Things that would be cool to work on

A Crowdsourced Religious/Spiritual Text | A Programming Language for Argumentation | Showing Historical Timelines Side-by-Side

A Crowdsourced Religious/Spiritual Text

What I am imagining is a book-length document, produced over the span of decades by thousands of individual contributors. The main purpose of such a book would be to provide an opinionated, unifying, and persuasive answer to the question of how to live a good life, that is relevant to the 21st century. It would in a sense, provide a snapshot of what our global society thinks about the deepest questions of existence.

Wikipedia is perhaps the closest relative to what I have in mind, but I am thinking that this would be smaller in size, more tightly focused, and with a different goal in mind. It's not just about transmitting knowledge, but about telling stories and conveying a moral message.

I don't quite know what it would turn into: would it be possible to unite people with wildly differing opinions, or would some camps be pushed off the platform for their disagreements? Would a general style of writing emerge, or would the text read as if it were written by many different authors? If so, would that be a problem? Would it be possible for the text to still make strong claims, or would everything be watered down to satisfy the committee?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but it would be cool to very carefully design a set of principles/protocols and let them unwind to see what gets produced.

A Programming Language for Argumentation

When I am writing code, I typically use an IDE which is able to help me in several ways, like typechecking, linter errors, and automatic imports. It would be great if there were an analogous "language" in which I could write down the premises, conclusions, assumptions, and consequences of various positions and arguments. If the language has enough structure then it ought to be possible to do several things automagically, like:

  • identifying when an argument contains a logical fallacy.
  • recognising that when two claims both refer to the same thing, then working out how the implications of one argument apply to the other.
  • reformulating arguments in different language, or showing when arguments are isomorphic to each other.
  • highlighting when certain claims are supported or rebutted by other arguments.
  • recognising that concepts can be built up from other concepts.

Perhaps this is a similar project to what Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead attempted in the early 1900s with the Principia. That project ultimately failed, though not without giving rise to some beautiful insights about how self-referential systems make certain types of logical certainty impossible.

Showing Historical Timelines Side-by-Side

I have had the desire, on a few occasions, to have some easy way to view multiple, arbitrary timelines side-by-side. It would be interesting, for example to compare the scientific advancements being made in the Islamic world in the 8th-12th centuries, with a timeline of the major events in the Crusades. Or, to look the enlightenment both in terms of technological progress and political shifts overlaid on top of each other.

This is a smaller idea than the other two, and might even be small enough for a weekend project, but I still think it would be a cool resource to have access too. I can imagine working on adding timelines and building up a knowledge base over time; or just pulling the data from Wikipedia.

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