Intellectual Dark Matter

post by Samo Burja · 2019-07-16T15:20:00.648Z · score: 47 (15 votes) · LW · GW · 10 comments

Contents

    Knowledge that we can show exists, but cannot directly access, rests at the foundations of society and technology.
  Missing mass, missing knowledge
None
10 comments

Knowledge that we can show exists, but cannot directly access, rests at the foundations of society and technology.

Messier 106

From my post published on the Long Now Foundation's blog.

Missing mass, missing knowledge

Many galaxies would fly apart if they had as much mass as estimates based on their visible signature suggest. Although some have posited alternative theories of gravitation to explain this discrepancy, most physicists now hypothesize the existence of mass-bearing particles that are not detectable through emitted radiation such as visible light. We call these particles dark matter, and it is estimated to compose about 85% of all matter in the observable universe.

In analyzing the functional institutions of our society, we are not able to see for ourselves most of the knowledge that created them. Knowledge of this sort includes trade secrets, tacit technical knowledge, private social networks, private intelligence-gathering operations, management and persuasive skill, cooperation and collusion among founders and their allies, and founders’ long-term plans for their institutions.¹

This knowledge has profound effects on the social landscape. We must understand it if we hope to understand society. We therefore must examine intellectual dark matter: knowledge we cannot see publicly, but whose existence we can infer because our institutions would fly apart if the knowledge we see were all there was.³ Such intellectual dark matter rests at the foundations of our society, dwarfing in scope and importance the accessible, shareable, visible knowledge on which we normally focus.

There are many forms of intellectual dark matter, but the three principal ones are lost, proprietary, and tacit knowledge.

Read the rest here.

10 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-07-17T07:36:16.360Z · score: 13 (7 votes) · LW · GW

On interesting collary is that people who press for decisions to be evidence-based are pressing for decision that are made based on information that can be publicly stated. Pushing too strongly for it might damage the intellecutal dark matter.

comment by tenthkrige · 2019-07-26T09:59:15.644Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't you mean that it will damage the institutions built on intellectual dark matter? Did I miss something?

comment by ChristianKl · 2019-07-26T18:06:43.695Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In Samo Burja model all functioning institutions are partly build on intellectual dark matter.

comment by Alexei · 2019-07-16T20:57:44.402Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Random spot check: I ran the paragraphs about the lawyers by my lawyer friend and she approved.

comment by Samo Burja · 2019-07-16T21:57:57.899Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you! Had asked some lawyer contacts, but always good to get another data point.

comment by Rick Jones (rick-jones) · 2019-07-17T16:03:55.911Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Donald Rumsfeld famously identified known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Most people I knew assumed there were no unknown knowns. But I worked as a Knowledge Manager for about five years, and came to believe that unknown knowns — mainly in the form of institutional and tacit knowledge — contained the real gold. I think this is directly relatable to this concept of “intellectual dark matter.

comment by avturchin · 2019-07-17T07:43:56.737Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Large part of this dark informational matter is "neural nets weights" in human brains, which present themselves in our capability to recognised cats vs. dogs but can't be accessed directly.

comment by Slider · 2019-07-16T17:40:14.998Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

With tacit knowledge there are arising new forms of text that can make them a lot more transferrable. A good video game will have player participation designed in the process and is designed to work with widish amount of player types. They are currently mainly shooting for fun rather than knowledge transfer but they circumvent the "purely teorethical" barrier which would mean that a frozen game code can preserve the "guiding structure" of an expert long after the expert is dead.

comment by philh · 2019-07-20T17:58:58.416Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

consider the founding of Amazon.com in 1994. One could infer at the time from Bezos’ previous employment, an article in his high school newspaper, and reports from his ex-girlfriend that he planned for Amazon to take over all of e-commerce to net enough money to start a space tech company.

I'd be interested to read more about that.

the Medallion Fund managed by Renaissance Technology has returned an average of 40% annually since its inception, including a 100% return in 2008, making it by far the best-performing hedge fund in history and netting its investors tens of billions of dollars.

How confident are we that this isn't luck or fraud? This isn't an accusation, just - I feel like intellectual dark matter is exactly what we'd expect fraud to look like.

From a quick glance at wikipedia, it seems the fund is 20 years old, which I guess mostly rules out luck; and "is available only to current and past employees and their families", which I guess mostly rules out fraud.

comment by Brett B (brett-b) · 2019-07-17T18:11:50.899Z · score: -8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

False analogies to explain confirmation bias: so it ends. Perhaps we can call this the Age of Arrogance... nah, not specific enough.