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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ransdell's principles for The Peirce Blog

Now that we've got The Peirce Blog fairly well launched, I'll post (having obtained Joseph Ransdell's general permission) the peirce-l post which he sent suggesting the idea for this blog.

But first, this note which Joe sent to peirce-l yesterday:

----- Original Message -----
From: "Joseph Ransdell"
To: "Peirce Discussion Forum"
Sent: Friday, March 27, 2009 11:38 AM
Subject: RE: [peirce-l] Query

Irving Anellis asks whether "this new Peirce blog is a replacement for the listserve forum".

No, definitely not. The idea is rather to augment the functionality of the peirce-l forum by establishing some connections that will result insomething like an accumulating memory of the forum user community. In otherwords, the Peirce Blog could be regarded as a facility of the forum. The ARISBE website could be regarded as another facility of it. All three --peirce-l, ARISBE, and The Peirce Blog -- are independently based. But the real world physical basis -- the vast global complex of computing machinery-- underlying all of it is not normally of interest to the participants or users of the facilities.


Joseph Ransdell
ARISBE website:
PEIRCE-L archives:

Now for the main course. You can read the thread with further posts by clicking on the link
From: Joseph Ransdell
To: "Peirce Discussion Forum"
Sent: Monday, March 23, 2009 8:04 PM
Subject: [peirce-l] problem of giving real memory to the forum

To the list generally, but to Ben Udell and [name deleted at request of the named — B.U. 11/27/2015] in particular:

In reading through your messages recently in connection with the tables you created, Ben, I noticed that you were able to provide links (URLs) which not only accessed the messages in the archives effectively but also enabled access to the attachments to the messages, such as some of the diagrams of the sign classification system. This will doubtless seem relatively trivial to you, but It never occurred to me that one could do this. Thinking about this referential ability rather than about the content retrieved, it occurred to me that with one additional element added, namely, something like a topical blog or a topically ordered system of blogs for referential messages of that sort, it might be possible to provide something like a real memory structure for the forum, or perhaps I should say a standing basis for such a structure. Or at least a step towards that.

I suppose the memory structure proper for the forum would have to be regarded as primarily a property of its user community -- a complex of skills and propensities of use -- rather than of any technical structure of access such as the internet as a physical mechanism or the computer as a programming resource for shaping that mechanism might provide. But you certainly don't have human memory simply in virtue of having a record of informational content available for use in principle in the form of archives containing configurations of switches on computer systems here and there if people cannot avail themselves of these mechanisms easily enough and "naturally" enough for them to be willing to go to the trouble of doing so. The archive for the Lyris listserver system which PEIRCE-L uses (which was not of my choice) enables access in principle and is of some practical use but not much, as it seems to me, unless it is augmented in some way. Your use of it shows that it can in fact be used effectively, but this is a special skill (or is embedded in a complex of skills) that most of us don't have and won't be likely to cultivate enough to make it possible to integrate that continually accumulating archival content into an ongoing collective understanding that would constitute a real growth of an ongoing communal understanding unless some further component is added to it: some further facility that would be, in some sense, constantly at hand. Something like the blog, or a system of blogs, might provide what is wanted -- one which featured messages like yours in response to Søren, which leads very efficiently back into the archival material and makes it current again.

I realize that this might seem at first to be describing an exercise in futility, in which one is simply adding more to what is going to be forgotten, but what is missing in the above description is the nature of the forum itself and the possible connection of the blog with the forum. The forum is essentially constituted by (1) the listserver broadcast mechanism, which insures that what is said is made directly available to the members of the forum (who can of course ignore it just as what is said in a public forum like a plaza can simply be ignored by others in the plaza), and (2) the imagination of those to whom the messages are broadcast who naturally add to the bare message they receive the idea that others are more or less simultaneously experiencing it (i.e. it is AS IF they were and that qualification, though recognized, is simply ignored as the imagination tries to fill out enough context to make what is said intelligible). I think the reason the discussion tends to die down when I am not making my presence known in one way or another is not because it is me that people are addressing primarily but rather because if I am contributing regularly it is simply taken for granted that at least one person will be reading what is said, which functions as a sort of guarantee that at least somebody -- and, who knows?, maybe a great many people -- is listening to what one is saying. And most people -- nearly everyone, I think -- finds it difficult to say anything at all when they do not think there is anyone who is hearing or is going to be hearing what they say.

The point is that it is the BROADCASTING function of the listserver than constitutes its special virtue, whereas the blog lacks that virtue but has another virtue (also as a sort of imaginative illusion) which the listserver lacks, namely, the messages appearing there have a sort of seeming constancy of enduring or standing presence: one need only look further down the page or perhaps laterally across the page to another column to perceive those others waiting patiently to be read, if there is any possible interest in doing so, whether one actually does so or not. The messages of the listserver have an ephemerality as they disappear to give temporary presence to others. Of course one can simulate continuing or constancy of presence -- the sense of availability -- to some extent with listserver discussion, too, by keeping all messages and sorting through them as necessary, but this quickly tends to get too difficult as the messages pile up to provide the illusion of old messages simply being readily at hand unless one spends much time as they come in in categorizing them and moving them about -- the subject headers are not in general reliable enough for the necessary illusion -- whereas the blog provides enough initial organization to eliminate that to a substantial degree by embodying, in effect, a critically informed ordering within the process of the blogging entry. To be sure, the blogs must then be ordered, and so on, but the ordering principle(s) might somehow be neatly incorporated on the front page of the blog.

Well, something like that. Anyway, what I am suggesting is that if were to somehow introduce a coordinated blogging as a regular feature of the forum in addition to its broadcast function, we might be taking an important step toward developing something like a true memory here. How to do this, though, I do not know. But my guess is that you and others will have a much better insight into this than I, and be able, perhaps, to isolate further factors as well that might somehow be added that would contribute to that goal.

I should add that I've been thinking about this sort of thing also in connection with the Facebook and Windows Live programs and the combinations of facilities they involve, the former because it seems to have captured something about the need to establish personalities as standing substantial factors in holding content together in an intelligible way, and the latter because of its feeble attempt to combine that with tools such as the word processor, the spreadsheet, the database, and so forth. It is not the goals of Facebook as such which interest me but rather the elements it has pressed into service and other uses to which some combination of them might be put.

I mention [deleted as per above — B.U. 11/27/2015] as well because of his experience with his [ — B.U. 11/27/2015] project, which seems to have a far more ambitious aim than this but which might include something bearing importantly on this.


Joseph Ransdell
ARISBE website:
PEIRCE-L archives:
P.S. (about an hour after I first posted this). Clark Goble a few days ago set forth some ideas which told me what this blog could start out by doing, thus giving me the impetus actually to launch it.