W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > semantic-web@w3.org > February 2009

Re: live meaning and dead languages

From: Adrian Walker <adriandwalker@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, 6 Feb 2009 08:05:59 -0500
Message-ID: <1e89d6a40902060505q4d637bafqc85b0f7bfe686884@mail.gmail.com>
To: Jeremy Carroll <jeremy@topquadrant.com>
Cc: semantic-web@w3.org
Hi Jeremy --

You wrote...

*"A term which is too tightly nailed down in its relationship to other terms
has been dug into an early grave. Having fixed its meaning, as our world
moves on, the term will become useless.

The trick, in natural language, is that the meaning of terms is somewhat
loose, and moves with the times, while still having some limits.
This looseness of definition gives rise to some misunderstandings (aka
interoperability failures), but not too many, we hope.

So I wonder, as some people try to describe some part of their world with
great precision, using the latest and greatest formal techniques, just how
long that way of describing the world will last. Maybe there is a role in
such precision in allowing us to be clear about differences of opinion ---
but it doesn't seem to me to be a good foundation for building knowledge."*

The good news is, we can have our philosophico-linguistic cake and eat it.
 The trick is to support reasoning in open vocabulary, executable English,
above RDF and other "precise" data notations.

That's how the system online at the site below works.

There's a paper explaining the underlying ideas,

www.reengineeringllc.com/A_Wiki_for_Business_Rules_in_Open_Vocabulary_Executable_English.pdf

and some presentations too, such as,

www.reengineeringllc.com/ibldrugdbdemo1.htm   (Flash video with audio)

Folks who see this for the first time often say "Aha, controlled English".
 Actually it's something different, and it addresses your point about the
fallibility of fixed meaning as the world moves on.

Apologies if you have seen this before, and thanks for comments.

                                                   -- Adrian

Internet Business Logic
A Wiki and SOA Endpoint for Executable Open Vocabulary English over SQL and
RDF
Online at www.reengineeringllc.com    Shared use is *free*

Adrian Walker
Reengineering



On Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 1:34 AM, Jeremy Carroll <jeremy@topquadrant.com>
wrote:
>
>
> One of the occasional defects of people in SW is a tendency to arm chair
philosophizing.
>
> I will indulge.
>
> A book I've been reading this week, had the following, rather over-egged,
paragraph:
>
> "By language, I mean the dance of signs, the continuous process of
symbolic exchange between people, the humming communication network of which
the human life world consists. I mean also to invoke the vast strange and
multi-dimensional world of linguistic mean-ing -- and I am hyphenating
mean-ing, like be-ing, because <em>mean-ing is a process too</em>. We need
to make this point because for so long European intellectuals studied only
dead languages -- Latin, Greek and Hebrew -- and failed to grasp the way the
transactions of life are carried out and the life world is produced and
formed by the <em>motion</em> of living language." [1]
>
> In terms of meaning on the web, I see that the web as a place where the
life world is produced, by active extensions of our linguistic apparatus. I
hence have an aversion to techniques and technologies that somehow pretend
that meaning on the web, and in particular the semantic web, should or could
be made static and somehow lifeless. So, I have difficulty seeing the
meaning of any URI as univocal or fixed or even particularly well-defined.
This leads to some hesitation concerning systems of definitions and axioms
built on top of such univocity.
>
> I think this worry becomes more so as axioms and systems of axioms become
more complicated. (I just about see similarities between OWL2 and the
Shorter Latin Primer I had at high school).
>
> A term which is too tightly nailed down in its relationship to other terms
has been dug into an early grave. Having fixed its meaning, as our world
moves on, the term will become useless.
>
> The trick, in natural language, is that the meaning of terms is somewhat
loose, and moves with the times, while still having some limits.
> This looseness of definition gives rise to some misunderstandings (aka
interoperability failures), but not too many, we hope.
>
> So I wonder, as some people try to describe some part of their world with
great precision, using the latest and greatest formal techniques, just how
long that way of describing the world will last. Maybe there is a role in
such precision in allowing us to be clear about differences of opinion ---
but it doesn't seem to me to be a good foundation for building knowledge.
>
> Perhaps fortunately, I am an engineer not a philosopher!
>
> Jeremy
>
>
> [1] Don Cupitt, 2001, Emptiness and Brightness,  p95
>
>
>
Received on Friday, 6 February 2009 13:06:36 UTC

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