I was thinking about a new yorker article I read by-the-by. it was about wikipedia, and the various war-dialogues going on between Jimmy Wales - Wikipedia's founder (unless you're giving credit to Larry Sanger, but he's resigned) - and his classic encyclopedia detractors. the question is: do you want your information to be served to you by a huge mass of less-informed people with complete access, or do you prefer a highly educated specialist?
it's kind of like long-tail economics: not just anyone can be a specialist, but the information is a high quality (like a single competitor, with a lot of money. this is a real bastardized long-tail simile, by the way). anyone, on the other hand, can contribute to wikipedia, so there are a great deal more contributors.. but the knowledge may be of a lower quality (think of an economic sphere with a ton of competitors who spend very little money each, but a ton overall). of course, the information isn't always worse; it certainly isn't meant
to be worse. but that's part of the debate.
one thing that was mentioned in the article was frustration with the idea of "actual" information (or similar). I believe that it was in response to someone saying that the information on wikipedia isn't real or whole in some way and a classic encyclopedia's (like britannica) is (though it could've been the other way around for all I remember). "What is real information?" someone asked (and I approximate). I'm not sure I buy that if, say, 2 + 2 = 5 in some guy's world, he should be able to assert that into the rest of humanity's faces and expect them to dig it or even listen. but a great deal of the world's knowledge - historical knowledge, for instance - is widely understood to be open to debate. what happens and what is are things so much based on peoples' moods, impressions, and pathetically unreliable memories that there is merit in hearing multiple perspectives on such things.
also, I do not pretend to know anything about neuroscience except what I've heard from other people or read someplace, but it seems pretty clear that human consciousness is still largely mysterious. why do people come to believe what they believe? about god, about socialism, about (more contemporarily) the idea that nothing is worth believing in? a keen and well-trained meditator, or a user of psychotropic substances, has experienced things that others would laugh off. but the experiences of these people exist in enough profusion to be talked about. I wonder if anything that is widely experienced enough to be ridiculed is worthy of some attention.
so back to wikipedia, and the question of whether the information posted there by (as it were) amateur specialists is real:
I think that wikipedia itself is a locus of opinions and personal knowledge wide-reaching enough to be interesting as both an encyclopedia and a social experiment. therein lies enough solid traditional fact to give a reasonable picture of the world as most people know it, and also enough aberration to account for those parts of the world and of the social mind that we just don't understand. it may be a crackpot view of the world, but it would be pretty damn interesting to understand the world from the viewpoint of a crackpot.