Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What do you want? Information!

Many people (both technophobe staff and members of the public) still seem to disparage the internet and its resources, and often blame it for a detrimental change in libraries, who uses them, and how they are used.

A perfect example might be Wikipedia, which many people will tell you is full of errors, bias, hidden agendas and downright false information, as though you would be so much safer in the secure portal of (say) Encyclopedia Britannica. Well, yes, sort of... Encyclopedias do get edited and researched, vetted and assessed, revised again, and all that. So the information they contain seems pretty accurate (if dull). They also respond to change very slowly, have very limited information on obscure subjects (even assuming they offer a listing at all) and they certainly have agendas of their own (EB seems to have quite a US bias, for instance).

Wikipedia, however, in spite of the turf wars on certain 'hot topics' has far more detail on subjects of minority interest, written (for the most part) by enthusiasts, who are experts of a different kind.

They are both useful resources, even if, as Robert Anton Wilson explains:

"When I was working on my historical novels, my wife used to collect old encyclopedias. Every time she was at a bookstore they had an old set of encyclopedias and she’d buy it. And so we had about eight different sets of encyclopedias in the house. So every time I wanted to look up a historical detail, I’d look it up in three or four of the encyclopedias and always—it didn’t take as much as three—usually only two I’d find a disagreement.

If I went through all eight encyclopedias, I’d find eight different answers. Like how old was Mozart when he wrote his first symphony? – he was either 7 or 8 depending on which encyclopedia you’re looking in. This is what provoked me to what I call “Wilson’s 22nd Law: Certitude belongs exclusively to those who only own one encyclopedia. If you own more than one you’d be thoroughly encountering a certain amount of doubt and a certainty about things in general.” There is no one reliable source; there are a dozen different sources all claiming to be reliable. You got to use your own ingenious mind, and your own talent for analysis and skepticism to try and figure out “Which one of these guys really sounds like he might know what he’s talking about?” or “Which one should I bet on?”

Every act of perception should be regarded as a gamble. From the experiments I’ve done and the experiments I’ve led and in my workshops and seminars, that has become overwhelmingly obvious and true to me. Every perception is a gamble.The major problem with the US is that about fifty percent of the population who at least thinks The Bible has all the answers. And then there are libertarians who think Ludwig van Mises has all the answers—except for all the ones who thinks Ayn Rand has all the answers. If you think there’s one book that has the answers, you’re never really going to discover anything and you’re never going to think an original thought. If you find out there’s twelve books with different answers you’re almost forced to start thinking. So I feel the internet is forcing more and more people to do something they have never done in their lives before and just try to make an independent judgment and how to judge between alternatives.

Not sure if I got that quote verbatim, but IMHO - RAW got this right... libraries promote thinking, they don't simply offer answers...we'll miss them if we get rid of them...


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

What do you mean when you say you are not sure you got Wilson's quote verbatim? What are you quoting from?

Anon the Librarian said...

Sorry Tom -

Although I grabbed this from a website, I had every intention of going back to the books to check the quote, because I don't think RAW would have written a sentence like:

So I feel the internet is forcing more and more people to do something they never done in their lives before

and added my own 'have never done' to make it run smoother (and because it looks like a typo) but added the disclaimer as a note to self to go check the original, which I suspect comes from Cosmic Trigger, but may come from one of his interviews. Or we could just check with the website's author, at Sirpagliacci.tumblr

Apologies, I always think no-one reads this stuff, and that I can correct it in my own good time. If you prefer I will put it back to draft until I have it perfectly...

RAW often used this example, so the Encyclopedia quote seemed like the important bit, to me...


Anon the Librarian said...

So as support for the main quote, I can offer this interview between Paul Krassner and RAW, which you can find on Scribd.

PK. Would you relate the tale of Arlen and the Encyclopaedias?

RAW. She liked to collect old encyclopaedias from second-hand bookstores, and at one point we had eight of them. When I wrote my first historical novel -- back in 1980, before I was online--I used them often as a research tool. For instance, I learned that the Bastille was either 90 feet high or 100 feet or 120 feet. This led me to formulate Wilson's 22nd Law: "Certitude belongs exclusively to those who only look in one encyclopaedia."

PK. How has the Internet changed your life?

RAW. It has felt like a neurological quantum jump. Not only does the word-processing software make my compulsive rewriting a lot easier than if I still had to cut my words on rocks or use a typewriter or retreat to similar barbarism, but the e-mail function provides most of my social life since I became "disabled." I do most of my research on the World Wide Web, get my answer in minutes and don't have to hunt laboriously through my library for hours. It has improved my life a thousand ways. I also have a notion that Internet will eventually replace government.

Anon the Librarian said...

I will try to track down the other interview, but it had already been copied across the web, so backtracking to the source can prove hard.

For what it's worth, ignore my Cosmic Trigger reference - that got written long before internet became influential on most people!

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

So you actually melded two different interviews? I don't mean this as a criticism. The comments are indeed related, and your post is very interesting, and I want to point to it from my Robert Anton Wilson blog (rawillumination.blogspot.com). I just wanted to reference it properly.

Anon the Librarian said...

Aw, no, I just lifted the block from Sirpagliacci, before verifying it.

That site, in turn, had got it from Commondense, who also didn't appear to reference it. :-(

I just knew the story from before, which turns up all over RAW interviews.

I love your site by the way, and will make an effort to track down the original source material, but the RaWilsonFans site (for instance) which contains mosbunall of his interviews, doesn't seem to have a Search option!

Anon the Librarian said...

It just dawned on me (having failed to find the full quote in online interviews) that perhaps someone transcribed it from one of his tapes or videos (?) which might explain the typos...

Now I will have to dig through the Maybe Logic DVD, or Robert Anton Wilson Explains Everything (I have them in cassettes!)

Always a pleasure, not a chore!

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