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Hi,

I have a question to people who have read OPAR and agree that Human Knowledge is hierarchical.

Is PowerPoint a better medium of written communication - given that Knowledge is hierarchical?

My own hypothesis is that human cognition can be made more efficient by this medium. Therefore, it is better to write books and articles in power point.

I am seeking reason-based views and relevant information on this topic.

Thanks!

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Hi,

I have a question to people who have read OPAR and agree that Human Knowledge is hierarchical.

Is PowerPoint a better medium of written communication - given that Knowledge is hierarchical?

My own hypothesis is that human cognition can be made more efficient by this medium. Therefore, it is better to write books and articles in power point.

I am seeking reason-based views and relevant information on this topic.

Thanks!

Where to begin...

1. PowerPoint isn't a medium of written communication, it's a digital means of communication. And what are you comparing it to, anyway?

2. What do you mean exactly by "made more efficient"?

3. When Peikoff makes the claim that knowledge is hierarchical, he is is primarily meaning it in the context of a discussion about concepts; i.e. we build up concepts from perceptual information and then from that our concepts get more and more abstract, in a hierarchical fashion. It is very useful to grasp this in order to be sure to "reduce" your concepts back to reality; that is, trace the 'hierarchy' of concepts back to the directly perceivable to check their validity. I don't know if this helps you, since you should already know this after reading the chapter, but I really don't think there is any meaningful connection to be made between this and Microsoft PowerPoint.

Tristan

Edited by ttime
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"Is PowerPoint a better medium of written communication - given that Knowledge is hierarchical? "

What evidence makes you think it would?

"My own hypothesis is that human cognition can be made more efficient by this medium."

How?

"Therefore, it is better to write books and articles in power point."

What is the essential difference between PP and books or articles to you?

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While I cannot make much sense of your statements, I can state from my own personal experience, that the professors who relied heavily on PowerPoint were also the least effective at explaining the underlying concepts. Maybe they were just using it ineffectively, but I have always seen PowerPoint as a very poor tool for explanation of highly abstract concepts.

Edited by brian0918
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I am comparing, let us say, OPAR being presented to the world in a book format (as it is today) to it being presented in a PPT format.

My hypothesis is that a PPT format is better. My evidence for this is my own experience.

I find it quite easy to read PPTs versus books. This has been the case not only with simple 20-page PPTs, but also with 100-page PPTs where a full strategy work was captured in the PPT (I am an ex-McKinsey Strategy consultant).

I could think of following reasons for this:

1) PPT is visual as well as textual

2) PPT (at least McKinsey documents) are very hierarchical. This means that there is a clear conclusion as the title of each slide, and then the body of the slide supports that conclusion.

3) PPT slide is very structured. You can read the information in blocks. e.g. If I were to re-write OPAR in PPT format, I would put two blocks on a slide - one describing abstract theory, and another describing a concrete example.

I can elaborate further on the above points, if needed.

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I am comparing, let us say, OPAR being presented to the world in a book format (as it is today) to it being presented in a PPT format.

My hypothesis is that a PPT format is better. My evidence for this is my own experience.

I find it quite easy to read PPTs versus books. This has been the case not only with simple 20-page PPTs, but also with 100-page PPTs where a full strategy work was captured in the PPT (I am an ex-McKinsey Strategy consultant).

I could think of following reasons for this:

1) PPT is visual as well as textual

2) PPT (at least McKinsey documents) are very hierarchical. This means that there is a clear conclusion as the title of each slide, and then the body of the slide supports that conclusion.

3) PPT slide is very structured. You can read the information in blocks. e.g. If I were to re-write OPAR in PPT format, I would put two blocks on a slide - one describing abstract theory, and another describing a concrete example.

I can elaborate further on the above points, if needed.

It sounds like you want a series of deductive arguments conjoined with examples.

If you convert OPAR or any work by Ayn Rand into a series of deductive arguments, you will lose out on a lot of the meaning. There is no substitute for context. There is no gain in forfeiting the mental workout of rising up from particular concrete examples to principles through successive levels of induction. If you or they try to apply the philosophy deductively, without reducing the principles down a ladder of abstractions to reality, reality will be lost in fuzziness.

PowerPoint removes the context and encourages mental laziness on the part of your audience. People end up feeling like they understand something when all they've done is memorized a deduction.

PowerPoint limits the number of levels of abstraction you can view at any given time. There is no way you can present processes such as reduction. It lets listeners get away with the method of a "continental rationalist", someone who deduces conclusions from unquestioned premises. But a large part of objectivity involves keeping abstractions grounded.

PowerPoint is inferior to plain written communication.

It is also inferior to other software in several respects.

If I want to identify key facts about a specific subject before addressing a concrete problem, I use TiddlyWiki. I can organize concepts and knowledge without missing context or discouraging the use of of reduction and integration. It is objectively better than PowerPoint, but there are limitations. It cannot show logic trees or successive levels of integration.

If I want to map out the *essence* of arguments, I use CMapTools. That program has enabled me to keep track of reductions and integrations for all kinds of subjects. I have a map of electromagnetism that traces a ladder of successive generalizations from observations and measurements all the way up to Maxwell's equations. PowerPoint couldn't possibly do that.

But, like TiddlyWiki or PowerPoint, there are limitations. While useful as a memory tool, the usefulness of CMaptools for presentation isn't much better than giving a basic picture of how I integrate facts with concepts, how I organize concepts into propositions, and how I form successive generalizations. I can show how I view a subject. And I can even show a logic tree outlining my plan for addressing a specific topic. But it is no substitute for argument.

And no medium of communication can be "best" overall. Something is "best" at *something*. Something is good *for* something. Something is a means towards a purpose.

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...no medium of communication can be "best" overall. Something is "best" at *something*. Something is good *for* something. Something is a means towards a purpose.

This, I think, is the key point. There are good and bad PowerPoints, and there are a variety of different learning styles.

I have seen PowerPoint give structure and support to a presentation that made it enjoyable to watch and learn from. I have students that use PowerPoints as their first reading resource; they only go to the book if they need further details.

I have also seen PowerPoints that tossed up random information without regard to importance, usually automatically generated from textbooks. Those give me a several-hour headache while I try to organize them into something that makes sense. For deeper material, there is still no substitute for writing which allows you to provide deeper support. Writing also allows the reader to review at their speed as needed.

The bottom line: Bad PowerPoint is as bad as bad writing or a bad speech, but that doesn't mean every PowerPoint will eat your brain.

Edited by MichaelH
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Powerpoint is an inferior tool in this day and age if you really want to present sizzling, hyperlinky stuff. Which is ABSOLUTELY a better way to present knowledge. Peikoff was not being metaphorical: knowledge is hierarchical, and one's organization of it ought to reflect as closely as possible the structure of it ... with appropriate unit economies used to reduce its size without disconnecting pieces of it, folding it up "algorithmically" and "structurally" so that it fits in one frame of thought at each "page", but allows quick navigation to deeper and/or more over-arching concepts.

You want a hierarchical containment structure as base representation, and you won't want to allow self references, so XML is just fine and nicely transparent. And can be flipped onto a hyper-linked web format with ease. Within each node, you have a set of referents plus (a set of) boolean predicates defining how those referents were chosen from among all the entities of one's experience. The root node refers to the set of all things that one has experienced. A conceptual structure, or framework if you will, is an individual's means of classifying experienced things into categories by identifying their similarities and differences. This is naturally a set-theoretic process of REDUCING the set of all things into smaller, related subsets -- and then creating sets of these subsets. This is a fractional distillation of sets of experience to refine them, plus a re-factoring/re-association of the refined components into one's chosen structures; the purpose is progressive efficiency of thought and resultant leverage vis a vis executing one's plans in reality.

Ditch PowerPoint, it is woefully limited and will never catch up. Even PDF format is preferable (and actually has some coolness in there from what I've seen). But at the end of the day, it's the combination of sets of experiences that are as complete as necessary to make conclusive identifications; and a classification structure, an abstraction framework, a containment hierarchy to break down the sets of experiences into more refined sets, and then also build back up more general ideas across sets. All this can be done with XML or equivalent to represent class types and class hierarchies and class instances and class evolutions; and then tools can be used to display in browsable fashion.

- ico

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It is really important to chew on the idea "knowledge is hierarchical" and understand what this means. Knowledge is not hierarchical in the sense of being best organized as a single static hierarchy. In database/info-modelling terms, knowledge is more like a "network", or even "relational". This means that there are many relationships that can be organized into hierarchies, but not just one way. The right organization can change with purpose and context.

Edward Tufte, who wrote perhaps the most famous book on the vision presentation of information, is critical of the way PowerPoint is often used.

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It is really important to chew on the idea "knowledge is hierarchical" and understand what this means. Knowledge is not hierarchical in the sense of being best organized as a single static hierarchy. In database/info-modelling terms, knowledge is more like a "network", or even "relational". This means that there are many relationships that can be organized into hierarchies, but not just one way. The right organization can change with purpose and context.

That is much the way individual neurons work - they have the ability to connect to thousands of other surrounding neurons, and are constantly changing their connections, as a person thinks about different things. Who would have thought that knowledge depends on how the brain works? :P

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That is much the way individual neurons work - they have the ability to connect to thousands of other surrounding neurons, and are constantly changing their connections, as a person thinks about different things. Who would have thought that knowledge depends on how the brain works? :P
:)

Also, the structure of knowledge is one thing and the way to best communicate it is another. It seems to help when learns things "layer by layer" but not by exhausting one "layer" completely before moving on to the next. Rather, one might learn some aspects about one "layer" and then see how it relates to the next, and learn a little about that next "layer", and similarly another "layer" beyond that. Then, one might cycle back to the "top layer" to learn something more. Some detail about that "top layer" might not have stuck in one's mind if one got it in the first pass. However, with one's knowledge of it now integrated with a few other "layers", it becomes easier to add on information. The "network" of knowledge appears to gain strength by integration, and is able to "bear more weight".

Caveat: Std. layman and personal-experience disclaimer applies.

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It is really important to chew on the idea "knowledge is hierarchical" and understand what this means. Knowledge is not hierarchical in the sense of being best organized as a single static hierarchy. In database/info-modelling terms, knowledge is more like a "network", or even "relational". This means that there are many relationships that can be organized into hierarchies, but not just one way. The right organization can change with purpose and context.

Edward Tufte, who wrote perhaps the most famous book on the vision presentation of information, is critical of the way PowerPoint is often used.

Exactly! You need multiple, overlapping, and not necessarily one-to-one containment hierarchies. That is, for each quasi-independent aspect that you want to focus on, you need a hierarchy; and then, you tie the hierarchies, one for each aspect, back together at corresponding nodes, i.e., where they line up.

This is exactly how transparency books of the human body systems work: each page layers on the next system, bone, organ, nervous, blood, muscle, etc. each system has it's own transparency layer in which it is a complete hierarchy; but you need multiple such systems to cover off the whole body, and they weave, interleave, interlock, tie up together at certain special points. Hence accupressure and related ideas, btw.

Another system with multiple aspects interwoven that is common is a home, where plumbing, electric, heat, etc. must be routed efficiently and controlled centrally.

This is the "game" we are playing with reality: multiple interlocking hierarchies of related aspects necessary to accomplish holistic knowledge. It takes at minimum two complementary but not identical aspects to understand a whole. Can you say: Tai-Chi?

Maybe this will help: http://taoism.about.com/b/2008/04/02/the-yin-yang-symbol.htm

Old idea. Now we have the technology to visualize it in real time. Fractals also about this same idea, if you turn them inside out you will see that.

In fact, there are more than two, there are four aspects at minimum in any given entity. Inside/outside is one pair of essential complements; and this/that is the other. Inside this, inside that, outside this, outside that -- those are the 4 prime aspects in considering things.

So there ought to be at least 4 complementary hierarchies necessary to complete one's knowledge to the point of full understanding of any given set of experiences, to the extent that those experiences contain useful information.

By knowing that there ought to be at least four aspects to any given area of study, one won't be tempted to drop context and stop looking with a smugness belied by the lack of perseverance.

Rules of the road. Nature of thought.

- ico

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Guys,

Thanks for the replies. I have got the answer to my question from your answers. I must admit that I was not able to understand some replies - but I will re-read the post once I need more clarity. For now, below is what I have extracted:

- Hyperlinking (through XML or PPT) is a better way for hierarchical communication.

- If I were to re-write OPAR, a better approach would be to just have one front XML page (which presents one line conclusions on 5 key areas of philosophy e.g. Reason is the only means of knowing reality). Then, I would hyperlink each of these 5 statements to sub-pages which elaborate on each of the statement (corollaries, etc). Then, another hyperlinked page that elaborates further.

- I would also use both textual and visual representation to increase readability of the pages.

- I would also use information blocks (e.g. text boxes) to separate the type of information (e.g. deductive reasoning from inductive reasoning).

This way, I think, it will become a lot easier to read the book, and hold it in one's mind.

Comments are welcome. I have got what I wanted though..

Edited by Saurabh
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I vaguely remember hearing in a psych class that powerpoint was found to be particularly ineffective at conveying information but I don't remember specifically why or the exact source. If I had to guess it would be because human learning takes place in the form of a blooming fractal design rather than a linear train of thought, in which case, hyperlinking would be much more ideal. The "this, therefore this, therefore this" deductive method makes a case but is not open ended enough to allow connections to be made to each individuals personal context. Without that capacity, it's functionally useless for someone who doesn't already share the views being presented.

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Powerpoint also forces the presenter to spoonfeed you, and oftentimes it's disconnected bits of information. Or the format encourages your mind to perceive it that way.

On my old job we had to do all of our technical documentation in powerpoint, and it was horrible; powerpoint is a one-size-fits-all (which means it fits nothing) solution.

Edited by Steve D'Ippolito
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