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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontology and methodology

To: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 01:22:08 -0500
Message-id: <4600CF10.4020808@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat,    (01)

There are many different kinds of signs, and you don't even
have to use Peirce's classification.  The Miriam-Webster Third
Unabridged Dictionary has 11 major definitions, each with
up to four subdefinitions.    (02)

JFS>> Bacteria ... have a rich system of responses to
 >> a wide range of signs, which include chemicals
 >> of various kinds, physical contact, temperature, etc.    (03)

PH> Wait. Why do you call these 'signs'? What makes a physical
 > attribute into a 'sign'?  If anything at all can be a sign,
 > the category is meaningless.    (04)

What makes something a sign is the interpreter -- human, animal,
or even bacterium.  Some things are conventional signs, but most
signs are signs only in the eye (or other senses) of the beholder.    (05)

They're called signs because that's the common English word:
M-W 3rd, Def 7 b:  "something that serves to indicate the
presence or existence of a thing or quality or condition".    (06)

By this definition, a tree standing in a field is a sign that
there is a tree in the field.  That's the simplest kind of sign.    (07)

Second, that tree is also a sign that there has been sufficient
water for a period of many years for that tree to grow.  That is
a more complex interpretation, which can be very important for
a farmer who wants to plant something.    (08)

Third, that tree might be a familiar sign that a traveler
uses for orientation or as a landmark.    (09)

Fourth, the tree might be an agreed sign of a place where
several people plan to meet for a picnic or other assignation.    (010)

Fifth, etc.  There is no limit to the number of possible
interpretations, depending on the circumstances and the
prior knowledge or intentions of the interpreter.    (011)

PH> If it is a sign if it produces a reaction in some living thing,
 > why do you exclude viruses? They react to their environment in
 > various ways.    (012)

I said that viruses are signs, but they are not able to interpret
signs.  That is why they would not meet the criteria for being alive.
Even a seed of an ordinary plant can be considered alive, because
it is able to detect signs of water and respond by sprouting.
A virus must always be inside something else that is alive before
it can be involved in any activity.    (013)

PH> You describe the interaction between a cell and a virus in terms
 > that make the cell be the agent, but this is merely word-play.    (014)

But only the bacterium has any ability to "do" anything.  The virus,
by itself, is completely inert.  Even inside a cell, the virus is
processed by the mechanisms used to reproduce the DNA of the bacterium.
The virus merely sits there and undergoes the same operation that is
performed on the DNA of the bacterium.    (015)

PH> You could just as easily say that the virus (cleverly) tricks the
 > (dumb, mindless) cell into ingesting it. But none of this
 > intentional talk is appropriate at this scale.    (016)

One could.  But that is like saying that pigs "trick" people into
eating them so that the humans will take over the job of caring for
and raising their progeny.  That assumes quite a lot of foresight.    (017)

John    (018)

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