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Karl Popper, the century's great philosopher of science, suggested that science and philosophy, indeed, all of human thinking-progresses from conjecture to refutation, that is, from claim to rebuttal to counterrebuttal or new claim. In the combat of ideas, some survive and others fall. But the clash of ideas always results in new thinking, in new distinctions, new concepts, new frameworks, new ways of viewing the world.
Argumentation has always been crucial to the development of ideas from Socrates in the Athenian marketplace through the debates of the new universities of the Middle Ages to the 20th Century's proliferating scientific journals. Today, however, the increasing complexity of information and specialization has relegated most scientific and philosophical argument into the seminar rooms of the academy. Debates are still carried on worldwide by hundreds of participants in different disciplines, but who often don't read each other's literature. Complexity/specialization is not only the dilemma of the modern student, however, it is a misfortune for any reader who hopes to stay informed of humanity's greatest questions. Nowadays it is almost impossible to answer the question: What is the current status of any one of these great debates? What arguments have been answered and rebutted? What points still stand at the moment? Traditionally textbooks were expected to answer such questions, but they have become simultaneously bloated and selective as well. Interdisciplinary studies are supposed to solve many of these problems, but they usually fall victim to departmental struggles over students, budgets, publications, and promotions
The modern study of argumentation began in 1957 with the philosopher Stephen Toulmin's recognition that most real-life arguments did not resemble formal argumentation schemes in place since Aristotle. Toulmin, a student of Wittgenstein, showed how much of modern philosophy, especially that associated with formal logic and the so-called analytic schools, had become a technical study drifting apart from the way thinking was actually done in many other fields-scientific, technological, legal, medical, and practical.
The Mapping Great Debates Project
Horn started the Great Debates project in 1987. For 25 years he had been CEO of Information Mapping®, Inc an international consulting company-a company he founded. that is now a world leader in developing documentation and training for industry and technology. Its approach is based on a methodology of analyzing complex subject matters he had developed in the mid-60's while doing research and teaching graduate courses at Columbia's Institute for Educational Technology.
He had written a book in the late 80's, Mapping Hypertext: Analysis, Linkage, and Display of Knowledge for the Next Generation of On-line Text and Graphics, that foreshadowed the development of the World Wide Web. With this book Horn solved many of the problems of structuring and organizing information in hypertext. He also began to devise graphic approaches to Stephen Toulmin's innovations in argumentation analysis.
The Wider Vision
Horn imagined a seminar room of the future that would have wall-size, electronic screens enabling students to and faculty to keep the big picture in context while exploring settled and disputed regions of the inquiry. He imagined that we would be able to ask: "What is the current status of the great philosophical and scientific debates that humanity has struggled with over the centuries?" And he imagined clicking with a TV zapper on to the debates and moving back and forth easily between the big picture and details in the papers and chapters written by protagonists. That way any interested reader could navigate the critical debates-philosophical and practical-that fascinate us today, but are beyond our reach because of information overload and time constraints.
If the great debates were to be displayed on a wall, what would they look like? That question launched Horn into the argumentation mapping project. His initial idea was to use some kind of diagraming approach for a major debate, and as the project evolved the mapping metaphor seemed most appropriate. He then had to select a great question. He did not want to work on "toy problems" (problems too small to test his developing methodology.) Rather he picked an "industrial strength" argument- the Turing Debate-Can computers think (or will they ever be able to)?
Can Computers Think?
Horn's choice of the debate about whether computers can think was especially apt, focusing on the crucial area of our species awareness of its uniqueness. The Can Computers Think? debates raises fundamental questions about human identity, as the human species has often been defined as the rational animal. But if actual reasoning can be incorporated into silicon chips, then we humans are no longer as unique as we thought. The Can Computers Think debate surfaces regularly in the news-when the Mars robot explores the red planet on TV while hundreds of millions watch and when IBM's Deep Blue computer beats the top human Grandmaster at chess or when Hans Moravec, Director of the Mobile Robot Lab at Carnegie Mellon University proclaims that we will be eclipsed by robots in the next 100 years. "Today, our machines are still simple creations, requiring the paternal care and hovering attention of any newborn, hardly worthy of the word 'intelligent.' But within the next century they will mature into entities as complex as ourselves and eventually into something transcending everything we know-in whom we can take pride when they refer to themselves as our descendants. Unleashed from the plodding pace of biological evolution, the children of our minds will be free to grow to confront immense and fundamental challenges in the larger universe. We humans will benefit for a time from their labors, but sooner or later, like natural children, they will seek their own fortunes while we, their aged parents, silently fade away. Very little need be lost in this passing of the torch-it will be in our artificial offspring's power, and to their benefit, to remember almost everything about us, even, perhaps, the detailed workings of individual human minds." Moravec, Hans. Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1988.
In 1950 the eminent British mathematician and inventor of the computer, Allen Turing, wrote in the journal, Mind: "I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted." Since then, the debate has engaged literally thousands of scholars, philosophers, cognitive scientists, mathematicians, physicists, neurobiologists and researchers from other fields. And it has engaged some of the best minds of all time: great mathematicians Godel and von Neuman; pioneer cognitive scientists Philip Johnson-Laird, Alan Newell, and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon; the inventors of the field of artificial intelligence, John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky; physicist Roger Penrose; and, of course, philosophers from Leibnitz and Descartes to such contemporaries as Hubert Dreyfus, John Searle, Daniel Dennet, Douglas Hofstadter, and Paul and Patricia Churchland, among many others.
Horn initially mapped the parts of the debate that flowed out of one of Searle's moves in the argument, the Chinese Room thought experiment. (On map 4 appear over 100 arguments that have resulted from this argument). By 1994 Horn began to assemble his team of graduate students to help research and write the claims and link up the numerous, intricate threads of the arguments. Over one thousand books, articles and papers were digested and considered for possible inclusion. Criteria for ultimate selection and summary included such items as earliest or first to make the argument, non-triviality of the claim, formal publication of the argument, and falling within the scope of the map. By late 1997, the project had grown from 50 initial claims to seven maps with over 800 arguments represented.
Developing the Methodology
Horn's team was not only mapping a substantive debate for the first time, but was encountering all the problems of developing the very methodology it would use to map the debates. It was a slow, difficult but rewarding process. For example, many start with differing presuppositions that are not made explicit. This was particularly apparent in the Turing debates. The project team addressed this problem by articulating these presuppositions of eleven different camps of protagonists in lists of postulates and by identifying where possible which protagonists belonged to the different camps.
As the maps grew in volume and complexity, the team recognized it needed to provide navigation tools that would enable readers to easily locate the 70 issue areas, to have landmarks for these regions and kinds of arguments. fortunately, along with the argumentation mapping project, Horn was also writing a book, Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century, in which he makes the claim that a new language is emerging globally , which tightly integrates words and visual elements. Applying this idea to the maps led Horn and his team to include several hundred graphic elements, which serve several functions: illustration of examples, further explanation, and navigation by landmarks. At least one of these is worthy of special note. An information design principle states that the visual form of the presentation should follow, if possible, the logical form. The team's design of dilemma boxes illustrates this principle. All dilemmas shown on the maps have a similar structure. This structure is made visual so that at a glance a reader can see the dilemma structure being used. (See, for example, boxes 4-41 and 4-50) In a similar fashion, circular arguments are, in so far as possible, represented in circular form. (See box 1-31 for example)
Examination of the maps by scholars at various conferences have suggested that Horn's maps achieve many important pedagogical goals. Study time is one. (One estimated that the maps would have saved him "about 500 hours of study time during my first year of graduate school! I read a whole stack of papers almost two feet high. I understood every word in every sentence, but I did not understand how they all fit together.") The maps clearly provided context through allowing the structure of the entire argument to be seen at once. Although some observers first thought the maps should be put on CD /ROM and shown on computer screen. But most reverse that initial opinion recognizing that the poster-sized display enables at-a-glance apprehension of the argument's structure. The maps successfully integrate both chronological presentation and the ability to see active areas of dispute so that readers can pinpoint live research issues and open questions.
The Future: Can Computers Think?
Following publication, Horn and his team have continued to collect claims and rebuttals for revising the maps. Recognizing that initial mapping expeditions cannot be expected to cover all of the territory, they have asked the field to respond by providing claims and rebuttals they have missed in their first survey. And, perhaps as important, they believe that the way the maps provide easy viewing of where the arguments have stopped or momentarily paused, they believe this will produce whole new rounds of arguments. They have provided a way of interacting with this project in both these ways in the handbook that accompanies the maps.
In addition, they plan to have a web site that will provide instructors with ideas and experiences of others who have used the maps in the classroom (and for other purposes). They are also actively exploring how to provide source articles from the maps in other media such as CD/ROM or the web.
The Future: Other Topics
Horn has also experimented with using the methodology with other topics. As of l998, he has been awarded grants to prepare argumentation maps in two additional fields. One is the heavily interdisciplinary field consciousness research where neurobiology, cognitive science, psychology, and philosophy intersect. The other is to treat some of the topics in the philosophy of biology, especially evolution. The team has plans to address other subjects areas as time goes on.
With the publication of this first map in the series of Mapping Great Debates, part of Horn's vision is being accomplished. In his argumentation maps, it is now possible to envision what some of the advanced displays in classrooms of the future will look like. At the same time, researchers and manufacturers are working on wall-size displays with greater resolution so that maps of this kind will be able to be displayed. And software interface designers are conceiving gesture-based, interactive languages that will enable instructors and students to manipulate these displays with the wave of an arm or a simple pointing action. When all of this comes together, the classroom of the future will have extraordinary capabilities for providing both the big picture and the ability, through hypertext linkages, to drill down to the level of minute detail. The argumentation mapping structure will provide one of the overall orienting foundations. Furthermore, the methodology is transferable to a wide variety of other fields suffering from complexity and information overload.
It has become obvious that Horn's new mapping methodology could
meet a demand that has existed for decades-students' struggle
to understand the structure and context of important academic
debates and the professorial problem of presenting the big picture
of major controversies while at the same time remaining faithful
to detailed points of difference. Educators, students, scholars,
and researchers who have seen Horn's argumentation maps regard
them as an extraordinary innovation in presenting the intellectual
history of one of the great arguments currently being debated
around the world.