Posted by Mad Mitch on  UTC 2015-11-03 09:37

A serious attack of Wittgenstein's Disease for me this morning, courtesy of the British Telegraph.

I know that the article is just the result of some dismal, thick hack being told to write about a press release written by some dismal, thick Wikipedia press person and that, in the greater scheme of things, this tripe has no meaning at all, but nevertheless …

Wikipedia's 5 million articles still cover less than 5 percent of all human knowledge.

Bang. Brain reboot required. How has this person measured 'all human knowledge'? And what units has he used to count it? Over two thousand years of deep thinking in the field of epistemology by the greatest minds of the ages has not managed to find a way of counting knowledge. At least, as far as I know.

Perhaps the author of the press release has been at the wiki-wacky-baccy. There is some evidence for it:

For example, 44.7 million articles have been estimated as needed to cover science, but this does not include estimates for physics or metereology.

What point has an estimate for the number of articles needed to 'cover' science that leaves out physics? And could we have a tolerance figure for '44.7 million'? ± 0.001 million?

The world's thickos, carefully graded

One of my harmless amusements when consulting Wikipedia is to read the articles about a single subject in other languages, even ones I'm not familiar with. You soon become aware of the disparities between the languages and, by inference, the problem of 'knowing'. There are now, we are told, five million articles in English. The next most plentiful source of 'knowledge' is in Swedish(!), with just over 2 million articles, then there is a cluster of languages having between one and two million. Here they are in descending order:

German, Dutch, French, Russian, Waray-Waray, Cebuano, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese.

Why the Swedes 'know' appreciably 'more' than the other language speakers on this list is a complete mystery to me.

Just looking at this list nearly brings on another Wittgenstein's moment, until some cheerful bits of 'knowledge' catch my eye. For example, whereas the Swedes post their articles and then buzz off to the sauna with a blond(e) and a bottle of vodka, the Germans and French just cannot stop messing about with existing articles, with nearly as many edits as posts. This is what happens in countries where teachers are free in the afternoons to indulge their noxious passion for correcting the rest of us. It is clear from the list that Italian and Spanish speakers are thicker than most other people, thicker even than those who are intelligent enough to speak Waray-Waray (me neither) and Cebuano (ditto).

But if we English speakers know five million wikiunits of knowledge, what about the poor bozo Germans who know barely a quarter of what we know? What a load of thickos they must be. I always 'knew' that, by the way.


And when you do read Wikipedia articles about the same subject in different languages you realize that the treatments are often so different that they might as well be about different subjects. One person's knowing is clearly not the same as another's. Consider that vexed topic of the cuckoo clock in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian.

Clearly some obsessive American collector set the bar high in the English version, almost to the height of parody ('The stylistic revolution'). Some languages followed that awful example, some did not. The French 'know' (there's that word again) of this Teutonic barbarism through le film noir, in this case the piece of nonsense about cuckoo clocks improvised by Orsen Welles in The Third Man. The knowledge of cuckoo clocks is otherwise quite beneath the French: when, after years of Parisian political manouvering you finally get your apartment in the quatrième arrondissement you do not stick a cuckoo clock on the wall, zut alors! The Spanish copy the English, leading to some absurdities, the Italians copy the French: Orson Welles was after all talking about the pleasant artistic life that was to be led under the Borgias. The Italians even add a charming video clip of a cuckoo clocking.

Let's not even ask about the Falkland Islands.

Like most people, I know a bit (in wikiunits) about a number (in wikiunits) of things. Why does it seem to me that I know next to nothing even about these things and every day less and less? The answer doesn't seem to be in Wikipedia, unless I overlooked it on the Waray-Waray pages.

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