philosophies.space was created by Stefan Haselwimmer, screenwriter, technology entrepreneur and former philosophy student. At Cambridge in the early 90s, he had the vision of creating a computer system that would transform the way people conduct philosophical enquiry and open the subject to a wider audience.
After developing concept maps at Mirror Group Newspapers and New Statesman and building crowd-sourced solutions at Usability Exchange, he started work on Good Men, a novel based around the idea of a philosophy concept map. In Good Men (excerpt below), a 3D interface to the world’s philosophy is created with every logical proposition meticulously annotated and interconnected.
Good Men (2009)
By Stefan Haselwimmer
We carried on walking down the left-hand side. There were more individuals sitting at small tables in the alcoves, focused on computer screens and oblivious to the noise. At the end of the room which was roughly 200 metres end to end was a wide window with a view over the male dorm, towards the farm buildings. Susanna remained silent and eventually I said: “So can you explain to me what you do again?” “Sit there.” She gestured towards an empty alcove and then jogged back down the stacks. She returned with a leather bound volume. Hobbes’s Leviathan. I opened it and saw the picture, the man made up of little men.
“We start off with a book. We read it. Then we transcribe it, note down the chunky ideas, enter them into the system. Then we send it out. Millions of people out there on the internet. They make corrections, connections between the ideas. We repeat. Very quickly we have an accurate map of all the ideas, relationships, implications, assumptions in the book.”
She continued: “Took us a few years to get such a complex distributed system working but we’re very happy with it now.”
“So you pay all these millions of people out there?” I asked.
“Well some people get paid. Most don’t want to, it’s just fun, a chance to make a contribution,” she explained. She stopped for a moment and looked round the room.
“Lucy!” she shouted. Two girls turned around. “Lucy Bernice?” Susanna beckoned her over.
“Meet Lucy Bernice. Until a few months ago Lucy was working in a small accountancy firm in Utah. In March she came up with a new interpretation of Spinoza’s metaphysics.”
“It was an accident really,” Lucy said, slightly embarrassed.
I smiled at Lucy, trying to remember if I’d read any Spinoza. “That’s very impressive,” I said.
“I better get back to it,” Lucy said. She left and Susanna continued: “Lucy’s very bright. Was spending most of her spare time on the system, reading books, making amendments. She never went to university.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. “Let me give you a demonstration,” she said. She picked up one of the computer tablets on the table and swiped the screen three times. “Here we go. Leviathan. Find a page,” she said.
I flicked through the book at random. “Page 34,” I replied. She pulled it up on her screen and handed the tablet over to me. I looked down the page on the screen, found something that looked interesting: “in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” Then clicked on it. A range of possible interpretations in plain English popped up.
I clicked further and kept on clicking through to related ideas, possible implications, justifications, jumping through the history of ideas.
I lingered on Aristotle’s politics for some time, aware that Susanna had left, and then bounced through to a New York Times article published in 1987. I was about to start on Das Kapital when Susanna interrupted me.
“James?” she said, “It’s lunchtime”.
I looked up at her speechless and she smiled. “Now do you understand what we do?”