COGNITIVE MODELS OF HYPERNIETZSCHE.DYNAMIC ONTOLOGY AND HYPER-LEARNING
HyperNietzsche is a research infrastructure that enables a delocalized community of specialists to work in a cooperative and cumulative manner and to publish the results of their work on the Internet. HyperNietzsche is not merely a library of well-indexed and searchable electronic texts and studies made available on line, nor an electronic edition made available to the public as a finished product. Rather, it is a kind of electronic research matrix that creates a virtual workspace with public access to original sources for Nietzsche research, including works, manuscripts, letters and biographical documents. Beyond these original sources, HyperNietzsche contains an ever-increasing collection of scholarly essays that have been vetted for publication by an editorial board of leading Nietzsche specialists.
From a methodological point of view, this enterprise transposes the concepts of Open Source from computer science to the Humanities. But science is by definition an open source enterprise to the extent that it is an open, public discussion on accessible objects, carried out according to verifiable procedures. In the Humanities, working in Open Source means on the one hand being able to access the digital version of objects of study: books, manuscripts, archaeological objects, images, sounds, film sequences et cetera, (what that we call Public Archives) and on the other hand providing free access to the results of research work (Open Publishing). And the Internet is the medium best able to guarantee public access to cultural heritage and research work.
HyperNietzsche consists of three logically distinguished Teams. Realising the IT infrastructure is the task of the Hyper-Teams (see the article of Michele Barbera and Riccardo Giomi about Pearl-Diver Model in this volume). Filling this platform with contents is the job of the Nietzsche-Teams and of the Nietzsche scholars of the whole world (the article of Harald Salles will present what the Munich Nietzsche Team is currently doing). Establishing the ontology, the legal and academic framework is the work of the HyperNietzsche-Team. I will write a few words about ontology and e-learning issues in the name of the Hyper-Nietzsche-Team.
From a cognitive point of view, HyperNietzsche can be understood as an example of an ›Dynamic Ontology‹. Everybody knows what a descriptive or static ontology is. It is something such as a photograph, which represents the objects of a field of study and their relations at a given moment. A good example of this is the Institute of Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science at Leipzig University (and at the Department of Philosophy at the State University of New York). According to its director, Barry Schmit:
One major problem of information science today is the large number of different information sources and the equally large number of different classification systems in terms of which such information is expressed and manipulated. Ontology seeks solutions to this problem in the form of standardized terminology and classification systems, which will enable information from different sources to be manipulated within a common framework.
The problem is that science has this strange characteristic, that it growths. Now, what I call dynamic ontology is able to create a ›standardized terminology and classification system‹, but it is also capable of expressing the changes which the objects of study and their relations undergo due to the growth of knowledge. That which is for a formal ontology a final achievement, is merely the point of departure for a dynamic ontology.
In HyperNietzsche, we begin with a ›digitale Erschließung‹ (›digital classification‹) that creates a map of our field of study by giving each object a name (siglum) and a short definition, and by drawing a collection of standard relations of inclusion and succession between the objects. A siglum can represent for example one of Nietzsche's aphorisms or a page from one of his notebooks (in other disciplines a siglum can be the name of a gene or a protein). The hierarchical level to which the siglum belongs and its place inside a sequence is expressed by the granularity: for example, a notebook comprises several pages, a page several notes, each page of a notebook refers back to the previous and forward to the following page, and so on. Beginning with this base structure, scholarly contributions can transform the properties of the objects and their reciprocal relations by using two functions of the system: paths and dynamic contextualisation.
Paths enable the user to order the objects in sequences according to genetic, chronological or thematic criteria. They allow, for example, the tracing of a genetic sequence which follows the stages of the writing process for a particular aphorism, from the first outline in a notebook, through its copy in a book, corrections in proof copy and finally to the printed version; or the establishment of a thematic route consisting of several aphorisms on the free spirit in Nietzsche's works.
Dynamic contextualisation is one key innovation developed by HyperNietzsche. While the user navigates the site, moving from one page to another, this feature makes available precisely those scientific contributions that are relevant to the siglum presently being viewed. For example, if the user selects the siglum of a manuscript page, the system immediately makes accessible, without the need for additional complicated searches, all the facsimiles, transcriptions and translations available for the page, as well as all the relevant text-genetic paths and critical essays that refer to the page. This material is presented in the form of an easily navigable list of hyperlinks. Likewise, if the user selects a critical essay, the contextualisation mask will present a list of hyperlinks to all the Nietzsche texts and manuscripts cited by the author of the essay and all the contributions that are cited in, or that cite the essay being viewed.
However, the growth of the contributions concerning a certain object actually represents a progressive transformation of this object, insofar as each essay discovers hitherto unknown properties. To know that an aphorism is thematically and genetically related to other texts and manuscripts of Nietzsche can radically change our comprehension of this object of study: It is as if one has identified a gene on the basis of a certain number of characteristics and then 10 scientific articles discover unknown properties and unsuspected relations with other genes, thus appreciably transforming the ontology of the field of study.
Scientific objects always result from a process of construction of meaning within a research community. Elements are recognized as being worthy of interest within an influential paradigm and function as a point of convergence of all successive research, including that research which will transform their definition. For this reason, an IT infrastructure capable of coming to terms with scientific development must be thought of as a dynamic ontology.
This cognitive model seems to us to be particularly effective for the requirements of scientific research. It takes on a revolutionary aspect when applied to e-learning.
In effect, the dominant e-learning model, as expressed in the standard technologies such as SCORM, IMS, IEEE LOM is quite poor in cognitive and pedagogical terms and in any case largely insufficient for the necessities of tertiary education. It is based on the existence of content producers on the one hand, normally companies selling prefabricated information packages (the assets, which are like little LEGO bricks) and on the other hand teachers who build courses according to the instructions incorporated into the assets. The students, for their part, have the task of being force-fed as much contents as possible. This procedure works well enough if it is a case of training employees in the use of certain conceptual instruments or techniques, or knowledge transmission on a medium or low level, but it has not been successful at the university level. Incidentally, the adoption of this model in a university context would have the effect of blocking the development of knowledge in precisely the place devoted to its evolution and transformation.
In an era in which conceptual buildings change rapidly, it is not important to memorize the conceptual bricks of which they are constructed, but rather to master the methods which allow orientation within knowledge, the organisation of knowledge and the creation of new knowledge.
The single brick represents an isolated notion, or, in the best case, a static ontology. Let us suppose a student learns the definition of properties of a gene by using an e-learning system. He or she can use this concept only until science discovers other properties of this gene or new relationships this gene maintains with other genes or phenotypes. Suddenly, the e-learning system becomes obsolete and the student must update his little conceptual brick (and also the ensemble of relationships binding it to other parts of its ontology). This is very practical for enterprises marketing contents for e-learning systems. However, if one wishes to follow a different logic, that of a free community of researchers, it would be important that e-learning forms part of a system capable of automatically following the evolution of knowledge. What would be the point of an IT standard making bricks of information interoperable, if they are not at the same time automatically linked to research developments? The Learning Objects are the legacy of didactics which must now be considered out of date. Above all they produce the paradoxical effect that, in using the most modern technologies, the student acquires concepts which are pre-programmed to expire. The slogan of LEGO-Learning might well be: Learning Electronic, Going Obsolete.
In contrast to the American model of LEGO-Learning, the e-learning part of the HyperNietzsche project intends to propose a new methodology and set a new technological standard: the Research Objects for Learning (ROLs).
In our dynamic ontology the elements are not conceptual bricks but a network of pointers: the pearls. The pearls contain a minimum of information which is their siglum (page 3 of notebook N IV 2, aphorism 27 of The Gay Science), but their characteristic is that of being pointers in a universe of relationships, not so much in the sense that they point towards something (certainly, they point towards an object or towards a property of the external world), but rather in the sense that successive researchers will point to them, since they represent objects which have been recognised by a scientific community as being scientifically interesting. If we construct an IT research and e-learning system which, by virtue of dynamic contextualisation, allows the user, when selecting the siglum of an object, to see all the articles which cite it, the researcher or student has at his disposal a constantly up-to-date dynamic definition, and they can follow in real time the scientific construction of the object, which thanks to paths also includes all its ›valences‹, that is the context which it shares with other objects from the same field of study.
To sum up: in our model of e-learning the student receives first a map of his field of study and must master a collection of concepts which enable him to orient himself in the network of relationships between the objects in progressive transformation. Immersed in a virtual research and learning community, he or she learns to navigate by using various conceptual grids touching the same pearls, to use the methodology which allows the construction of relationships between the pearls and, finally, to create new knowledge in an autonomous fashion.
From a technical point of view, the specifications of Research Objects for Learning (ROLs), which we will put forward as a standard, are a way of bringing research and education into dialogue in our system and guarantee interoperability with all systems using our standard. But that is not all: thanks to the compatibility with the Open Archives standard on the document repositories side and thanks to compatibility with the Learning Objects standards on the Learning Management Systems side, the ROLs play the role of a metastandard capable of putting the world of Open Access in communication with that of e-learning. It is a paradox, then, that the researchers practising auto-archiving and free dispersal of results of scientific research have not yet been successful in establishing a stable connection with e-learning systems; vice-versa, the developers of e-learning systems have not yet come up with a technical way of using the enormous deposits of freely available contents in periodicals which have resulted from the politics of Open Access.
Paolo D'Iorio (München, Paris)
Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes (CNRS-ENS, Paris)
Projekt HyperNietzsche (LMU München)