Let There Be Dragons:

Ways of Managing the Unknown


Tom Munnecke

Visiting Scholar

Stanford University

Digital Visions Program

[email protected]


March 20, 2002


††††††††††† Ancient cartographers drew sea monsters and dragons on maps representing unknown territory, adding the label, ďThere be dragons.Ē The field of knowledge management talks much about knowledge, what we know. But what about things which are outside our current knowledge, the unknown? Is there some way of managing ďunknowledge?ĒThis paper focuses on ways of focusing on the unknown and how it drives our knowledge.

††††††††††† The concept of zero was unknown to the ancient Greeks. Its discovery lead to tremendous advances in algebra, calculus, and many other fields. It was a missing nothing to the Greeks, a tough sell to someone who had Roman numerals. After all, they had a symbol for everything they could see, and see everything that they could count. Why go to all the complexity of trying to count nothing? The introduction of zero and the decimal system was a difficult process in the middle ages, a case of society facing a variety of dragons of the unknown.

††††††††††† Facing the unknown is an interesting challenge, as there are an infinite number of things we donít know. How do we go about categorizing and understanding that which we donít know? We will call that which is unknown to be Unknowledge.

The discovery of the periodic chart in chemistry is one example of this. Mendeleyev discovered that if all the elements are arranged in order of their atomic weights, a periodic repetition of properties is obtained.From that, he predicted the properties of missing elements.

That which is unknown can have a huge impact on us.For example, things that donít happen in a hospital can have life-threatening consequences, yet our information systems are based on passing messages only about what did happen.Doctors have 1.2 million terms to describe illness, but virtually none to describe health.Unknowledge Management tackles these dragons head on, creating a pattern language to describe ways of unknowing and how they interact with our ways of knowing.

Unknowledge Pattern Language

††††††††††† In order to discuss the interaction and evolution of the unknown and the known, we introduce the notion of an Unknowledge Pattern Language. The collection of the known and the unknown we will refer to as a ProtoSpace. The Known Space is a collection of that which is known, and the Void is that which is unknown.

††††††††††† In the example above, the periodic chart became a Frame, with each of the elements filling a Slot. Studying the periodic similarities of the elements, Patterns emerged which predicted the properties of elements according to their atomic weight.This pattern created Named Voids which had Expected Properties. Chemists and physicists were drawn to these voids, discovering new elements and studying their properties. An Expectation Failure caused scientists to look for reasons why new discoveries didnít fit in, which then may have triggered a new Frame to be discovered. The chart we see on the wall of our chemistry classes can be called a Garment of the frame, one way of presenting the information. A Wardrobe is a set of garments capable of displaying the frames.

††††††††††† The boundary between the known space and the void is the Linguistic Shell. The named voids in the shell represent links to the Adjacent Possible.This shell is constantly expanding by evolving into the adjacent possible.The named voids have the effect of shaping our knowledge, and become the Stuff which shapes the Void into which the ProtoSpace evolves. This Unknowledge Loop thus drives the evolution of the Known Space into the Unknown Space. The known space Discovers Itself through this process. If the Stuff added to the known space creates named voids which in turn create additional stuff, then it is said to be an Autocatalytic Space.

††††††††††† A collection of named voids may be referred to as a Tapestry. †††††††††††

The Intent with which we create the named voids shapes what we discover.Benegnosis is a way of knowing based on what is positive or good. Malgnosis is a way of understanding by what is negative or wrong.Creating Benegnostic Voids shapes a Benegnostic Space, while creating Malgnostic Voids shapes a Malgnostic Space. Creating a Benegnostic Unknowledge Loop creates a Benegnostic Autocatalytic Space.

††††††††††† The understanding of the discovery and evolution of the known and unknown is the Diachronic Perspective. The understanding of this evolution at a snapshot in time can be said to be a Synchronic Perspective.

Recent discoveries with regard to the Internetís connectivity have lead the study of networks in which connectivity is characterized by the power law. A few nodes are highly connected, while the bulk of them are not.These networks have the property of cascading, which triggers off effects at many different scales simultaneously.Scale free spaces can be viewed as ďstacksĒ of scale-specific perspectives, for example, health may be viewed from a stack of perspectives from the smallest (chemical, genetic, cellular, organ, immune system, person/mind, family, community, nation, species), each corresponding to a certain range of characteristic scales. Within each scale, traditional notions of causality and scientific proof may be applied.Looking at the entire stack from a scale-free perspective allows us to find Intrinsics, which are the scale-free properties of the system. Stacks may interact in scale-free ways, which are called cascades.Creating a garment for the intrinsics of a stack is one way of understanding cascades, part of the ProtoSpace Browser.


††††††††††† The Unknowledge Pattern Language can be applied to a variety of specific domains. Each of these domains is subject to its own pattern language:


  1. Education.Studentsí education can be viewed as an autocatalytic unknowledge loops. They start out with little knowledge, but are given frames which contain slots of named voids, the discovery of which trigger the discovery of more frames, etc.
  2. Humanitarian Uplift. Patterns of uplift may be discovered and communicated as part of a global interaction process. As specific patterns of uplift build positive reputations, then they form an Uplift Tapestry which creates a framework within which people can see which patterns have been most successful, and the named voids in which know patterns may be most beneficial. This creates a benegnostic autocatalytic space, which can trigger cascades of uplift. (see Uplift Pattern Language)
  3. Health. Patterns of health can be discovered whose reputations can allow us to focus on what is most health-inducing, creating a benegnostic autocatalytic space for health and health information. (see Health Pattern Language)
  4. ProtoSpace.Patterns of evolution from the known into the unknown can be represented as a ProtoSpace, a garment showing the diachronic evolution of a linguistic shell.A snapshot of a ProtoSpace creates a synchronic perspective, capable of synchronic activities, such as categorization for retrieval, charts of accounts in accounting systems, medical diagnosis, etc. (See ProtoSpace Pattern Language)
  5. Scale Free Thinking..For example, one garment may view health from the perspective of the intrinsic of Identity, displaying slots of unknowledge of a hypothetical syndrome called ďdisidentityĒIs there are cascading relationship between the loss of identity of an immune system, the loss of identity when a person is terminated from a job, and a community which has lost its community identity? These named voids may or may not prove to part of a cascade, but the scale-free pattern language gives us a language within which to express this unknowledge and incorporate or disprove it accordingly.Similarly, if a theory surfaces that burying a potato at midnight is a cure for cancer and will cause world peace, then scale-free thinking can look at the intrinsics of the theory and look at the effectiveness of this.(If everyone did spent their nights burying potatoes, the world might indeed become a more peaceful place. And if people really did believe that burying a potato would improve their health, the exercise of digging a hole coupled with the placebo effect of the process may indeed improve their health). (see Fractal Pattern Language)