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Re: Syntax and semantics

From: W. E. Perry <wperry@fiduciary.com>
Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 15:14:35 -0400
Message-ID: <3924411B.D1D2E8FE@fiduciary.com>
To: John Robert Gardner <jrgardn@emory.edu>, xml-uri@w3.org
I find this entertaining and appreciate it on that basis alone. I would however
suggest that the crucial difference between what we do in semasiology or
critical theory, on the one hand, and in creating software on the other, is the
explicit recognition, indeed the centrality, of *process* in the creation of
executable code. Software design is a discipline of recognizing taxonomically,
and then efficiently factoring for the problem at hand, the processes for
proceeding from the given data to the requisite output. Epistemological
processes, though real, through which semantics are elaborated from
content-in-syntax are simply not so explicitly recognized, as process, by the
less function-obsessed disciplines which study them. That has historically been
a methodological lapse in the West since Plato. The concepts themselves of
archetypal forms and their transient instantiations cannot really be challenged
in their baldly nominative presentation because they are, after all, as good an
hypothesis as we've seen, whether in Plato's cave or in OO design. What can be
empirically examined, however, are the specific processes through which
(semantically freighted) instances are constructed--to determine not only the
conformance of the process in the instance to the model which it follows, but
also to validate that model itself as an appropriate abstraction for the
outcome required of the instance process. Notice that this is the converse of
'validation' in SGML or valid XML, for here we are validating the model against
the instance.

Where is all this leading? Simply (I hope) to the recognition that the
description I have offered for the process of elaborating semantics from syntax
through the working of executable code is both intellectually defensible on its
own terms and practicable within the topology of the Internet, regardless of
the grounds which, as an abstraction, it may offer for dispute within the
current academic practice of critical theory.

Respectfully,

Walter Perry


John Robert Gardner wrote:

> It's a slippery slope to raise the spectre of Derrida and deconstruction,
> but since "recent 20th century critical theory" has already been
> [mis]bandied on this point, "recent" theory would actually weigh in that
> "autonomous, anonymous nodes" _do_ communicate exactly as intended by the
> spec. even if the are entirely ephemeral strings (and I am not, to be
> sure, registering a pro-or-con opinion on the larger issues of late, nor
> the cheetos-n-blood of yore).  By "naming" --however arbitrarily--
> semantics are conveyed in that syntactic act.
>
> I create and name "buwidgerist."  It is a round creature shaped like a tac
> found on the moon.  It is right in front of me on the wall mural of the
> moon as I type.  Prior to my typing that, buwidgerist did not exist, but
> in naming a distinction was made.  Actually, there are tacs holding up my
> mural, but naming them as moon creatures distinguishes and semantically
> instantiates something of my office which, to this list, is otherwise an
> unknown room somewhere.
>
> I shudder to reference a rose and its aroma by any other name . . . but
> the point in naming is not semantic content but distinguishing.  To name,
> even with a nonsense word like buwidgerist, is to make a crucial
> ontological distinction upon which all semantic content is necessarily
> predicated: it makes the thing named _not_ something else. Whatever else
> it is beyond that--semantically or otherwise--is dependent upon the
> ensuing exchange.
>
> It is a misnomer, then, to procede under the premise that a name alone
> serves no semantic purpose/meaning value.  On the contrary, it is the
> fundamental premise upon which any expository utterance, digital or
> otherwise, is dependent.  In and of themselves, the binary "1" or "0" at
> the electronic--even subatomic--level (and chaos theory attests to the
> import of naming as saying _something_, cf. Heisenberg Principle), say
> only what the state of that bit is not.
>
> respectfully,
>
> johnrobert gardner
Received on Thursday, 18 May 2000 15:14:37 UTC

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