Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Sunday, January 06, 2008

NYTimes: Did proto-science-fiction writer J. Borges predict Wikipedia? (He did, after all, spend his life in a library.)

THEN [1940] “What person, or people, invented Tlön? People, I suppose, for sure, since the idea of a single inventor — some infinite Leibniz working in obscurity and self-effacement — has been unanimously rejected. It's thought that this ‘brave new world’ is the work of a cabal of astronomers, biologists, engineers, metaphysicians, poets, chemists, algebrists, moralists, painters, geometers, ... guided and directed by some shadowy genius. There are many men adept in those diverse disciplines, but few capable of imagination — fewer still capable of subordinating imagination to a rigorous and systematic plan. The plan is so vast that the contribution of each writer is infinitesimal.” Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

NOW Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia project that began in 2001, now has a total of more than nine million articles in more 250 languages. There are more than 75,000 “active contributors,” many of whom remain anonymous. As it grows and becomes ever more influential, its operating logic remains a mystery. A favored saying among Wikipedia’s contributors is: “The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work.”

Reading Borges quotes you can feel a unity of life and wiki:

  • If the pages of this book contain some successful verse, the reader must excuse me the discourtesy of having usurped it first. Our nothingness differs little; it is a trivial and chance circumstance that you should be the reader of these exercises and I their author.
  • The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.
  • No one is anyone, one single immortal man is all men. Like Cornelius Agrippa, I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world, which is a tedious way of saying that I do not exist.
  • The exercise of letters is sometimes linked to the ambition to contruct an absolute book, a book of books that includes the others like a Platonic archetype, an object whose virtues are not diminished by the passage of time.
  • A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.
  • I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars.
  • Life itself is a quotation.

(By the way, anyone who likes Borges should check out Greg Egan.)

The galactic year is the duration of time required for the solar system to orbit once around the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

It invites comparisons to the year (the duration of time it takes the Earth to orbit once about the Sun) and the month (traditionally the duration of time it take the moon to complete one orbit around the Earth). It also provides a conveniently "graspable" unit for thinking about cosmic and geological time periods