Open Source Knowledge


Note from 2021-10-17: Looking back on this from the future, I feel less strongly about the ability to capture broad value systems in writing, much less argue for their adoption to others. However, the experiment was interesting and I am glad I did it.

Technology today is great at answering specific, specialized questions. Experts on, say, cooking, write articles, make videos, or write books, all of which is well indexed, and you can find it through a Google search.

But forming a question is half the battle. Say you want to learn to cook; you can get help instantly by looking it up. But what prompts you to learn to cook? If you learned to cook for whatever reason, and it ended up being pretty helpful, what says that there isn’t a whole gold mine of questions that you never thought of asking?

Everyone understands how to learn what they don’t know. But how can you learn things that you aren’t even aware you should know? You’re blind to the gaps in your understanding, and think your knowledge is far more complete than it really is. Just think how much pain could be alleviated by someone taking a look at your situation and giving you a list of topics or ideas that you should look into, even if they don’t include any actual notes or information beyond that list. I would guess almost all of it.

This is a huge, fundamental problem that looms over the state of knowledge today. We’ve gotten really good at addressing a lack of information to the first power, but we’re terrible when it’s to the second power — a lack of information about a lack of information.

The way to fix that is to explore. Exploring might yield nothing at all, or it might yield pointers that are so valuable that they change your entire life. The trick is that you don’t know what you’ll get from exploring until you do it, and so deciding on whether or not you should explore often doesn’t make sense at all.

But we can design a system to enable exploration - we can find a way to copy a small set of knowledge from someone else and start improving, changing, and growing it. It’s like adding a starter culture to a substrate - a tiny speck of new information that can then blossom into something far bigger than it once was.

Although far from the optimal solution, publishing a directory of your knowledge for everyone to see is the first, primitive step. If everyone published their notebooks, journals, and thoughts, you could see someone you like or even feel is a good enough peer, look at their notes, and figure out if you can copy any strategies, observations or skills.

I’m publishing my own catalog of ideas and values through my own directory, but the idea is primordial and experimental. You can help by sharing your own Evernote notebook, or make your own wiki, or just by posting the scattered documents you have of random book reviews and life lessons. Maybe some smart people will eventually figure out a way to leverage AI to point out things other people know and you don’t.

Whatever happens, we can finally start doing to knowledge what we did so successfully to code - ruthlessly open sourcing it and removing all barriers to entry. And on a mass scale, everybody could start knowing what they never would’ve known.