Problem solving and systems thinking LO20331

Leo Minnigh (
Fri, 8 Jan 1999 16:20:21 +0100 (MET)

Replying to LO20274 --

Dear LO'ers,

I must cut the message of At in bits, otherwise the dialogue becomes too
chaotic (for me). So I have copied only one paragraph to refer to. But
references and links to other parts and the great contribution of Jon
Krispin (LO20309) could be made. It becomes a complicated web.

On Thu, 24 Dec 1998, AM de Lange wrote:

> So why the effort of doing it? Let us consider two facets. First, let
> us think about understanding (comprehension). Our understanding (by
> emergences and digestions) of any topic, say A, grows as we relate
> topic A to all our other experiences and perceptions of other topics.
> Our understanding grows only digestively and not also emergently when
> we restrict our attention to merely topic A. Hence we will slowly
> stagnate in our understanding. To avoid this stagnation, we must open
> ourselves up to more and more topics. But we have to do it along a web
> and not haphazardously. Thus we need a web which encompass all of
> reality. "Entropy production" affords us one possible way to trace
> this entire web.

This is the paragraph. It is a nice description of something which is
known in the information sciences as a SCIENCE MAP. Let me explain what
this is.
I am not sure if some of you have used computerized databases for a
literature survey. It could be one of the databases hosted at Dialog (!)
or ESA, or it could be a database on CD-ROM. It are databases where
keyworded references are stored, usually of scientific papers published in
journals or conferencepapers. Also books and reports could be
incorperated. The number of references on one CD ROM disk is some 10,000
records stored; the complete databases at a host computer, like Chemical
Abstracts, or INSPEC (physical and computer sciences) contain milions of
If a keyword is entered as a query, a number of hits will be found, say
1500. It is as if we are standing in a centre with a cloud of information
on a certain subject around us. Some of the information might be relevant
to us, others not. And for sure there will be much more relevant
information in the database, but not linked to the used keyword.
If we could analyse each record of the 1500 hits individually, we will
find, apart from our keyword, lots of other keywords attached to these
We will make a list of these other keywords and count the total number of
each. We will further analyse the 50 most used other keywords. Now we make
a table with these keywords and count the number of times that such
keyword with another keyword from this list occur together in the same
reference. After done this you will have a table which looks similar to
those tables where distances between cities in a country are indicated.
As a country map could be reconstructed from the distance data of the
cities, so are we able to make a map where the keywords are plotted. The
closer two keywords are together, the often the occur in references
together. It is in practice a difficult job, especially because a
2-dimensional map is made of a multi-dimensional space.
However I have seen very interesting examples of this technique in the
literature. These science maps show very nicely the relationships between
related topics.
And as a matter of interest, one could make such map, based on the
literature until 1970 or so, and a second map of the same subject, based
on the literature from 1970 onwards. The mutations and rearrangements and
the appearences of new topics is very fascinating. The evolution of a
scientific subject is represented in a couple of pictures!

Do these computerised Science maps, constructed from keywords of the
published literature, have any meaning? Well I know of one of a researcher
in this field that they have value. He interviewed a large number of
scientists of a certain discipline to give him a list of 10 topics which
are in their mind the most relevant to their research. Ofcourse there were
lots of similarities in the topics mentioned, but there was hardly any
list which was perfectly identical with another. When all these topics
were plotted in a map, this map fitted perfectly with the results based on
the databases.
In fact the maps looked like a neural network.

It is also possible to change the scale of these maps, by using less or
more keywords in the table. One could also zoom into certain areas in the
map, by using these keywords as starting point of a new analysis.

You may create very simple science maps yourself. In the
Altavista searchengine this could be realised. If you type a query in
AltaVista a large number of hits will be found in the Internet. AltaVista
offers now the opportunity to make a map after you have used the 'refine
your search' button. They call it GRAPH. I wonder if
some of you have used this thing. It might be very helpful in looking
further and filtering your first results.
I have just looked at the results of the following:
type LEARNING ORGANIZATION in the box of a simple query in AltaVista.
Refine your search
press the button GRAPH
(now you need Java software)
After a while a very nice map is shown (even the name Karash was on the
The nice result of this map was that the topic TEAMS was in the centre.
I hope your PC is able to do this as well.

These science maps are a visualization of what At mentioned: all kinds of
related topics are shown in a picture which enables you to look to the
surroundings. It could be also of use for further exploration,
understanding and digesting. To come to an emergency one should keep the
central topic in the back yards of your mind, but make several and regular
visits to the surrounding topics. The picture of its relationships is of
great help.

Ofcourse, one could try to make such map, just by your own thinking.

The whole course of emergent understanding is like the daisy flower: a
whole corona of loops to the successive topics in the surrounding
(looking outside) and coming back to the heart of the flower (topic A).
And than again, the next loop, and so on.

dr. Leo D. Minnigh
Library Technical University Delft
PO BOX 98, 2600 MG Delft, The Netherlands
Tel.: 31 15 2782226
Let your thoughts meander towards a sea of ideas.


Leo Minnigh <>

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