David Kolb’s Socrates in the Labyrinth is one of a handful of hypertext essays published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. and the only one that focuses on the topic of philosophy. It asks the question, “Does a philosophical argument need to be in a linear order?”
The work consists of five files: one named “Socrates in the Labyrinth,” which figures as the main text, along with four smaller works: “Habermas Pyramid,” “Earth Orbit,” “Cleavings,” and “Aristotle’s Argument.” The main text follows the multi-linear structure used in many of the hypertext produced with Storyspace––that is, nodes with numerous other nodes nested within them. In total Socrates in the Labyrinth is made of up 26,000 words, 307 nodes of text with 741 links.
The four smaller hypertexts are built on specific structures identifiable by their names:
1 “Habermas Pyramid” involves “multi-level pyramidal hypertext outline” (8)
2 “Earth Orbit” presents “statements of linear argument . . . ordered in multiple cycles and epicycles” (9)
3 “Cleavings” compiles “four classic but diverse texts” (9) for showing the difference the structure of argumentation between hypertext to linear forms
4 “Aristotle’s Argument” experiments with hypertext arguments with a “complex argument from Aristotle” (9). ("Socrates in the Labyrinth Manual")
Kolb also produced a 6th file called “Caged Text” (named after the great experimental artist, John Cage). This one, currently unpublished, is structured around random pages from randomly chosen books from his personal library and linked together by a mix of randomly selected and intentional paths to demonstrate that humans make meaning even under such circumstances.
By taking this tact with his work Kolb arrives at the answer to his question: Arguments do not need to be linear. However, his seemingly benign line of thought suggests larger, more challenging questions relating to hegemony and the dominance of practices that limit modes of discourse, methodologies, perspectives, and ultimately thought.
While his multi-faceted approach to argumentation was not embraced by his fellow philosophers, his work was well-received by media theorists. Reviews of his work by Nick Carbone, Susana Pajeres Tosca and others lauded Kolb’s achievement as “well-crafted” and “exciting.”
Socrates in the Labyrinth is indeed a tour de force and an important work in The Storyspace School for its content and approach.