The Knowledge Management Research Group

Play it again Pythagoras

(Titti Hasselrot interviews Ambjörn Naeve)

Maybe I can best describe the flavor of this 'Pythagorean Prototype' of the GOK, by translating an article by Titti Hasselrot, titled Play it again Pythagoras, where she describes a demo of the program which I gave her as CID on September 30, 1996.


Ambjörn Naeve invites us into his garden of knowledge, which means starting up his computer and the multi-medial learning environment that is emerging here at KTH in a close collaboration between engineers, scientists, musicologists, graphich designers and artists. Several of the university colleges around Valhallavägen are involved in this interdisciplinary development process - including The Royal Institute of Technology, The Royal University College of Music, Konstfack and the Dramatic Institute. Industrial interest includes Apple as well as the Swedish Institute for Systems Development. The basic resources are provided by CID (Center for User Oriented IT-Design), which is a recently formed competence center at KTH. The aim of the Garden Of Knowledge project is to provide a wealth of material for people that are curious about all sorts of ideas - with an emphasis on their cultural and historical development process. Not only 'engineering concepts' such as the wheel, the printing press or the electric light bulb, but also more philosophical and esoteric ideas, such as 'god', 'love', or 'music'.

The Esoteric Dimensions of Reality

The first appearance in the garden - i.e. on the screen - is the old greek 'mathemagician' Pythagoras, one of the founding fathers of science. Now you have to choose whether to click the yellow or the red apple up in the left hand corner. Ambjörn Naeve - the basic architect behind the project - explains: "If you click the yellow apple, the program transits to its material (= exoteric) state. Here you can browse through the historical development of 'materialistic ideas' - all the way from Pythagoras ( ? 600 BC) up to present times - and study questions of an extrovert (material) nature. If you click the red apple, the program transits to the esoteric (= spiritual) state, where you can study more introvert types of questions."

Ambjörn Naeve is well aware of how provocative it can be to speak of esoteric matters within the scientific community. The important thing is that the new generation of students will be allowed to build their own world-views in a way that has not been biased from either the material or the spiritual side. In this respect the Garden of Knowledge project can be seen as an attempt to 'breach the gulf' betweeen science and humaniora. It is just as limiting for a 'humanist' to remain ignorant of scientific matters as it is for a 'scientist' to disregard philosophy and the history of ideas.

The Musical Harmony of the Spheres

So, let us click the lyre - which leans against a wall in Pythagoras' garden - because the lyre is the entrance to the field of music. What did Pythagoras think about music - almost six hundred years before Christ? If we take the exoteric route into the material we get into Pythagoras' theory of harmony. He was the first to quantify the natural harmonies of two vibrating string, and he showed that the harmonious tones corresponded to simple, integral ratios of the lengths of the strings. In this way Pythagoras established a profound connection between mathematics and music. "He was the first to mathematize music", says Ambjörn Naeve, who is himself a mathematician with a strong musical interest.

If, in stead, we enter the lyre through the red apple, we encounter a beautiful engraving of the harmonious music of the spheres, which represents Pythagoras' view of the world - and the interplay between its material and spiritual forces.

The GOK program is far from finished. What will we see if we click the red or the yellow apple in the future? What will we see that has to do with music in our own age? Is it really still possible - in this day and age of specialization - to envisage the connections between the philosophical or humanistic perspective on the one hand, and the scientific or engineering perspective on the other? "Yes", says Ambjörn Naeve, "let me give you an example. On the one hand, we have in our days the art form of so called 'minimalistic music' . On the other hand, within science and mathematics we find many patterns of regularity being expressed with the help of computers. The relationship between minimalistic music and the theory of patterns is just as profoud as the relationship between Pythagoras' theory of harmony and his philosophical world-view. It's just a matter of seeing it."

Being a geometer, Ambjörn Naeve takes a leap sideways and clicks into the field of Patterns. He demonstrates the 17 different repetitive principles that exist for constructing wallpapers in the mathematical sense. "For example, take a wallpaper with this repetitive effect. Add instructions concerning the instruments, the tempo and the volume that you want for the music. Then you can try out what this wallpaper 'sounds like'!"

Transmuting Knowledge into Understanding

We want to cultivate knowledge so that it is transmuted into understanding. This means that we support a change of the traditional teaching role, away from 'tenured preacher' and 'knowledge-filter' towards the new role 'gardener' and 'knowledge-cultivator'. "Students with some amount of extra curiosity is the primary target group for the Garden Of Knowledge program during the development work", says Ambjörn Naeve, "but we all hope that the program will eventually disseminate down to younger age groups." Through the GOK program, the user should also have access to various databases - as well as to books and other learning tools. "Book publishers cannot go on keeping their secrets", he says, "a book can no longer be treated like a pound of butter!"

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