Anti-Developmental Biases in Thesaurus Design
- / -
Paper for the Conference on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis in the Social
Sciences (Bielefeld, 1981) sponsored by Committee on Conceptual and Terminological
Analysis (COCTA) and International Federation for Documentation (FID). A somewhat
abridged version appears in Fred W. Riggs (Ed.): The CONTA Conference: Proceedings
of the Conference on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis in the Social Sciences.
Frankfurt/Main, INDEKS Verlag, 1982, pp. 185-201 [PDF version]
A number of biases seem to manifest themselves
frequently in the process of thesaurus construction. These biases are inherently
anti-developmental, introduce distortions into the design process and constitute
obstacles to social development. The effect of these biases is particularly
serious in the social science domain.
This is a preliminary investigation, intended
to open up discussion. The supporting arguments and evidence are not presented
here, although they form part of the argument of several earlier papers
Bias 1: Static Bias Associated
with Noun Categories
Most thesauri are concerned solely with ordering
nouns or objects (called 'subjects'). The position of the noun in the schemes
may be affected by an adjectival qualifier, but the emphasis remains nevertheless
on bounded objects (even if they are abstract). The result of the use of
any such Thesaurus is therefore necessarily static - a static assemblage
This point is argued by Burger in a paper for
this conference (6) a theoretical physicist David Bohm has explored the
same question from 1 own perspective:
"In chapter 2 we go into the role of language
in bringing about fragmentation of thought. it is pointed out that the
subject-verb-object structure of modern languages implies that all action
arises in a separate subject, and acts either on a separate object. or
else reflexive on itself. This pervasive structure leads in the whole of
life to a function that divides the totality of existence into separate
entities, which are considered to be essentially fixed and static in their
nature. i then inquire whether it is possible to experiment with new language
forms in which the basic role will be given to the verb rather than the
noun. Such forms will have as their content a series of action that flow
and merge into each other, without sharp separation or breaks. Thus, both
in form and in content, the language will be in harmony with the unbroken
flowing movement of existence as a whole. (7, p. XII).
The fundamental characteristic of development is
change and movement. The essential problem of development is how to initiate
and guide development and render it self-controlling as a social process.
Can thesauri, using essentially static categories,
adequately order information relevant to development? Clearly static schemes
have a role to play but given the essential challenge of the development
dynamic, are not other types of thesauri also required to safeguard and
highlight this dynamism?
Should not complementary thesauri be designed
using verbs (processes) as categories. and emphasizing the relationship
between such processess? it is not sufficient to argue that the noun
"development" implies a "development process" or "to develop". A noun signifies
a process deprived of its essential dynamic.
Thesauri using "to develop" as a term would raise
many interesting questions, which the static development" at present obscures.
The widespread failure of "development" and the prevalence of "maldevelopment"
may at least partly be due to a failure to order information in a more
Bias 2: Low-Context Bias
Associated with Western Science
Given the striking contribution of the Western
world to the ordering of knowledge in recent centuries, it is easy to forget
that there are other approaches to ordering reality which have been favoured
in the past, continue to have their advocates, and which may be significant
for the future. The scientific method has even been considered a by-product
of the indo-European language group. But there are other language groups,
especially in the highly populated developing countries. it is too easily
assumed that a thesaurus, meaningfully structured to the Western mind,
in an adequate vehicle for knowledge for users in non-Western cultures
for whom other dimensions may be of greater significance.
David Bohm clarifies the subtle anti-developmental
consequences of this bias an follows:
"As indicated earlier, one of the major defects
of the ordinary mode of using language is just its general implication
that it is not restricting the world view in any way at all, and that in
any case questions of world view have to do only with one's own particular
philosophy, rather than with the content and function of our language,
or with the way in which we tend to experience the overall reality in which
we live. By thus making us believe that our world view is only a relatively
unimportant matter, perhaps involving mainly one's personal taste or choice,
the ordinary mode of language leads us to fall to give attention to the
actual function of the divisive world view that pervades this mode. so
that the automatic and habitual operation of our thought and language is
then able to project these divisions (in the manner discussed earlier)
as if they were actual fragmentary breaks in the nature of "what
is". It is thus essential to be aware of the world view implied in each
form of language, and to be watchful and alert, to be ready to see when
this world view ceases to fit actual observation and experience. as these
are extended beyond certain limits." (7, pp. 46-7)
Whorf and others stress the manner in which languages
pre-order reality in unexpected ways. Anthropologist Edward T Hall notes
Also a review of the historical development of
taxonomy of living things reveals that, paradoxically, the more Western
man classifies, the less useful are his classificatory systems. Folk taxonomies
and scientific taxonomies are examples of high-and low-context systems
respectively ... modern classification methods provide man with a lot of
information that is difficult to integrate into a usable, intelligible
pattern. This is a classic example of low-context information. ... The
classification system cannot handle the vast numbers now involved. A new
paradigm is clearly needed. ... Whichever way we Westerners turn, we find
ourselves deeply preoccupied with specifics, to the exclusion of everything
else. ... The questions that must be answered are: Where do we go for the
overview? Who is putting things together? Who are the experts in high context
Integrative systems? Who knows how to make the type of observations necessary
to build integrative systems of thought that will tell us where we stand"
(8, pp. 122- 123).
Elsewhere Hall notes: "Therefore, as things become
more complex, as they inevitably must with fast-evolving, low-context systems,
it eventually becomes necessary to turn life and institutions around and
move toward the greater stability of the high-context part of the scale
as a way of dealing with information overload" (8, p.103).
The effective imposition of indo-European classification
schemes on other cultures may therefore not only do violence to their cultural
perspectives but may also obstruct both communication to those cultures
(knowledge transfer) and communication from
them (of the high-context variety rare in Western knowledge systems).
How can high and low-context dimensions be blended
together in a development-oriented thesaurus?
Bias 3: Pattern Conservation Bias
Thesauri are usually designed with "spare positions"
at which new sub-categories can be added. The healthy "evolution" of the
thesaurus over time is then seen as the gradual filling up of these positions.
Serious problems arise when there are no longer any spare positions available
for new subcategories. Various "fudging" techniques are then used to "squeeze
At no point is there any question of changing
the fundamental pattern around which the thesaurus is built. Thesauri are
assumed to grow by extension of a pre-defined pattern and not by
transformation of that pattern. This conservative bias is a definite
obstacle to conceptual advance whenever interdisciplinary subjects become
fashionable (e.g. development, environment)
This bias is itself protected and reinforced by
the manner in which resources are invested in the documentation systems
based on the untransformable thesaurus. The consequence is that if a new
pattern appears desirable, an alternative thesaurus has to be designed
(usually within a different institutional context, as in the case of UNESCO/SPINES).
The new thesaurus, however, tends also to be built with the same pattern
Users are thus confronted with a set of unrelated
thesauri whose advocates are seldom concerned by the lack of relationship
between them. (This gives rise to what might be called the "politics of
the thesauri arena"). This bias is therefore a guarantee of discontinuity
and of inter-thesauri hubris - both of which undermine the effective mobilization
of conceptual resources for development.
Bias 4: Dysfunctional Bias
Most thesauri are of necessity (given the manual
processing tradition) fairly simple structures. They are merely an evolutionary
step beyond the list. The main concern is to be able to store and retrieve
reasonably wellidentified documents. Unfortunately, this design philosophy
is insensitive to functional relationships between the phenomena thus encoded.
The fact, for example, that mercury may penetrate through food chains to
affect seriously the survival of a bird species is not something that such
a thesaurus is designed to highlight (especially in the case of a specialized
chemical compounds). A response might be that
this is not the purpose of a thesaurus and that, properly coded, documents
reflecting the mercury/ bird relationship could be retrieved.
Whilst this might indeed be the case -- if the
user knew how (or why) to phrase the correct question -- there is
a major difference between a thesaurus designed to highlight (or even "foresee")
such relationships, and one which simply "absorbs" the relevant document
and "observes" the relationship. Such relationships are vital to understanding
the development process.
Bias 5: Insensitivity to thesaurus implications
Although few would argue that the universe is
organized into the categories reflected in a given thesaurus, unfortunately
many users are poorly served by the mechanistic category assemblages characteristic
of existing thesauri. Because thesauri are the prime concern of high-volume
documentation systems, it is easy to forget the needs of those who want
information directly relevant to development. Such users may be misled
by the structure of existing thesauri and their simplified versions. Or,
frustrated by the lack of a relevant thesaurus, they may well have to design
their own -- however primitive.
The irresponsibility of those skilled in thesaurus
design may be seen in their lack of concern for the following user needs:
(a) Bookshop layout: Major bookshops,
faced with the volume of books, are now reduced to displaying books linearly
within a few sections and relying on retrieval by author. There are no
non-linear aids to retrieval other than point-of-sale advertising of fashionable
items. Sale of books in mass marketing environments ensures the absence
of qualified assistants to provide non-linear retrieval advice.
(b) Agenda design: The link is seldom
made between thesaurus design and the construction of an agenda, despite
the major importance of the latter for action planning. it is highly probable
that many agendas are "bad* thesauri, and many thesauri constitute "bad"
agendas (even in development agencies).
(c) Curricula design: Consider the relation
between thesaurus design and the elaboration
of a curriculum for a school or university. Despite the
developmental significance of curricula, it is highly probable that
many curricula are "bad" thesauri, and many thesauri
(d) Organization charts: The organization
chart of any institution, including governments, is in effect a thesaurus
of action responsibilities. Again it is. highly probable that many such
charts do not benefit from the skills of thesaurus construction, and that
many thesauri are a poor foundation for the structuring of organizational
responsibilities, in response to development issues. This problem also
extends to planning and policy formulation. Many thesauri may simply reinforce
In each of the above examples there is a sense in
which the operational context could constitute a 'bad' thesaurus - the
"medium becomes the message"-- however good the thesauri used in documentation
systems may seem to be.
Bias 6: Avoidance of Top-of-Hierarchy issues
Most of the effort in thesaurus construction is
directed to clarify problems within some domains. Little effort, by contrast,
is directed toward clarifying relationships between the major hierarchies
within which this effort is made. The identification of what constitutes
the "top of the hierarchy" appears to be an empirical process influenced
the pre-determined priorities of the institution
commissioning a thesaurus design,
the number of digits available in the first position
of any code by which the hierarchy is to be
the traditional divisions of the universe which the
thesaurus reflects in an essentially passive
From this perspective, it is astounding to
note the lack of significant difference between the earliest recorded groupings
of knowledge some 3000 years ago (9, 10) and recent thesauri such as those
generated by UNESCO (11) or the UN Inter-Organization Board for information
From a structural viewpoint there is little
to distinguish between them, since both ancient and modern groupings take
the form of lists or trees whose mathematical description is very similar.
The lack of innovation and experiment is to be contrasted with the extraordinary
structural variety in the attempts over the last two centuries to move
beyond the original lists of chemical elements (13). Some exceptions are
From a content viewpoint, there have of
course been many innovations. But what remains implicit in thesaurus design
is the basis on which major groupings, such as "religion" or "art" are
included, downgraded or excluded from a thesaurus which is concerned with
"economic and social development".
How is the presence of "art" as one major grouping,
to be justified in a thesaurus which contains "science"? How are other
major groupings to be recognized? What does the historical development
of thesaurus construction reveal about blind-spots in the selection of
major domains? On what theoretical ground is it possible to stand in order
to predict current blind-spots which might be of vital significance to
the development process?
To answer such questions, a functionally-oriented
awareness is required. What is it in the way a social group functions which
determines the way that group cuts up the
field of its perception (and then proceeds to reinforce the subdivision
by institutionalizing it In various ways)? Avoiding such questions ensures
that any thesaurus will not serve well one or more cultures of this highly
Bias 7: Preference for Adaptive "Maintenance" Thesauri
A recent UNESCO-endorsed report of the Club of
Rome entitled No Limits to Learning (14) stresses the importance
for society of 'innovative learning" as contrasted with the traditional
forms of "maintenance" or "adaptive" learning - particularly if humanity
is to preserve and develop its heritage through the present combination
In this light, it is fair to state that most thesauri
are adapted, after the fact, in response to new issues. Every attempt
is made to fit new issues into old frameworks which failed to highlight
the last crises. New thesauri when the are designed are generally uncreative
compromises between the faults of existing thesauri. They do not breakthrough
to a new level of significance. it is therefore not surprising that society
is ill-equippped to marshall its resources in response to previously unforeseen
crises in the development process.
Bias 8: Investment in Rigid, Anti-Experimental Systems
Thesauri tend to be designed in one of two ways,
possibly with some overlap between them:
the framework is conceived, and existing items are
fitted into it, before using the scheme in practice ("top-down"),
sample lists of items used in practice, usually by
different institutions, are grouped together experimentally for comment
and revision ("bottom-up").
Both approaches are maintained completely separate
from on-going use of any documentation system by real users. If, and when,
the resulting thesaurus is implemented in practice it is difficult to set
further experimentation (for several years at least) because of the heavy
cost of any such changes. institutions become "locked" into a rapidly aging
The problem seems to lie in the failure to separate
control of: (a) documents, (b) document location ("shelf") numbers, (c)
machine-readable document (bibliographic) descriptions, (d) thesaurus terms,
(e) thesaurus term references (e.g. a "line number" as in a word processor
file), (f) classification codes, and (g) classification schemes.
An alternative approach, entirely feasible using
computers, is to work with a variable classification code. This
is possible if the code (f) is not permanently
attached to the document description (c). By using the reference number
(e), the code (f) attributed to a thesaurus term (d) can be modified
at any time. This means that alternative schemes of classification codes
(f) can be envisaged so that the thesaurus terms (d) can be regrouped and
edited experimentally and -- whenever desired - the document description
(c) can be reordered by computer according to the revised scheme. From
a computer viewpoint, this is best done using a permanent document number
(b). Clearly there is no reason why a preferred "universal" scheme of codes
should not be part of the computer programme "library" of ways of ordering
the terms, and in fact several such schemes could be available, without
preventing experiments on alternative thesaurus designs. Changing an
item in the thesaurus does not therefore involve the usual high cost of
physically re-indexing a large number of documents, but only the
computer processing cost of changing the classification code linked (electronically)
to the "address" of the document.
Such an alternative has already been used by the author
to regroup, 3,100 international organizations in terms of their 81,000 links
to member countries (15). The country code can be varied to order the
information in terms of alternative regional groupings of countries. The same
procedure in being used to regroup some 10,000 internationally-oriented bodies
by subject [applied from 1982 in the Yearbook
of International Organizations, Vol 3.
(16). Whilst at this stage the depth of indexing may be unsatisfactory for some
purposes, the ability to refine and experiment with the classification scheme
introduces a much needed dynamic element Into such endeavours. Clearly such
an approach has the additional advantage of providing a more realistic educational
tool for those learning about some aspects of the problems of thesaurus design.
Bias 9: Depersonalized Portrayal of Thesauri
Thesauri tend to be portrayed as abstract structures
from which subjective personal elements have been eliminated. To ensure
implementation, the design of thesauri is limited to a small elite (whose
professional status benefits in consequence). In fact, however, as any
debate among such elites quickly demonstrates, thesauri are highly personal
constructs and (as social acts) can engender very emotional responses.
Even from a purely logical point of view, as Francisco Varela demonstrates:
"In contrast with what is commonly assumed, a description, when carefully
inspected, reveals the properties of the observer" (17). A thesaurus is
a description which characterizes the designer (or the designing institutions).
If thesauri embody personal, ideological, cultural,
and operational biases in this way, this should be more clearly stated
(e.g. in the introduction to any UNESCO thesaurus) together with the implications
of that statement. But it also follows that much greater emphasis should
be placed on arranging for each user to enjoy the creative advantages of
personalizing the thesaurus through which s/he wishes to perceive
any data set.
This is especially true given the developmental
significance of tramforming one's own thesaurus, as one's perspective matures,
rather than being imprisoned in some institutionalized construct -- depersonalization
has never enhanced the innovative responses needed at this time. The computer
possibilities for doing this have been noted above.
Bias 10: Concealment of Contradictions
The essence of the dramatic situation faced by
humanity at this time lies in the conflict between laudable concerns such
as economic production and environmental quality, or between communication
and the preservation of the uniqueness of different cultures, etc. Whether
such polarites are viewed as inherently contradictory or as vitally complementary
matters less than the fact that this dynamic feature is totally absent
as a structural dimension of thesauri design. The unfortunate exception
is that some institutionally inspired thesauri are designed to exclude
particular poles when the institution is an advocate of the opposing complementary.
This is especially unfortunate when the institution
is obliged to alternate between the polar positions (as in the case of
public agencies in a 2-party governmental system).
It is useful to speculate on the advantages of
designing into thesauri, not only dyadic, but also triadic, complementarities
and those corresponding to greater numbers of set elements (4).
Bias 11: Concealment of Values
In the ongoing debate as to whether science, and
especially social science, can be "value-free". it is easy to assume that
thesauri (if nothing else) are free of inbuilt value orientations. However,
as has been implied above, this is far from true. In fact each decision
in the design of a thesaurus is influenced by a set of values which is
never rendered explicit (except in the structure of the thesaurus itself).
Expressed somewhat differently:
"it is all too easy for the person who is in
full command of a particular behavioural system, such as language (or a
thesaurus), to confuse what he can do with a given system, with the unstated
rules governing the way the system operates" (Hall, 8, p.88).
When thesauri are compared in this light, some strange
emphases become apparent. Subject fields which are included in one thesaurus
will be strongly compressed, expanded, or excluded in others, for reasons
which are far from obvious. An institutional thesaurus is in fact one of
the best indicators of the prejudices of an organization.
This situation cannot be avoided, but a
more creative response is possible if a user can "personalize" the thesaurus
by expanding, collapsing or reallocating categories at will (as suggested
under Bias 8), and then to compare them with those of alternative value
perspectives. It is even useful to reflect on the possibility of computer
generated "distorsion indicators" (when a user suppresses all environmental
categories from an industry thesaurus, for example).
Why is it that no thesauri have been produced
with values as categories -- or were these the "celestial" frameworks of
the medieval period which are made to appear ridiculous by the currently
fashionable noun frameworks? As suggested above, modern value thesauri
should be possible and would seem to be a vital support for development
as an essentially value governed process - and a corrective to some present
excesses. On this point, Hall states:
"In English, when a man says, 'It rained last
night', there is no way of knowing how he arrived at that conclusion, or
if he is even telling the truth, whereas a Hopi cannot talk about the rain
at all without signifying the nature of his relatedness to the event --
firsthand experience, inference, or hearsay" (8, p.87).
A thesaurus using the simple category "rain" would
presumable be meaningless to a Hopi. Experience suggests that increasingly
the use of categories like "development" are relatively meaningless unless
the values associated with it are rendered explicit.
Bias 12: Preference for Simplistic List Structures
As noted above, most thesauri are a form of nested
list structures which is one of the most simple structurees in the range
explored by man, both in the arts and in the sciences. One response to
this has been to abandon, more or less completely, dependence on a thesaurus
in favour of associative structures.
This possibility is encouraged by the power of
computer text analysis on data bases, which leave it to the user to order
the data into any hierarchies desired - a form of conceptual "anarchy"
in reaction to the "imperialism" of list structures. A list does not order
the relationships between its elements except in relation to nested sublists
or in the case of a list in series form. This
does not imply that such relationships are lacking, merely that they cannot
be reflected in the list form. Note that a list is. in fact a series of
"points", but it is not necessary to conceive of it as such. The points
could be represented as areas on a surface. It is only in the matrix that
the manner in which the total area is cut up becomes explicit.
An advocated by Ingetraut Dahlberg (18), for example,
the matrix is an important step beyond the list. It is important because
of the extra dimension of order imposed upon the categories. It is worth
noting that a first attempt at this which bears a remarkable structural
resemblance to one form of the periodic table of chemical elements (13)
seems to have been a renaissance "Torre della Sapienza" (19).
As noted in an earlier paper (20, p.292):
"The cells of a matrix may be thought of as subareas
of the area representing the totality that the matrix attempts to reflect.
The subareas are, of course, positioned with respect ---to column and row
commonalities. It is now interesting to ask why the area is bounded in
such a limiting manner, for the rectangular or square form is one of the
simplest. It provides a (paned) "'window" through which the totality may
be perceived. But it raises questions about the "wall" in which the window
is set and the position of the observer in relation to the observed on
the other side of the window.
Now to the extent that the matrix is complete
in its coverage, there really should not be any "wall". The matrix should
in such cases in effect "wrap around" the observer; all is window and nothing
is implicit, unexplicated, or excluded. If this is not so, then the wall
should be conceived as wrapping around the observer, possibly with other
windows corresponding to other partial views of the external totality to
which the observer may turn his attention. From this point of view the
conventional two-dimensional matrix raises the question of the conceptual
significance of crossing the encompassing boundary. it seems irrational
and unmeaningful because the wall is unrecognized. There is almost a flavor
of danger of "falling over the edge", as sailors feared with the early
'flat earth' models. "
If it is assumed that the matrix is complete, then
it should be possible to represent it without such an arbitrary external
boundary. if the external boundary is eliminated, then the matrix takes
the form of a closed surface "wrapped around" the observer. The Torre della
Sapienza mentioned above was in fact associated with the unique study room
of Francesco di Medici in which each surface represented a category (although
not necessarily a noun) (21). But by what procedure can a two- dimensional
matrix be so transformed and to what does it give rise?
Again referring to the earlier paper (20, pp. 292-3):
"Consider a two-by-two matrix. The simplest
symmetrical figure that retains the same number of areas is the tetrahedron.
it provides four "windows" on the external universe for any observer positioned
within. The continuity of surface area of the three dimensional figure
emphasizes any functional continuity between the aspects associated with
the individual subareas or facets (the "panes"). But at the same time.
it draws attention to the discontinuities between the areas associated
with the edges. They are not smooth transitions but are marked by sharp
angles. It may then be asked (if reality is continuous in contrast
to our conceptions thereof) whether such a representation
suggests others that would reflect a lesser degree of discontinuity between
aspects. And indeed there are, for the greater the number of symmetrically
disposed surface areas ("panes"), the larger the angle between adjacent
areas and the closer the approximation to a continuous surface namely,
However, the greater the number of distinct areas
(whatever they signify), the more difficult it is to comprehend the totality
with any precision. The patterning of the surface area may be readily scanned,
but it is only through the "distorted discontinuities" of the simpler and
most unspherical figures that it may be grasped to any degree (e.g., those
corresponding to the simpler matrixes). A compromise may be considered,
however. Even a tetrahedron may be projected onto a circumscribed sphere.
This cuts up the surface of the sphere into four (sphericallly)
triangular areas. More complex figures would, of course, result in more
complex patterns on the surface of the sphere."
The challenge is to maintain continuity, but the
discontinulties between extant conceptual frameworks suggest that any such
goal is idealistic. "Disturbing" factors, and an indicator of conceptual
dynamics, are: unequal cell development, gaps, and unrecognized zones (i.e.
"wall space" within which the original matrixes were set).
Further investigation of the possibility of introducing
non-linear curvature into the traditionally planar preoccupations of thesaurus
design could well provide clues to a new level of macro-ordering which
is hospitable to a variety of linearlplanar thesauri but nevertheless establishes
valuable links between them.
Bias 13: Exclusion of Uncodeable Dimensions
It is easy to argue that thesaurus design should
be restricted in a concern for categories which can be embodied in an extended
list structure. But, given the present vigorous discussion about right
and left-hemisphere approaches to knowledge, it is legitimate to ask whether
such thesauri are not simply artefacts of the left-hemisphere analytical
mind, and as such are functionally incomplete. This however begs the question
as to how righthemisphere holistic dimensions are to be introduced, without
doing violence both to their very nature and to the preservation of
the distinctions vital to the hard-won achievements of left-hemisphere
It has been assumed that this is not possible
because of the inherently analytic nature of the thesaurus structure. But
as the previous section suggests, macro-ordering possiblitities may be
introduced which give a holistic dimension. The question is whether these
must necessarily be linear (left-hemisphere
analytical) forms of ordering or whether non-linear (right-hemisphere)
forms can be introduced. Such a step would do much to retrieve thesauri
from their somewhat isolated "archival" function in society, as well as
establishing a bridge to the vital philosophical concern for the integrative,
paradoxical, non-rational relationship between complementaries and opposites.
In this connection, it is much to be regretted that one of the most reknowned
Eastern philosophers concerned with this matter, namely Lao Tse, did not
also leave a record of his reflections as keeper of the Chinese imperial
archives in the sixth century B.C.
In the light of earlier arguments (4), it may
be possible to introduce such new dimensions at the macro-level so that
they do not affect the analytical detail which is the present focus of
thesaurus design. it is possible that thesauri will reach a new threshold
of maturity and relevance to human and social development once this is
Bias 14: Mechanistic Concept of Thesaurus integration
Current approaches to thesaurus integration are
overly simplistic given the range of structures which man has now explored
As argued in an earlier paper (23): there are
two extremes in the conventional approach to "integration":
in this case alternative thesauri are conceived as co-existing in such
a way that their incompatible features do not result in undesirable
conflict between them,
"fusion": in this case, deliberate efforts
are made to reconcile the apparentl incompatible features of the thesauri,
such that a new transcendent thesaurus emerges to replace them. This may
be achieved by excluding some thesauri which cannot be incorporated in
this way. Fusion may only be "house tidying" with compatible thesauri.
The first approach tends to be unsatisfactory in
an increasingly complex society in which undesirable conflict does
result from incompatibilitles between thesauri. The second tends to be
unsatisfactory, either because of conflict arising from what is excluded,
or because such fusion is quickly perceived as a constraint
development if the thesaurus is successfully implemented. The more successful
it is, the more its proponents will resist any further reconceptualization.
They do not acknowledge their limitations, the need for their limitations,
and the need for their eventual demise. They are conceived as a "final
solution" detached from the processes which brought them (temporarily)
Much richer approaches to thesaurus integration
emerge from, and are necessitated by, such varied domains as ecosystem
integration, "oscillatory" integration in multi-party political systems,
education, strategy, etc. Any organic form
of integration which matches the dynamism of real-world phi nomena is
perhaps necessarily oscillatory. Surprisingly, perhaps, there in fact
much to be learnt from the theory and philosophy of music as guide to further
investigation.It is refreshing to note how this possibility emerges
from reflections on the non-Western 4,000 year-old chanted hymn
of the Rg Veda of the indian tradition. A careful exploration of this wor
by a philosopher, Antonio de Nicolas (24), using the non-Boolean logic
of quantum mechanics (25) opens up valuable approaches to integration.
The unique feature of the approach is that it is grounded in tone and the
shifting relationships between tones. it is through the pattern of musical
tone that the significance of the Rg Veda is found.
"Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective,
we have to be aware that we are dealing with a language where tonal. and
arithmetical relations establish the epistemological invariances ...
Language grounded in music is grounded thereby on context dependency;
any tone can have any possible relation to other tones, and the shift from
one tone to another, which alone makes melody possible, Is a shift in perspective
which the singer himself embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be
"sacrificed" for a new one to come into being; the song is a radical activity
which requires innovation while maintaining continuity,
and the "world" is the creation of the singer, who shares Its dimensions
with the song" (24, p.57)
Of the greatest interest is the link made by
de Nicolas with P.A. Heelan's concern with "The logic of changing classificatory
frameworks" (25) in terms of the conceptual freedom of quantum logic --
which is in complete contrast to the essentially mechanistic structure
of conventional thesauri. It is difficult to imagine that significant breakthroughs
would not emerge from investigation of such leads in terms of thesaurus
This paper is necessarily far from complete but
hopefully will prove a stimulus for discussion.
The biases identified are an attempt to give form
to the underlying concern that thesaurus design is at present largely counter-productive
in terms of the development of society, especially in the manner in which
it reinforces, rather than alleviates, the trend towards social fragmentation.
As David Bohm indicates:
"As has been indicated, however, men who are
guided by such a fragmentary self-world view cannot, in the long run, do
other than to try in their actions to break themselves and the world into
piecess, corresponding to their general mode of thinking. Since, in the
first instance, fragmentation is an attempt to extend the analysis of the
world into separate parts beyond the domain in which to do this is apprpriate,
it is in effect an attempt to divide what is really indivisible. In the
next step such an attempt will lead us also to try to unite what is not
really unitable. This can be seen especially clearly In terms of groupings
of people in society (political, economic, religious, etc). The
very act of forming such a group tends to create a sense of division and
separation of the members from the rest of the world but, because the members
are really connected with the whole, this cannot work. Each member
has in fact a somewhat different connection, and sooner or later this shows
itself an a difference between him and other members of the group. Whenever
men divide themselves from the whole of society and attempt to unite by
identification within a group It is clear that the group must eventually
develop internal strife, which leads to a breakdown of its unity. Likewise
when men try to separate some aspect of nature in their practical, technical
work, a at~ state of contradiction and disunity will develop. The same
sort of thing will happen to the individual when he tries to separate himself
from society. True unity in the individual and between man and nature as
wen as between man and man can arise only in a form of action that does
not attempt to fragment the whole of reality" (7, pp. 15-16)
Although primarily concerned with order as opposed
to classification, Bohm's work may be usefully seen as going a step beyond
that of Heelan (25) and C A Hooker (26), since all three are concerned
with the implications of advances in theoretical physics. Such investigations
go to the root of the question of the relationship between a thesaurus
as a conceptually ordered whole and the nature of the whole which is supposedly
ordered by it. This relationship can be considered irreleveant except
when the thesaurus is supposed to facilitate the development of the
whole. as is the case in society. in such circumstances, the degree of
integration or wholeness of the thesaurus is crucial to its effectiveness.
Following Bohm, if perceived reality can be considered as in essence a
set of forms in an underlying universal movement or process, then how can
knowledge be considered in the same manner? (7, p.xii). And does not such
isomorphism have implications for thesaurus design?
Only a view of knowledge as an integral part of
the total flux of processes may lead to a more harmonious and orderly approach
to life as a whole rather than a static and fragmentary view, which does
not treat knowledge as a process, and which splits knowledge off from the
rest of reality (7, p.63). The latter view brings about a thoroughgoing
confusion that tends to permeate every phase of life, and ultimately makes
Impossible the solution of individual and social problems (7, p.27). it
may well be asked whether those involved in thesaurus design sense any
responsibilitly for reflecting the dynamic wholeness of reality, as opposed
to providing an efficient "warehouse parts-list'"of its currently recognized
Would it not be beneficial to consider the need
for, and the possibility of, totally different kinds of thesaurus design
philosophy which would reconcile (in a creative, dynamic manner)
the relationship between structured and associative approaches to ordering
knowledge? The paper is also a plea
to enrich such investigations with insights from
non-Western design in the traditional libraries
of China and Japan? (cf.27).
Finally an apology for a basic inconsistency In
this paper: Since the list of biases constitutes a primitive thesaurus,
it would have been preferable (given the argument of this paper) to structure
each bias as a verb in order to shift the
whole discussion into a more dynamic mode.
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