Theory Building is people making sense of the world around them. A better name for it might be: MakingSense?.
People look at the world around them, and talk with other people about what they see, trying to understand what is going on. They build a “theory” or a “model” about how things work.
This is true for all people. Everybody is involved in making sense of the world around them.
Some people might not phrase it this way, or even consciously think of it this way. And most people don’t use the word “theory” to refer to what they’re building. Most people will look at you funny if you say: “You are a person, alive, and therefor, you are busy making theory in your head.”
But we all do it.
Whether you’re a scientist making a theory about how atoms and molecules work, or a bored housewife making a theory about why the characters in a soap opera are choosing to do what they choose to do– you are engaged in theory building.
And regularly, when people get together, whether scientists or housewives, the people talk with one another to share their theories, and to work out what they think is a good theory.
We are doing it now, as we speak.
I’ve observed that the phrase “sense-making” is being used in communities that study just this. We had proposed “making sense,” so it works out.
Most people who are new to wiki don’t understand how to use it to build “theory,” which I believe is one of the major things that we do on this wiki, that they do on MeatballWiki, etc.,.
By “theory,” I mean: webs of ArgumentPyramids, that are constructed over time, whether intentionally or no. That the theories are visible, and not just in our heads, is significant; they are documents, not messages. (DocumentsVsMessages.)
Most people, encountering wiki, don’t know that process. HeatherJames noted this somewhere on here, I forget exactly where. She said something like: “Lion, you folk are following a process, and it’s not immediately apparent. It has something to do with how you assemble ideas, part for part.”
We actually follow a process here to do it, I just don’t think we’ve ever articulated what that process is.
I think that’s important, I think it’s something we should do. I intend to do it, some day, some time.
Alex: I think what I’m looking to write is very different than what you’re writing here.
I need a page on theory building, because I’m watching people at other places struggle to build wiki, that do theory building work, but they’re using the wiki all wrong:
Actually, a lot of these wiki have the trust and community stuff down. They get that part. They even get the SoftSecurity part.
What they don’t know how to do, is how to use wiki to build up theory, and to sustain the development of theory, like we do here.
When HeatherJames came here and told us: “There’s something about the way that you all introduce small ideas first, and then build them slowly into larger ideas,” (or however she wrote it,) this is what she was talking about.
It’s not just “problem solving.”
It’s like: We’re talking about a program. The program solves a problem. But understanding that programs solves problems, and explaining that programs are made to solve problems, doesn’t help you understand how the C programming language works, or something like that. To learn C, you need to pull out books that teach you: “Okay, this is how the C programming language works.”
Similarly, we need a set of pages that describes, “Okay, this is how you use wiki to build a theory.”
Some of the important things I think to link from the TheoryBuilding page are:
Building theory is my direct target here.
I’m not sure I can make an effective contribution here, but I do find myself struggling with these issues. (In fact, these concerns are a major reason I am moving at ‘glacial’ speeds in trying to develop the WhatIsMoney page.)
I’m not sure whether I get the idea of this page right. My wiki engagement is probably based on a mix of experiences and active and reactive procedures:
The basic procedure is simple:
Wiki is an unfolding process. If you like the view of an unfolding flower bud, keep that in your mind and identify yourself, other people, your wiki community with this bud. Unfolding is the fundamental cooperative procedure of life, a reason for joy. (This is basically thinking of ChristopherAlexander who is, after all, influencing WardCunningham, the reason why Wiki exists).
I the problem the word “theory?”
I guess theory does not describe attaching information about people, groups, and projects.
However, let’s suppose we separate out those things.
Then we’re basically talking about ideas. We’re basically saying, (separating out those important things for the moment,) “We accumulate ideas. We build ideas on top of one another.”
I’m calling that “accumulation:” a “theory.”
“This is the Blah-blah community’s theory of how such-and-such works.”
“Here’s the C2 theory on X.”
The theory doesn’t need to say just one thing.
To my mind, most any explanation is backed by a model, by a theory.
The theory is reused in multiple situations, to solve multiple problem.
Demonstration: Just take a page, and look at all the different contexts it is used in. And then look at all the different context those pages are used in.
Ta-dah: We see that this page is part of a theory, that has multiple problem-solving applications.
Now, what’s not included, is things about groups, and projects, and individuals.
However: Theory, either articulated or no, is what they use, to get their work done.
Perhaps the problem is that you think that theory is, by definition, impracticable. That theory is clouds in the sky. But I would argue that every single person is constantly using a theory to decide what to do, how to do it, what their role is, and why they are doing it. Everyone has some sort of reason in their head.
We can use “model,” if the word work better here.
On wiki, we are communicating and building models, if that helps.
To answer “Lion feels we need to document this on our wiki.”…
The implication seems to be: “Lion’s crazy for thinking we need to document something that everybody already knows.”
No. We don’t need to document it for ourselves.
We need to document it, somebody needs to document it, so that I can stop having to write out brand new explanations everytime people start a wiki, and ask me for help.
Generally, I peer in, and see them making horrible, horrible, horrible mistakes. Frequently, they get frustrated, because it’s “not working” or “not helping.”
I posit that people here don’t know how much they picked up from successful use at C2 and MeatballWiki, and other wiki that figured it out. But it’s not at all obvious, looking at how people who are interested in wiki, but don’t know how to use it, - looking at how they think to use it.
And they make bona fida mistakes. They don’t reuse existing pages. They don’t know to build existing pages. They make questions for links. There’s a lot of things they don’t know.
So, no: I don’t think we particularly need to document this here, on our wiki, because we already know it. But it needs to be documented somewhere friendly, as TrustedLinkLanguage, so that I don’t have to write it out over and over and over again for people.
I’m feeling just a tad bit frustrated here.
I don’t think everyone here realizes that they know what they know. Try talking with people who don’t use wiki, and see what they do. They earnestly don’t know what to do with it.
I mean: They get the whole “it’s easy to make links to things.” But they see that as a way to make navigation between pages, not as a way to link concepts. Yes?
Navigation between pages: “Oh! I’ll organize a website into a tree structure, and everyone will be able to find things!”
Link concepts: “Oh! I’ll name my ideas, and when I refer to them, link to them.”
Very different ways of thinking. And the first is what most people think of, first.
Now, if you tell people, “Wait- You can link concepts!” … You tell them that they can link idea to idea, and that you can establish a LinkLanguage, that you can make it so that if you want to learn ore about something, and so on, … …they’ll just look at you with a blank stare.
Because the #1 thing they’re thinking in their head is: “Why?” Because they have real difficulty seeing past what they’re holding in their head: The navigation maze that they can construct with their easy-linking ability. (I’m supposing that’s what’s going on in their heads, at least.)
This is why you get people starting out wiki with large lists of categories, and what not. “Here’s where we’ll talk about X, Here’s where we’ll talk about Y, and here’s where we’ll talk about Z. If you’re going to talk about Z, do it over there, because that’s the space for Z.” You’ve seen this, right?
Because they see themselves as creating a maze, a hierarchy, a tree, whatever, and that’s what the easy linking is for in their heads.
So, I want to answer that “Why” question for them. I want to say: “Look, you can connect ideas. You can build theories and explanations. You can teach really big ideas this way.”
The hypertext model as we understand it is very different than the structured navigation that they’re thinking in their heads.
Lion, maybe you didn’t note that I agree with you to an extent that I was already mor on concentrating on the question “how do we do it” by talking about “how do I do it” and “what is going on” that by talking about the “what” (is it theory or something else).
I do not think that words are that important, in that context. You can call it theory but most people will not be interested in theory and listen more when you talk about knowledge. Or patterns that embody knoowledge to solve problems. Or world-view that creates orientational knowledge to help find a way through the jungle. Or (pattern) language that gives us the tools for all that.
Theory, language, patterns, knowledge, truth, perception, reality, cognition … all mingles to a gigantic Gordian knot - and Wiki seems to promise a way to cope with it.
With respect to the “newcomer link problem” I would say, that these are normal problems similar to the problems programmers had when “object oriented programming” came along. It’s a totally different way to look at things, departing from “linear procedure and one focus of execution” to “network of objects reacting to messages with no single focus”.
In a similar way, working with a wiki is a kind of meta-communication, not just being and moving and talking in the linear process of personal existance but being an active agent in a network of friends, communities and ideas who is working within this network, building this network. Perhaps TheNetworkIsTheTheory?.
Oh, okay. No, I apologize for not noting your interest; Now that you point it out, I can clearly see it. 😊 What I see now is that you’re going beyond just the “here’s what we do inside the wiki,” and connecting it up with “and here’s what I do in my life that connects up with it.” I remember also “WikiAsYouLearn,” which is sort of like what you’re talking, but focusing on only one activity, the process of learning.
I’m getting excited now, because I can see a good diagram that shows the way people interact with wiki, as we’re conceiving it here.
Hey! That might be a good title! “InteractingWithWiki?.” How about that?
Then we can point out how, within the wiki, there is the theory that builds up over time. And we can show the people around it, doing things in life, attaching in notes. And we can show people inside, hooking them together. We could put a little list of recommendations and stuff, (nay to question pages, make pages with short, memorable names, aggressively interlink pages together,) on how to make that process work on the inside.
We could also show the other wiki you talk about, and how we drop off notes with the wiki we know about, care about. Perhaps we can do some little micro-integration with the roles, focusing on the posivie roles, and leaving out the negative roles (from this diagram.)
We can draw the guy who experiences something, and in his thought cloud, asks himself, “What could be of interest to wiki X,Y,Z or to me so to note it?”
But,… …it sees a bit too general. I want something I can point people to, when I’m explaning, specifically: “Here’s why making questions is a bad idea. Here’s why you want to name pages this way.”
I need something, right now, more specifically towards the interaction with the wiki from within the wiki. It should be interlinked with the explanation of InteractingWikiWiki?, but it whould be about page creation, page interlinking, stuff like that…
I think I like that.
I’m certain that we will need to refactor this page, so I won’t hesitiate about adding these thoughts that have formulated whilst watching this page evolve.
Perhaps another personal perspective on Why? will help crystalize some of the “How to … theory” that Lion is struggling with. …
“I think, therefore I am.”
Being SelfAware?, I know that …
(Not to switch subject on you, Hans, I just was inspired to say this now, and it’s relevant to this page.)
The concept of TheoryBuilding or ConnectingYourIdeas? is needed, independent of the need for talking about more general how InteractingWithWiki? works, because you find yourself in a conversation with someone, and it goes something like this:
To which you respond:
This is why we need this page.
We need to talk about that phenomenon explicitely, and about why that is so important.
Because it’s not at all obvious to most people.
They just look at wiki, and see easy document storage. If they see the links, they just see a way to make a maze, to make a navigational system.
But they don’t see the ideas intimately stiched together. And why should they? They’ve never seen anything like it before.
I am smiling happily in a circle of pink petals, because I finally feel that this page’s existance is validated.
More page name ideas: HowToUseLinksOnWiki? or HowToConnectYourIdeasOnWiki?. Or maybe multiple pages; for example, WikisCanBeUsedForTheoryBuilding? (or, to put it negatively, WikisAreMoreThanADocumentStore?) to introduce people to the idea, and then HowToConnectIdeasOnWiki? for our suggestions on how to do it.
The conversation you wrote brings out another property of wikis that I often neglect; hypertext. When introducting wikis and distinguishing them from other media (CategoryWhyWiki), I often focus on the collaborative whiteboard metaphor or the versioning or (indirectly) the document-based nature of the wiki. But the hypertextuality of it is another equally critical property. Wikis are:
The hypertext means that the content in wikis is different than just a versioned collection of textual documents (think essays in a book, or a folder full of MS Word files). Surely humanity is still discovering the implications of HyperText, but one surprising (to me) consequence is: you can form a LinkLanguage.
This is, sadly, something that I find impossible to explain to people who haven’t seen it.
I’ve shown this page to three people now, and they’ve had “ah-hah!” experiences, reading it, and talking with me about it.
For when reworking, I want to include:
(EditHint: would it make sense to copy Lion’s list of recommended things to do, and super-common mistakes to avoid, to somewhere like WikLossary http://wiklossary.nearlythere.com/ or WikiBooks:Wiki_Science ? )
The original wiki focused on programming. Every programmer learns many things about writing programs. There are many, many similarities in how a program grows with how a Wiki grows. So programmers didn’t have to learn a whole lot to get comfortable with “the wiki way”.
Let me just blurt out some of those similarities, off the top of my head:
The first wiki could assume that people were programmers who already knew all this stuff.
But (non-programming) people don’t necesisarily need to learn all this stuff before using wiki. The “undo button” feature of wiki seems to be fairly tolerant of people who don’t know all this stuff the first few times they edit. Perhaps if we’re lucky they will figure some of this out after playing with wiki for a while. But other things people take a long time (perhaps never) figure out on their own, leading to those super-common mistakes.
Still thinking about more specific names for this page. Another one: BuildingLinkLanguage?.
Btw, this page makes me imagine yet another written artifact we could make to help people with wiki: a short of book, or set of tutorials or “lessons”, with chapters, that give examples of joining or starting a wiki community. Starting with the basics like, “editing a page”, “checking RecentChanges”, and then getting into more “advanced” topics like “Building a link language”, and maybe even some tips for things like “Dealing with spammers”, “Dealing with trolls”, “Conflict resolution”, etc. Yes, MeatballWiki and CommunityWiki already have much of this content, but it isn’t organized into an easy-to-read “book”.
This joins the four other artifacts I have in mind (not that I made up any of these ideas, I’m just saying that I keep them in mind). So the five are now:
I think I actually like “TheoryBuilding,” now, and here’s some reasons why:
People may be uncomfortable with the word “theory,” but it now seems to me that this is a hurdle that they have to cross, if they want to understand what is happening on wiki, over time.
You could use the wiki just to build LinkLanguage, and work to aggressively avoid any theory formation.
But inevitably, theory formation happens.
People enjoy freedom and autonomy.
The concept of “theory” then presents an affront to the person’s intelligence: “Am I not free? I am not limited by my ideas; I have ideas, ideas do not have me. I owe allegience to no one, no philosophy, no thing. You cannot categorize me, you do not know me, and I will have no truck with this dilly dally.”
Well, it’s a theory.
There are arguments to be made to support the idea(s,) but after the arguments, if you still feel that way, you find yourself in quite a different place than where you started: We have to confess bonding with others influencing ourselves, and we have to confess that thoughts and ideas and theories have a staying power that directly shapes us. No word is necessary on whether they have absolute power over us, or if we have absolute power over them; It is merely enough to know that we have a deep relationship with them. It’s how the PassagesOfPerspective works.
(JohnAbbe has a neat thing he says: “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. And the part is greater than it’s role in the whole.” I think that phrase came out of the group he worked with, specificly on the subject of groups and individual-group interactions. It’s cool to see when groups get neat, broadly applicable insights, like that.)
So we should not shy away from theory, which every single person in the world holds, which every single person in the world develops, which every single person in the world lives by.
Understanding our relationship with the theories we host is an important part as we mature individually, and as we collectively mature into the HiveMind.
So let’s stand firm on this one.
I don’t think the word theory is too specific (i.e. that it doesn’t apply here), I think it is too general. I don’t disagree that we do “theory building”. But a group can do “theory building” in many ways. The group could meet once a week and talk. The group can publish individually-authored papers in a group periodical. The group can write letters to each others.
You could have many of these structures on wiki, even. You could build theory by just having a long-running conversation on a single “discussion” page. You could have each wiki page be a 20-page long essay written individually by a single group member. You could have only HomePages, and have all of your theory building carried out via “messages” to each other.
But there is a particular kind of theory building process that we want to talk about here. You identify specific aspects of this process in your list of mistakes people commonly make (repeated here for clarity):
So, to distinguish this kind of TheoryBuilding from, say, what happens in the scientific community via journal articles, I think we need a more specific name.
I see your point. “WikiTheoryBuilding?,” or something like that.
I was thinking that because it’s CommunityWiki, we’re already in the wiki namespace. 😊
BuildingLinkLanguage? does not hit the bullseye.
Bayle, I change my mind- you’re right: TheoryBuilding is it’s own topic. And it’s something we should talk about. It’s relevant to the AI thread, to the meaning-building thread, and so on, and so forth. (I also want to introduce: “RelevantStories?.”) We’ll link to WikiTheoryBuilding?.
It’s clear in my mind. these are two conversations.
I’m thinking about moving big chunks of wiki-specific stuff (“super-common mistakes people make with wiki”) from this page to BestPracticesForWikiTheoryBuilding.
So … do these 2 pages, the general “TheoryBuilding” and the super-specific “BestPracticesForWikiTheoryBuilding” cover what we have talked about so far, or do we also need an intermediate “WikiTheoryBuilding?” article also?
I assume you mean “use the 2 currently existing pages for now, and delay creating a 3rd page WikiTheoryBuilding? until it is clearly needed”. Even though “BestPracticesForWikiTheoryBuilding” (the name) is exactly the sort of long, bulky name that “BestPracticesForWikiTheoryBuilding” (the article) currently discourages.
Define external redirect: HumansKeepTheories HowToConnectIdeasOnWiki LongPage InteractingWithWiki NetworkTours PrematureCategories TendingYourWikiDatabase WikisCanBeUsedForTheoryBuilding HowToConnectYourIdeasOnWiki BuildingLinkLanguage MakingSense IntroducePagesSlowly SelfAware WikisAreMoreThanADocumentStore RelevantStories QuestionTitles DistributeIdeas WikiCanBeUsedForTheoryBuilding ConnectingYourIdeas WikiTheoryBuilding HumansAndTheories HowToUseLinksOnWiki InteractingWikiWiki SoftScience TheNetworkIsTheTheory CaringForYourDatabase LinkYourPages