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

Re: live meaning and dead languages

From: Frank Manola <fmanola@acm.org>
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2009 12:00:57 -0500
Cc: SWIG <semantic-web@w3.org>
Message-Id: <6F9A9693-FC9C-430D-A368-19941B4E73A7@acm.org>
To: paola.dimaio@gmail.com

On Feb 7, 2009, at 8:02 PM, paola.dimaio@gmail.com wrote:

> I forgot to make the conclusion to the email below:
> The  challenge of the SW is to keep track of reality that is  
> constantly changing, although some parts of it are more volatile  
> than others
> The moment we fix something (take a snaposhot,) it is is always  
> already obsolete as the real thing will change and the snapshot does  
> not
> I think the trick is to be painfully aware of the limitations of our  
> representations, instead of being fooled into the illusion that when  
> we look at the representation we look at the real thing
> (map is not territory metaphor)

All this seems reasonable enough, but we also need to remember that in  
these respects the SW isn't going to be all that different from lots  
of other "representations" that we use and rely on all the time  
(databases, maps, books, etc.), and which are perfectly reasonable  
representations of what the purport to depict for most purposes.   
Using your example, a map may not be the territory, and we need to  
have in the backs of our minds the fact that things may have changed  
since the map was made (or that the map is inaccurate in some  
respect), but that doesn't mean we don't rely a lot on maps and find  
them extremely useful.  Moreover, since we know we're going to rely on  
maps being a good representation of the territory (that's what we make  
them for), part of the "engineering" that goes into them involves  
making them as reliable as possible, and keeping them up to date.  It  
also involves creating artifacts like benchmarks that we specifically  
try to make sure stay where they were when the map was created, while  
everything else is changing independently (benchmarks can move, or  
disappear too, but we make specific efforts to reduce those  
occurrences), to act as reference points.  We also recognize (and tend  
to rely on) that things depicted on the map change at different rates,  
and to different extents.  For example, when looking at a highway map,  
I'm apt to be a lot more ready to believe that a bridge along the  
route between Philadelphia and Baltimore has been torn down since the  
map was created than to believe that Philadelphia has disappeared (or  
moved into New Jersey).  The point is that some things (or aspects of  
those things), even if they change, aren't necessarily going to change  
fast enough so that assuming they're reasonably static generates  
significant errors (in whatever).


> On Sun, Feb 8, 2009 at 7:51 AM, <paola.dimaio@gmail.com> wrote:
> [FM]
> One thing that needs clarification here, it seems to me, is what is  
> meant exactly by "term" in the SW (maybe that's an illustration  
> itself!), particularly when comparing it with natural language.
> [PDM]
> I did some research a while back to nail down the term 'term', since  
> it became obvious that people were referring different constructs  
> with it.
> "term' ethymologically means 'boundary' (from the name of the latin  
> god Terminus, who set the boundary for the city)
> such boundaries can be expressed
> linguistically (term has lexical definition),
> numerically (term has quantifier)
> as a condition (term is a clause )
> (more?)
> I think the above boundaries can be mapped to each other in some  
> instances which can be defined by all three (but some instances will  
> be defined by only one of the above expressions)
> so what in this thread is discussed as 'the definition keeps  
> changing', after some consideration i think that it is the  
> boundaries of things that we try to define that keep changing, this  
> is probably because reality keeps going only as long as it is in  
> flux (you would not want to change that, cause the whole thing would  
> crash)
> Its the dynamic forces of the universe that cause that
> Nailing down boundaries for a specific purpose is OK (say a  
> controlled vocabulary), provided they are periodically revised, used  
> within their scope
> Paola Di Maio
> [FM]
>  The meaning of terms may "move with the times", but when a term has  
> been used in a specific context, I want to know what the term meant  
> in that context (which may be a temporal context, or some other  
> kind).  Take the term "torpedo", for example.  At one time, it meant  
> a particular kind of electric fish.  Later, it became used to also  
> refer to various kinds of explosive devices (e.g., naval mines, as  
> in "damn the torpedos, full speed ahead", and railroad signals).   
> Today, you usually think of a self-propelled naval weapon, but the  
> fishes are still "torpedos", and the use of the term to refer to a  
> naval mine is obsolete (but would be relevant in, say, discussing  
> the American Civil War).  So is this acquisition (and de- 
> acquisition) of other meanings an example of the meaning of a term  
> "moving with the times" as you describe it?  Or do I really have, so- 
> to-speak, several terms "with the same name" (torpedo).  If the  
> latter, the distinct "terms" seem to have fairly exact and  
> reasonably unchanging meanings (even though the "same name" can  
> cause confusion).  I'm sure there's some linguistic vocabulary to  
> describe this stuff.  The point is, I'm not sure I want "looseness  
> of definition";  what I want is some kind of flexible versioning  
> mechanism.
> --Frank
Received on Sunday, 8 February 2009 17:01:41 UTC

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