Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I'm taking a course on the theory of classification this semester. This is the last classroom course I need for my MLS (the scare quotes are there because I'm an online student rather than on campus), and it really fits the role of capstone course. As my sister (an English major) said of her course on Chaucer, this is the course that my entire educational history has been leading towards. The dialectic of my education began in the natural sciences, moved through math to linguistics, and seems to have achieved synthesis in the study of information—classification and metadata in particular.

So in this course, we're looking at various classification schemes and how they get used. There are classifications from the library world, of course, but also from the sciences, marketing, and other sources. I'm reading Eugene S Hunn's Tzeltal Folk Zoology which ties in with my interests in biology, language, and folksonomies. I'll talk about the book when I have more to say.

But one personally significant aspect of the course is that it has awakened me from my dogmatic slumber with respect to the philosophy of science. For several years, now, I have been influenced by critics of postmodernism that scorned its idea that science is a form of story-telling within its larger culture rather than a body of objective truth. It still seems to me that science and empiricism do deserve their privileged positions in our social discourse because they work (in the sense of helping us to manipulate the world better than we could using random choices). But at the same time, the stories they tell are not the absolute truth, just the best approximations we have to it.

Technorati Tags: , ,