On Tags and Ontologies [en]

Quote from Clay Shirky on the suckiness of ontologies, and how tags-labels are better for classifying ideas.

[fr] Le problème avec les ontologies ou les systèmes de classement hiérarchiques est qu'ils doivent être conçus de façon à  accommoder tout élément à  classer pouvant surgir dans le futur. Les tags-étiquettes créent une structure multi-dimentionelle élastique, qui s'adapte à  mesure à  ce qu'on y classe.

This last point is key — the number one fucked up thing about ontology (don’t get me started, the suckiness of ontology is going to be my ETech talk this year…), but, as I say, the number one thing, out of a rich list of such things, is the need to declare today what contains what as a prediction about the future. Let’s say I have a bunch of books on art and creativity, and no other books on creativity. Books about creativity are, for the moment, a subset of art books, which are a subset of all books.

Then I get a book about creativity in engineering. Ruh roh. I either break my ontology, or I have to separate the books on creativity, because when I did the earlier nesting, I didn’t know there would be books on creativity in engineering. A system that requires you to predict the future up front is guaranteed to get worse over time.

And the reason ontology has been even a moderately good idea for the last few hundred years is that the physical fact of books forces you to predict the future. You have to put a book somewhere when you get it, and as you get more books, you can neither reshelve constantly, nor buy enough copies of any given book to file it on all dimensions you might want to search for it on later.

Ontology is a good way to organize objects, in other words, but it is a terrible way to organize ideas, and in the period between the invention of the printing press and the invention of the symlink, we were forced to optimize for the storage and retrieval of objects, not ideas. Now, though, we can scrap of the stupid hack of modeling our worldview on the dictates of shelf space. One day the concept of creativity can be a subset of a larger category, and the next day it can become a slice that cuts across several categories. In hierarchy land, this is a crisis; in tag land, it’s an operation so simple it hardly merits comment.

Clay Shirky, Many-to-Many


Science des religions n'est pas théologie… [en]

Je fais des études en histoire et sciences des religions. La plupart des gens à  qui je le dis s’imaginent tout d’abord que j’étudie la théologie. Ce n’est pas la même chose.

Quelques réflexions tirées du dernier cours d’epistémologie en science des religions, qui a eu lieu aujourd’hui.

  • La science des religions est non-apologétique.
  • Elle n’a pas de visée eschatologique ou sotériologique.
  • Elle vise à  une transparence de méthode.
  • C’est une approche qui est le produit d’une culture occidentale et judéo-chrétienne.
  • C’est une discipline scientifique qui vise à  une certaine objectivité (avec les réserves détaillées ci-dessous).
  • Discipline en phase d’émancipation (de la théologie en particulier), elle tend à  se définir par la négative: elle n’est pas de la théologie, elle n’est pas de l’anthropologie religieuse, elle n’est pas de la sociologie de la religion…
  • De même, elle peine à  définir son objet (les “religions”).
  • La science des religions vise à  produire un discours “de l’extérieur” qui soit la transposition d’une compréhension “de l’intérieur”.

Ce désir d’objectivité (bien légitime), visant à  produire un discours qui soit détaché de toute appartenance religieuse, pose problème. Tout discours est idéologique – même celui des sciences dites “exactes”.

Même si je n’ai aucune affiliation religieuse, cela me met dans une certaine classe d’appartenance religieuse. L’exemple de cela que j’aime à  donner est celui de l’athéisme – c’est une prise de position idéologique aussi forte que l’adhérence à  une religion ou à  une croyance.

Ce désir d’objectivité paraît aujourd’hui ne pouvoir être exaucé que par cette transparence de méthode que j’ai mentionnée aussi: je dis qui je suis, comment je procède, ce que je veux montrer – je mets tout sur la table afin que l’on puisse me suivre.

Je ne veux pas débattre ici de terminologie. Que l’on dise histoire des religions, science(s) des religions, histoire et science(s) des religions, history or religions, ou encore religious studies… je considère pour le moment que si on parle de la même chose, il est inutile de nous battre sur les termes.

Jewish but not Zionist [en]

What people don’t understand is that you can be Jewish without being Zionist. You can be Jewish without approving of the politics of Israel. And that is the position most of us find ourselves in.

She said this a few months ago, and I’ve been wanting to make a note of it ever since.

It struck me as very important to remember—especially as I find myself guilty of abusive generalisations from time to time. I just hadn’t thought of this issue in those terms before that. Not that it didn’t make perfect sense once it was said, of course.

Non-Religious Buddhism (Batchelor, closing words) [en]

How to create an authentic community, which provides a sound basis for the emergence of a culture while optimizing individual freedom, may be the single most important question facing those practicing the dharma today.

One of the strengths of religious Buddhism is its ability to respond unambiguously to this question through continued establishment of hierarchic institutions which have weathered centuries of turmoil and change. While such institutions may provide excellent settings for sustained training in meditation and refection, it is questionable whether they alone can provide a sufficient basis for the creation of a contemporary culture of awakening. The democratic and agnostic imperatives of the secular world demand not another Buddhist Church, but an individuated community, where creative imagination and social engagement are valued as highly as philosophic reflection and meditative attainment.

An agnostic Buddhist vision of a culture of awakening will inevitably challenge many of the time-honored roles of religious Buddhism. No longer will it see the role of Buddhism as providing pseudoscientific authority on subjects such as cosmology, biology, and consciousness as it did in prescientific Asian cultures. Nor will it see its role as offering consolating assurances of a better afterlife by living in accord with the worldview of karma and rebirth. Rather than the pessimistic Indian doctrine of temporal degeneration, it will emphasize the freedom and responsibility to create a more awakened and compassionate society on this earth. Instead of authoritarian, monolithic institutions, it could imagine a decentralized tapestry of small-scale, autonomous communities of awakening. Instead of a mystical religious movement ruled by autocratic leaders, it would foresee a deep agnostic, secular culture founded on friendships and governed by collaboration.

Stephen Batchelor, in Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 114-115 [end of book]

[emphasis mine]

Meditation and Death (Batchelor) [en]

I’m still reading Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor; more quoting for your enlightenment (hopefully):

It might be that all I can trust in the end is my integrity to keep asking such questions as: Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do? And then to act on them.


A reflection like this does not tell you anything you do not already know: that death is certain and its time uncertain. The point is to consider these facts regularly and slowly, allowing them to percolate through you, until a felt-sense of their meaning and implication is awakened. Even when you do this reflection daily, sometimes you may feel nothing at all; the thoughts may strike you as repetitive, shallow, and pointless. But at other times you may feel gripped by an urgent bodily awareness of imminent mortality. At such moments try to let the thoughts fade, and focus the entirety of your attention in this feeling.

This meditation counters the deep psychosomatic feeling that there is something permanent at the core of ourself that is going to be around for a while yet. Intellectually, we may suspect such intuitions, but that is not how we feel most of the time. This feeling is not something that additional information or philosophy alone can affect. It needs to be challenged in its own terms.

Reflective meditation is a way of translating thoughts into the language of feeling. It explores the relation between the way we thing about and perceive things and the way we feel about them. We find that even the strongest, seemingly self-evident intuitions about ourselves are based on equally deep-seated assumptions. Gradually learning to see our life in another way through reflective meditation leads to feeling different about it as well.

Stephen Batchelor, in Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 31-32

[emphasis mine]

Agnosticism [en]

A citation about agnosticism that I really agree with.

Right, I’ll post this post before I dive back into google, amazon and library sites. Bibliography research on the net for one’s dissertation can be quite as addictive as chatting, you know?

Agnosticism: I often hear people say they are “agnostic”, and on digging a bit, they come around to saying that they “vaguely believe in something, not quite sure what, but don’t belong to any religion”. That is not agnosticism. Some sort of deism, maybe, but definitely not agnosticism.

Here are a few paragraphs written by Stephen Batchelor, in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. They aren’t the final word on what agnosticism is, but I what he says makes a lot of sense to me.

The force of the term “agnosticism” has been lost. It has come to mean: not to hold an opinion about the questions of life and death; to say “I don’t know” when you really mean “I don’t want to know.” When allied (and confused) with atheism, it has become part of the attitude that legitimizes an indulgent consumerism and the unreflective conformism dictated by mass media.

For T. H. Huxley, who coined the term in 1869, agnosticism was as demanding as any moral, philosophical, or religious creed. Rather than a creed, though, he saw it as a method realized through “the rigourous application of a single principle.” He expressed this principle positively as: “Follow your reason as far as it will take you,” and negatively as: “Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” This principle runs through the Western tradition: from Socrates, via the Reformation and the Enlightenment, to the axioms of modern science. Huxley called it the “agnostic faith.”


An agnostic Buddhist eschews atheism as much as theism, and is as reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with meaning. For to deny either God or meaning is simply the antithesis of affirming them. Yet such an agnostic stance is not based on disinterest. It is founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know. It confronts the enormity of having been born instead of reaching for the consolation of belief. It strips away, layer by layer, the views that conceal the mystery of being here—either by affirming it as something or denying it as nothing.

Such deep agnosticism is an attitude toward life refined through ongoing mindful awareness. It may lead to the realization that ultimately there is neither something nor nothing at the core of ourselves that we can put a finger on. Or it may be focused in an intense perplexity that vibrates through the body and leaves the mind that seeks certainty nowhere
to rest.

Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 17-19

I’m reading his book following a class I went to last semester on “American Buddhism”. I’m not a Buddhist, nor do I think that Buddhist teachings have specially more value than any other. I’m hoping to write a bit more on Buddhism in the west shortly, though – as it is definitely
related to my dissertation topic.

Scientologie [en]

A suivre: suite à  la censure par google d’une partie des pages de xenu.net, le célèbre site voué à  la lutte contre l’Eglise de Scientologie, une discussion sur la Scientologie, à  laquelle je participe activement (la discussion, pas la Scientologie!)

Scientology [en]

The CoS (Church of Scientology) is obviously pretty fearful of the work done by Operation Clambake, as it has seemingly asked Google to stop indexing this site.

See the article on Wired, and the email that xenu.org received from Google.

The latest news at Operation Clambake and a quick bout of googling tells us that Google is indexing most of the site again. If you think the work Operation Clambake is doing is useful, don’t hesitate to:

This piece of news gave me the motivation necessary to put online the reviews I had written for Fathom5 and AstoundingWeb (when they were alive), and in particular the review of Operation Clambake.

[from c-est-tout.com]

Paroles de Maeterlinck II [en]

Notre soif de justice vient uniquement de l’idée anthropomorphe que nous nous faisons de Dieu.


Le libre arbitre et la préscience divine sont ou universelle sont inconciliables.


Chercher Dieu, c’est se chercher sur les hauteurs.


Maurice Maeterlinck, L’ombre des ailes

Idées [en]

Depuis un moment déjà , je prends conscience que la cause de nombre de mes troubles “existentiels” – comme on dit – est mon refus de me prononcer quant à  ce que j’ai appelé récemment le Fond du Monde. Etonnamment, cela me pose des problèmes tout particulièrement dans mon travail académique.

Une partie de moi aimerait profondément pouvoir croire en une des visions proposées pour ce Fond du Monde – mais aucune ne me satisfait. Non pas parce que je n’aime pas ce qu’elles racontent, mais parce qu’elles sont insuffisantes. Aucune ne permet de rendre compte de la vie telle que je la vis. Aucune non plus ne semble permettre de faire cohabiter les différentes “réalités” auxquelles je tiens.

Depuis quelques jours, je commence à  entrevoir la possibilité d’être en paix avec cet état des choses. Merci les sceptiques (Jonathan Barnes), merci la phénoménologie (Paul Ricoeur). Ce que je commence à  voir, c’est que pour vivre, agir, être dans le monde, je n’ai peut-être pas besoin d’être fixée sur ce Fond du Monde

Je peux dès lors accepter la suspension de mon jugement sur certains sujets comme une chose positive, un choix, plutôt que comme un état transitoire dont je désire sortir à  tout prix, ou l’aveu de mon incapacité à  voir la réalité telle qu’elle est.

Ceci n’est qu’une piste, quelques réflexions qui rendent peut-être compte de l’endroit où me mènent en ce moment mes pensées. Ce n’est probablement pas le bout du voyage. Je vous tiendrai au courant.