Ensure That Provenance Bottoms Out

Some questions may be pursued circularly, where for example you cannot find a final cause – you must ask, What caused that cause? Or you cannot find an ultimate goal – Then what purpose does that serve? Such loops can waste our time.1

It is a form of self-control to establish ways to bottom out, to employ base cases to stop recursion. When a child repeatedly asks Why?, adults may employ Just because!

Cultures establish ways to deal with the need for bottoming out such as branding with shame or taboo, cloaking in awe or mystery, and consensus. Cultures evolve institutions that adopt specific answers to circular questions and establish authority-schemes to enforce these beliefs.

One could complain that such establishments substitute dogma for reason and truth. But in exchange, they spare whole populations from wasting time in fruitless reason loops. Rather, minds can more productively work on problems that can be solved.

When annotating a digital research object with lifecycle provenance metadata, including conceptual provenance relating to hypotheses and study design, it is reasonable to “bottom out” to a current consensus view, a milestone along the path of Kuhnian2 paradigm shifts stretching to the past and to the unknown future.

This post was adapted from a note sent to my email list on Machine-Centric Science.
I'd love for you to subscribe.

  1. M. Minsky, The Society of Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986, p. 49. ↩︎

  2. T. S. Kuhn, The structure of scientific revolutions. 1962. ↩︎