonʼ, as it has to be located in the colony rather than in the individual bees (Queller and Strassmann 2009). In a sense, human individuals are social phenomena in the aforementioned meaning too, as our bodies also are societies of cells that function together to make us walk, clean our blood, digest our food, think, etc. And even the cells in our body actually are  a  collection of  organelles,  or  tiny  organs,  like  the energy-producing mitochondria. And if we look at human life on a larger scale, tribes and cities can also be conceived of as superorganisms, displaying hive minds. Thus, both on the micro- and on the macro-level, humans in a very basic way are dividuals rather than individuals. At the macro-level, we  could  regard  the  technical  infrastructure  of  Wikipedia  as  (a  tiny  part  of)  an  emerging  global brain, and the practice of editing and using this global encyclopedia as part of the accompanying ʻhive mindʼ.

An interesting question is what would inspire a group of multicellular organisms like ants or humans to form a superorganism? In The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, biologists Hölldobler and Wilson argue that the emergence of superorganisms is a complex  process  involving  genetic  evolution  and  environmental  pressures.  Generally,  a  group  of insects like bees will move from behaving as individuals to forming colonies when they are storing food (like honey or pollen) that comes from multiple sources. At that point, a colony has a better chance  of  surviving  than  an  individual  (Hölldobler  and  Wilson 2009).  This  criterion  seems  to  be satisfied by humans  as  much  as  by  social  insects.  However,  as  population  genetics  suggests, another precondition for the emergence of superorganisms is a strong genetic similarity. This is the case with social insects like ants and bees, and also with the cells in our bodies, but is much less the case with human individuals. For that reason, human interaction is characterized by conflict as much as by cooperation. Wikipedia is a good example here, although a paradigmatic example of global cooperation, the aforementioned drawbacks like the edit wars, uneven coverage of content, underrepresentation of women and ethnic groups, the deliberate insertion of false and misleading information show a ʻgenerousʼ variety of conflicts as well. This seems to make the emergence of a real superhuman organism unlikely. As Joan Strassman, an authority on superorganisms, states in an  interview:  “ʻThat  [the  emergence  of  a  human  superorganism]  could  happen  with  higher relatedness. But right now thereʼs far too much  conflict.ʼ She  pointed  out  that  the  best  kinds  of cooperative  groups  for  forming  an  organism  are  clones,  and  humans  are  far  from  being  genetic clones of each other” (Newitz 2012).

However,  as  we  saw,  it  is  precisely  Lanierʼs  fear that Wikipedia is a symptom of a mental ʻclonizationʼ which threaten to eliminate diversity  and  individual  perspectives.   In  Lanierʼs  view, Wikipedia functions like the Borg  in the Star Trek  Saga,  the  extraterrestrial  species  aiming  at assimilating all life  in  the  universe,  famous  for their standard  greeting:  “We  are  the  Borg.  Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile”. Should we consider Wikipedia as the pinnacle of ʻthe wisdom of the crowdsʼ or rather as ʻthe spectre of a Maoist hive mindʼ? It is clear that at least with regard to this question there is conflict rather than agreement in the discourse on Wikipedia. How to evaluate these sharply contrasting views?   In the next section, I will try to find a way out of this controversy by analyzing Wikipedia from the perspective of the cognitive evolution of mankind, focusing on the role computer networks play within this development.

Wikipedia in evolutionary and historical perspective

The  emergence of information technologies can  be  regarded  as  a  milestone  in  the  cognitive evolution of mankind, comparable to the two other major transitions of the cognitive structure of the genus Homo: the development of spoken language, and the invention of writing. In his book Origins  of  the  Modern  Mind:  Three  Stages  in  the  Evolution  of  Culture  and  Cognition,  the neuropsychologist Merlin Donald gives a fascinating reconstruction of this cognitive evolution of hominids  (Donald  1991).  Donald  distinguishes  three  stages  in  this  evolution,  characterized respectively by a mimetic, a linguistic and an external symbolic cognition.

In his view the highest primates from which man is descended had an episodic cognition, that is to say, non-reflexive, concrete, and situation-linked, taking place in a continuous present. At least from Homo erectus on, however, a mimetic cognition emerged, characterized by the production of conscious, self-initiated representations which were intentional but not (yet) linguistic (see Figure 1).

One might think of the imitation of the behavior of animals and fellow men. According to Donald this evolution had important social implications. Not only did mimetic capability lead to the development of group rituals and bonding in the prehistoric tribes, phenomena that characterize the behavior of  small  groups  right  up  to  the  present  day,  it  also  resulted  in  a  great  increase in mutual communication and cooperation, as well as in the transfer and conservation of knowledge. This resulted in what we might call a ʻhive mind lightʼ, which probably played an important role in the reproductive success of the genus Homo and its distribution all over the globe. Linguistic  cognition  made  its  appearance  with  Homo  sapiens.  In  the  course  of  evolution,  the ability to  (re)combine basic actions (which, among other things, had developed through the working of stones) shifted to the production of sound, making articulated language possible. As opposed to mimetic communication this  language  makes  use  of arbitrary  symbols,  and  is  characterized  by  semantic compositionality,  which  –  in  comparison  to  earlier types  of  animal  and  human  communication,  enabled Homo  sapiens  –  at  least  in  principle  -  to  utter  an infinite  number  of  different  sentences  with  a  limited number  of  words  (ʻJohn  loves  Maryʼ,  ʻMary  loves Johnʼ,  ʻMy  brother  thinks  that  John  loves  Maryʼ,  ʻI know that my brother thinks that John loves Maryʼ, ʻYou donʼt believe that I know that my brother thinks that  John loves  Maryʼ etc.).  The  implication  of this development  was  another  substantial  increase  of bonding, communication, and cooperation. Moreover, it  was  also  closely  connected  with  the  increasing speed of the development, transfer and  conservation  of  new  knowledge  and  technologies.   A hypothesis shared by many biological anthropologists,  is  that  linguistic  cognition has  played  a crucial role in the marginalization and eventually extinction of the ʻarchaicʼ varieties of the Homo sapiens (such as the Homo erectus, denisova, and neanderthalensis).

In  the  context of Wikipedia the third  transition, from linguistic to symbolic cognition, is of particular importance. Symbolic cognition is used here as an umbrella term for cognition mediated by  external  symbols (level IV in Figure 1).1 Although the origin of this kind of cognition can already  be  located in archaic Homo  sapiens (for example in body painting, markings in bones, which date  back  to  at  least  300,000 years), symbolic  cognition  especially  emerged  in  our  own species, Homo sapiens. From the cave paintings (ca. 40,000 years ago) on, in the last 6000 years it resulted via the icon-based Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese ideograms in the modern phonetic alphabet.  Especially  the invention  of  writing  gave  the  cultural  development  of  humankind  an enormous momentum. The power of written culture with respect to the preceding oral culture lies in the fact that it is no longer so difficult to retain and pass on knowledge vital for survival, as such knowledge can now be recorded in an External Symbolic Storage System, duplicated and consulted to an almost unlimited degree.

The transition from oral culture to symbolic culture is a fundamental cognitive transformation. This  transition  implies  that  one  of  the  key  elements  of  cognition,  memory,  was  transferred  (or perhaps more  appropriately  put  in  this  context: outsourced) to a non-biological and culturally shared  medium.  It  not  only  makes  man,  to  use  an  expression  of  the  biologist  and  philosopher Plessner, into a species that is artificial by nature (to phrase it differently: from the very beginning being  Homo  sapiens  sapiens,  has  been  a  cyborg:  partly  organic,  partly  technological),  but  it  also implies the emergence of the first material building block of the global brain of a superorganism.

This development had profound cognitive implications: in order to connect the individuals to the  External  Symbolic  Storage  System,  new  skills,  such  as  writing  and  reading,  had  to  be developed (a development made possible by the  plasticity  of  the  human  neocortex).  Liberating thought from the rich but chaotic context of the mainly narrative speech that characterized mythic culture - of which we still find an echo in the written version of originally oral narratives such as the Odyssey,  the oral  encyclopedia  of  the  ancient  world (Parry  and Parry  1971) –  it also allowed thinking  to become  more  precise  and  abstract.  For  this  reason,  Donald  says  written  culture  is profoundly theoretical. Moreover, as has been argued by a number of scholars from the McLuhan school, such as Eric Havelock (Havelock 1986, 1976, 1963), and Walter Ong (Ong 1967, 1982, cf. De Mul  2010),  with  the  medium  also  the  message  changed.  This  can  be  clearly  seen  in  Platoʼs philosophy, which according to Havelock reflects the transformation from oral to written culture. Whereas the fleeting  oral culture  reflects  the transient  character  of  everyday  reality,  due  to  the fixation,  abstraction  and  decontextualization  brought  forth  by  writing,  in  Platoʼs  philosophy  this transient everyday reality is supplemented by a world of eternal and unchanging Ideas.

Just like the  emergence  of  mimetic  skills and speech, symbolic cognition increased the reproductive success of the human species. It played a major role in the transition of hunting and gathering  tribes  into  agricultural  societies,  characterized  by  –  amongst  other  things  –  the emergence of cities, states, social hierarchies, and the revolutionary development of new forms of abstract knowledge and technologies. It also played an important role in social organization. One of the basic problems of agricultural civilizations was the fact that the size of its populations were so huge that the type of personal bonding, characteristic for prehistoric tribes, was no longer possible. For  that reason,  as  it  has  been  argued  by  Egyptologist Jan Assmann,  it is no coincidence that agricultural  civilizations  gave rise to monotheist religions, functioning as institutions of social control and repression (Assmann 2006).

Tribal  intolerance  was  replaced  by  fundamentalist  intolerance,  characterized  by  a  belief  in  a universal truth and morality. Writing played an important role in this process, as this ʻMonotono Theismusʼ (Nietzsche 1980,  VI, 75)  is  closely  connected  with  holy  books.  In  this  sense  Jaron Lanierʼs  linking  of  Wikipediaʼs  ambition  to  become  a  kind  of  universal encyclopedia  with  the superhuman validity of holy books is not that strange. Or is it? In order to answer that question, we have to take a look at a fourth, more recent cognitive transition, the one from theoretic culture to information culture, characterized by computer-mediated cognition.

Merlin Donald published The Origin of the Modern Mind in 1991, and although he devotes a couple of pages to the question of what impact the computer might have on human cognition, and even includes a figure to illustrate his point, it is understandable, that he – two years before the launch of the world wide web – wasnʼt able to dig deep into this impact:

The very  recent  combination  of  this  new  architecture  with electronic media and global computer networks”,  we  read,  “has  changed  the  rules  of  the  game  even  further.  Cognitive architecture  has  again  changed,  although the  degree  of  that  change  will  not  be  known  for some  time.  At  the  ver y  least,  the  basic  ESS  [External  Storage  System]  loop  has  been supplemented  by  a  faster,  more  efficient  memory  device,  that  has  externalized  some  of  the search-and-scan  operations  used  by  biological  memor y.  The  computer  extends  human cognitive operations  into  new  realms;  computers can carry  out operations that were  not possible  within  the  confines  of  the  old  hybrid  arrangement  between  monads  and  ESS  loops shown in the last few figures. For example, the massive statistical and mathematical models and  projections  routinely  run  by  governments  are  simply  impossible  without  computers;  so, more  ominously,  are  the  synchrony  and  control  of  literally  millions  of  monads.  Control  may still appear to be vested ultimately in the individual, but this may be illusory. In any case, the individual mind has long since ceased to be definable in a meaningful way within its confining biological membrane (Donald 1991, 358-59).

Now, almost 25 years after the publication of The Origin of the Modern Mind we are in a somewhat better  position  to  point  at  some  fundamental  elements  of  this  fourth  transition  (although  I  must immediately add that, because we are still at the beginning of this major transition, every analysis of  it  can  only  be  tentative).  I  would  like  to  point  at  three  fundamental  characteristics,  and  relate them to Wikipedia and the hive mind.

First, whereas in writing the products of thinking are outsourced to an external memory, in the  case  of  computer-mediated  thought,  thinking  itself  –  at  least  those  aspects  that  can  be expressed in computer algorithms – are outsourced to an external device. Of course, the computer can also be used as a memory device, but its distinctive character lies in the fact that it functions as an external symbolic processing system (ESPS). This is already the case with the search-and-scan operations Donald mentions in the quoted passage (Google being the most obvious example), but we should also think of expert systems, and –in the Big Data age – of all kinds of data mining and profiling.

Second, just as in the case of the transition from oral culture to writing culture, the nature of the human thinking transforms. As the outsourcing not only concerns the products of thinking, butthe thinking process itself, the result is not so much a fixed product, but rather a virtual space for thinking, an interactive database that enables the user to combine and recombine the elements in a virtual infinite way. Computer games offer a good example. They do not so much offer a story (as the novel in writing culture does), but rather a story space, through which the gamer follows his or her own narrative  path.  In  the  same  way,  the  scholar in information culture  does not  present a single argument (such as is the case with the journal article), but rather offers an argumentation space, in which  the  user  creates  his  own  lines  of  thought.  One  might  think  of  simulations  of organisms, economical transactions, or historical events, which enable the user not only to discover all kinds of hidden patterns in the domain of study, but also to make the transition from reality to possibility. Just like the post-mimetic arts, modal natural sciences like artificial physics, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence not so much aim at a theoretical imitation of reality, but rather at the creation of new realities (Emmeche 1991). But we could also think of a  Wittgenstein 2.0 database, in which the user can recombine the thousands of remarks Wittgenstein himself hoped to connect in a flexible network in order to go beyond the fixed character of traditional writing (De Mul 2008).

Third, whereas in Theoretic Culture  the connection between individuals and the External Symbolic  Storage  System  is still  loose,  the  connectivity  between  individuals  and  the  External Symbolic Processing  System in the emerging Information  Culture  becomes increasingly  more tight. Whereas the traditional mainframe computer was still clearly separated from the users, with the PC, laptop, smartphone, and smartwatch, human beings and computers come ever closer. And if  we  think  of  the fast-developing field of implanted computer interfaces -  Google  is already experimenting with them (Sherwin 2013) - we appear to be at the edge of the materialization of the hive mind.

Concluding remarks

Let me return to Wikipedia and conclude with the following realistic observations and speculative predictions (it is up to the reader to decide of these predictions refer to an informationistic heaven or hell).

Although  Wikipedia  so  far  has  been  quite  successful as a collective, interactive project, the resulting product in many ways still resembles the products  in the External Symbolic  Storage System of Theoretic Culture. In spite of its hypertextual form and the outsourcing of all kinds of tasks  to  computer  programs  –  according  to  Jemielniak  (2014),  the  English  version of  Wikipedia alone at present has at least 50,000 bot editors, for example one that adds the lemma with the list of villages in China, including their geographical location - it offers the visitor an encyclopedia that in many  respects  still  resembles  the  encyclopedia  projects  that  have  been  launched  from  the Enlightenment on to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

As such Wikipedia also remains prone to the Oracle illusion Lanier (2010) is warning us for.

Although  the  continuous  process  of  updating of Wikipedia prevents the user from believing in timeless truths, the fact remains that at the moment of visiting only one particular truth prevails. This violates the fundamental principle of information culture, that possibility stands higher than actuality. At this moment, so called ʻpoint of view forksʼ - an attempt to evade the neutrality policy by creating  a  new  article  about  a  subject  that  is  already treated  in an article -  are  not permitted in Wikipedia. Although there  is a  good reason for this policy (avoiding confusion) and for the ambition to collect different viewpoints on an issue in a single article, it also evokes the danger of digital Maoism, and of ending in ʻthe middle of the roadʼ of knowledge.

When I try to image the Wikipedia of the future, it will no longer resemble a book, but will rather be a pluralistic argumentation space, an encyclopedic database that will enable the user to traverse and create multiple paths through the subjects, to enter and tweak multimedial simulations of objects and events, and to explore possibilities beyond reality. The user of this virtual multipedia will not only think his own thoughts, but - being connected through the global brain with countless other minds – the thoughts of many others as well. However, this hive mind will not necessarily be monotonotheistic, but –  if we want - might turn  out  to  be  a  domain  of  bewildering  polytheistic creativity instead.


1. Figure1: This picture is copied from Donaldʼs Origins of the Modern Mind (Donald 1991, 305).


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Wertheim, M. 1999. The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace : A History of Space from Dante to the Internet. 1st ed. New

    York: W.W. Norton.

CV Prof. dr. Jos de Mul

Jos de Mul studied philosophy, art history and social sciences at the universities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Nijmegen.   At present  he  is  full  professor  of  Philosophy of Man and Culture  at the Faculty of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam. He has also taught at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, 2007-2008), Fudan University (Shanghai, 2008), and Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto, 2016). In 2012 he became a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, USA.  From 2005 to 2011 he was Vice-President of the Helmuth Plessner Gesellschaft, and from 2007 to 2010 President of the International Association for Aesthetics.

His research is on the interface of philosophical anthropology, philosophy of technology, aesthetics, and history of 19th and 20th century German philosophy. He has published more than 20 books and more than 220 scientific articles and book contributions. His book publications include: Romantic Desire in (Post)Modern Art and Philosophy (State University of New York Press, 1999) , The Tragedy of Finitude. Dilthey's Hermeneutics of Life (Yale University Press, 2004, 2010), Cyberspace Odyssey. Towards a Virtual Ontology and Anthropology(Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), and Destiny Domesticated. The Rebirth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Technology (State University of New York Press, 2014).




Nieuwe druk Kunstmatig van Nature: juni 2024.

Vanaf de derde druk verschijnt Kunstmatig van nature. Onderweg naar Homo sapiens 3.0 bij Uitgeverij Boom. Delen van dit boek behoren tot de VWO eindexamenstof Filosofie  2024 t/m 2028, die de vraag naar de mens in relatie tot wetenschap en techniek als thema heeft.

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