The Root of Knowledge

Check out the alt text on today’s XKCD comic:

For those who couldn’t be bothered to mouse over, the alt text reads: “Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at ‘Philosophy.'”

I gave it a shot with the article featured in the comic (spark plug) and, sure enough, it took me 27 clicks to get to the page for philosophy. Once I was there I kept playing the game by clicking on “rational argument,” which led to the page for reason. Reason leads to rationality, which leads to — yup — philosophy.

I’m not sure there’s any lesson that can be honestly derived from this exercise, but I’m gonna derive one anyway. That lesson being: Everything comes back to philosophy. Randall Munroe and Jimmy Wales just proved it.

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11 Responses

  1. And philosophy has no answers.

  2. “Turkish Army” and “Turkish Armed Forces” point to each other.

    • Philosophy has nothing to say about the Turkish Army. Therefore, it does not exist.

  3. I went to Wikipedia and clicked on Random Article. Then I played the game and it went like this…

    Øivind Andersen
    Oslo
    List of Municipalities of Norway
    Norway
    Nordic Countries
    Atlantic Ocean
    Ocean
    Seawater
    Water
    Chemical Substance
    Chemistry
    Science (it was here I though I was getting close, but there was still a little ways, yet)
    Knowledge
    Fact
    Information
    Finite Set
    Mathematics
    Quantity
    Property (Philosophy)
    Philosophy (Modern)
    Philosophy

    So, twenty steps from Øivind Andersen and I was there. That was actually quite interesting.

  4. It’s an artifact of the definition of philosophy, and the history. Philosophy is the “Love of Wisdom”, in Greek. Essentially every subject of knowledge today was once considered a branch of philosophy, which is why people get Ph.D.’s (Doctorates in Philosophy) in such varied subjects as mathematics and literature.

    It’s a word with a broader meaning than one might imagine — a very broad meaning. In fact, every useful subject within it has been “broken out” into its own field as soon as it started developing a significant body of knowledge. A particularly important example is “natural philosophy” (which became “science” and has been further splintering). Logic was a late bastion of philosophy departments, but math departments have it now. Philosophy departments have only the leftovers — which does include many of the roots of knowledge, but also a lot of boring dead ends that never developed *enough* to get their own departments.

  5. I just tried the philosophy game and holy cow that works, here’s my trail:

    Depleted uranium
    Uranium
    Metal
    Chemical element
    Chemical substance
    Chemistry
    Science
    Knowledge
    Fact
    Information
    Finite set
    Mathematics
    Quantity
    Property
    Modern philosophy
    Philosophy

  6. I got to philosophy all right, from several random starting points, but in the Wikipedia I’m seeing, the sequence after that goes

    Philosophy
    Existence
    Sense
    Organism
    Biology
    Natural Science
    Science
    Knowledge
    Fact
    Information
    Finite set
    Mathematics
    Quantity
    Property (philosophy)
    Modern philosophy
    Philosophy

    So by this test, philosophy’s claim to be ‘the root of knowledge’ is no better than those of biology and mathematics, alas.

  7. I started out at “List of Star Wars species (F-J)”. It took me there, too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Star_Wars_species_%28F%E2%80%93J%29

    The first link often locates the more general context of the specific hierarchy. So basically as you click on the first link, you’re working your way back up the taxonomy. And as the ontology becomes more general, you’re going back to the logical foundations of knowledge.

    Science, for example, ~is~ a subset of philosophy, because science is a knowledge-oriented project distinctive for its perspective on epistemology. And if you head towards more general discussions of empiricism vs. rationalism, you’re in philosophical grounds. It’s not that “philosophy is all the useless bits”, it’s that the pragmatic applications of certain epistemological and metaphysical assumptions are arguments in their favor. In contrast to ethics, for example, where various meta-ethical issues are more unsettled.

  8. Philosophy doesn’t point to rational argument. It goes to existence, and then senses, and then a few others (including biology) before getting back to philosophy. All of the members of that loop are bases of the tree.

    Interesting about the turkish army – there must be other loops like this out there where you get spun out of the main flow…

    • I think the philosophy article has been edited since I wrote this post.

  9. It took 23 clicks to reach philosophy from my last wikipedia search (“Sean Burroughs”, a baseball player).

    Like some previous commenters, my road to “Philosophy” first rambled through “Science”.

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