I think about the underlying principles of the Wikimedia projects.
An open (naive) letter to Jimmy Wales
Hello, I just had a reflexion about Wikipedia, something like a sudden understanding. I never looked behind the scenes and was just a casual reader so far. So after writing my chaotic thoughts and wondering if it would be of some use to the strategic deciders of Wikipedia, I looked for a contact mail in the Wikimedia foundation. Blessed was my ignorance! I discovered the organisational - and philosophical - depth of it, and I'm humbled and baffled. My message is obsolete before reaching any recipient. After discovering the founding principles of the Wikimedia projects and guessing the years of discussion behind the concepts about editing strategies I feel ridiculous with my two pence. The community is obviously doing a great, smart job. Future wasn't forgotten and the multicratic forms of managements seem well suited to warranty independence.
Beside being a slow thinker and a fast intuitionist I hierarchize poorly my thoughts, knowing that the structure is there in my head if I ever need to explicit it, but already reaching for new thoughts. I even more rarely take the time to organize my written words. And I'm not fluent in English. The text may look deliquescent to you but I believe the content is still there.
So what should I do with my belated ideas? I think even the fool on the hill enventually is needed. Anyway, anyone is entitled - or doomed - to have an opinion and here was mine.
Note: originally the mail was adressed to Jimmy Wales. I added some wiki format.
Hello, I just watched in real time how a fake entry was created in Wikipedia and was concerned about the future of the Public Encyclopedia. If a delirious mind made up a ficcion in the past and uploaded his lies unto Wikipedia, who would distinguish the truth? What if the fake events are so obscure that nobody can check them? What if the madman, year after year, forges proofs inside or outside Wikipedia, and then one day the ignorant reader would rather believe this net of lies rather than doubt it, because the scale is unbalanced: positive testimony, by their sheer number, would outweight refutations. Is consensual belief enough to make the right model for Wikipedia?
I'd like to pinpoint one of the problem of a too successful wiki: the belief, what makes the historic fact, is but the number of people believing it. Thus, it is easy to rewrite history if more people support a lie than people knowing the truth. As if historical reality was hereafter no more than a question of vote, of majority. As if the struggle for the truth of Past was no more than a question of mediatic rhetoric, of power of cultural influence.
What is valid for a historic truth also is for a scientific truth: the day when lie-believers have more weight than the voices of scientists, than all the scientific community, then the scientific section of wikipedia will be written by religious revisionnists and the battle of wikipedia will be lost.
I wonder thus, if Wikipedia really wants to become an encyclopedia for humanity of the times to come, how does it plan to preserve mankind to fall into some sort of devil's dictionary where any reference to distinguish and determine reality, and truth, from false and imaginary, would be written and manipulated by religious fanatics or power-thirsty men?
I also wonder wether a solution would be to build an encyclopedia of the proof: Any argumentation allowing, for a given article, to link its premises to its conclusion, would be transparent, justified, explained, even if it means several pages of developping (it could be a separate tab) so that everyone, with his own mind, can note if there are logical jumps or contradictions, or speculative assumptions. Something deeper than the current debate tab, some kind of epistemological analysis. It would be important also to explain why alternate models attempting to cover the same topic are now considered obsolete, so that we don't forget our mistakes.
Physics would have an easier time to keep out of manipulation since it can explicit all the replicable experiments upon which it bases itself to elaborate a theory. It can also explicit why a theory was rejected and mention the proofs.
Wikipedia must be more than a "blabla" dictionary, it must be an encyclopedia of the knowledge: what we believe and WHY. Not just long definitions, but how each brick of knowledge fits and links itself to the whole.
We must develop the strategies to detect and discriminate true from false, a valid reasoning from a crazy one.
Wikipedia is not at all safe from its success. If a faction edit faster the articles than they are corrected, it's a coup d'état on an admitted truth. This hypothetical power on the reality of wikipedia by a private institution for personnal interests would lead to a scandalous manipulation of truth, and since revealing the exploit would unveil the weakness, people would lose faith in Wikipedia.
Wikipedia without trust would be no reference no more, and thus would be destroyed as a living project. The very principle of its existence is the trust that it is generating. There's no need to capture Wikipedia to kill it: just showcasing that it is possible would be enough to undermine the trust.
I believe we need to protect Wikipedia because it is our patrimony. It belongs to mankind. We must defend it as we would defend a military objective: it IS a strategical ressource. It is a tool that allows to take control of what the future generations will hold as true. How do you know, right now, if and how much Wikipedia is being taken over? The dream of tyrants is to have more power on a piece of reality than the majority. What better piece of reality there is than the one which defines beliefs? I think the threat is real. What will happen if Wikipedia cease to be the property of peoples just when 99% of the people refer to it? Will the Wiki-team still have the control? Will they still be heard when they contradict the Wikipedia articles? You'll die someday, but Wikipedia may linger for centuries. It is wether the tool that will get rid of obscurantism once for all, or will anchor obscurantism until the end if it falls in the hands of an inquisition.
Should Wikipedia really aim for the monopoly of knowledge?
Wikipedia generates its own definition and the beliefs linked to it. How to fight against a universal Wikipedia that by its very principle federates the minds? If this monster is infected, from where will you prove it false? Which trustworthy source will be able to deny its "truths"?
There is some god-like power in Wikipedia which is maybe on the verge (in this 21st century) to become apodictic. People born with Wikipedia may already be destined to believe unconditionnally in it. If Wikipedia is to be merely successful, it will be trusted and will be warranted to influence greatly the social reality. This institution must limit its growth or become aware of its own danger.
Besides stocking knowledge, is it also promoting critical thinking? It's a heavy but mandatory task to develop a strategy of survival and independance, for the eternity. Wikipedia must win in all the futures, in all the possible scenarii. Never must Wikipedia lose to obscurantists, because they may keep their advantage for millenia. We're starting this war against our futures from the good side and a considerable advance: Wikipedia is currently more trusted and used than Conservapedia.
I hope that you mesure the amplitude of what you created, and that you understand that it will lead to the definition of truth for mankind: are we entering an era of universal science and critical thinking? Will we walk the lucid path? Will we build the Civilisation of Light? The next step for the Homo Sapiens Sapiens? Have we found and are we founding the successors of the decadent occidental empires? Or will private interests ride Wikipedia and lead mankind into orwellian societies? Will our minds be forever prisonners of secular powers? Will our history be stuck on the year 1984? Are we entering the Civilsation of Nightmare, a new millenium of darkness?
Ironicaly, what the religious call the end of the world would be their own hegemony. The late Humanity has never been so much in the dark than when its various churches attempted to control the definition of its reality, in a totalitary way. The spectre of religious intolerance is rising again in USA, Europe and middle-east. Let's pray (or rather, let's act) that the fanatics won't coalesce. If blind-faith-driven people would fight atheists, agnostics, skeptics and scientists, who would win? What should the 5% do regarding the 95% when a conflict is coming?
The Res Publica
We must make Wikipedia a public thing, a Res Publica. The noosphere needs a Republic, a haven and organisation warrantying safety.
A tyrant may by force control our reality, but never should he make us believe that he's right. You are the guardians of this freedom: the freedom of truth. Keep it out of reach from tyrants. Don't let these would-be sheperds mislead mankind into the hell that would be the eternal ignorance.
Getting close to truth yields an incredible power on our futur. Leading us astray has this incredible power to make us powerless.
Whoever understands himself can cure itself and avoid running into death. Are your eyes wide open, Wikipedia? Are you safe from the bad choices concerning your future?
On a more general note, I think everything is imbricated. A serie of events led to the atomic bomb in 1945. Another is leading to unreasonable, megalomaniac dictators in North Corea or Iran with the will to use it. Two independant threads participating to a destructive outcome. Will understanding and wisdom arrive in time to defuse it? Is Wikipedia indirectly promoting constructive visions, and will it be enough to defuse the explosive dead-ends of our civilisation?
We must start fighting for more that just our survival: we must secure the future of earth and mankind. Be conscious of the weapon that is Wikipedia and decide if you really want random fate to use it. Orienting the future seems a better strategy. Understand the impact of the least of your acts. Know when you are touching something that will influence the future. Wikipedia is one of those things. I hope Wikimedia is really up to the challenge. Pronoein 09:10, 6 January 2010 (UTC)Pronoein