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Re: [ontolog-forum] Wittgenstein and the pictures

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 11:36:11 -0400
Message-id: <4891DBEB.30203@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ferenc and Len,    (01)

Those three sentences make many assumptions that must be clarified:    (02)

FK> Context is inseparable from meaning, just as pragmatics
 > from semantics.  Context is proportional to the length of
 > anything expressly communicated. The more you know, the less
 > you need to be told.    (03)

The only one I would accept without qualification is the last.
For the first, the word 'inseparable' is confusing.  I would
certainly agree that context is a prerequisite for interpreting
any sign of any kind, and in that sense it cannot be separated
from meaning.  But it is important to distinguish the sign itself
from the context in which it is interpreted.    (04)

I would also agree that pragmatics depends on and is interconnected
with semantics and syntax as well as the context in which a sign
is interpreted.  But again, I would say that it is important to
distinguish how the sign is being interpreted, and which aspects
of the interpretation are depend on the truth and reference (i.e.,
semantics) and which depend on the purpose or intention of the
agent who produced the sign and the agent(s) who are interpreting
the sign (i.e., pragmatics or rhetoric).    (05)

But the idea that context is proportional to the length of the sign
is wrong.  The context includes all relevant information in the
environment, the surrounding signs, and even background knowledge
that the agents might assume or suggest.    (06)

A person screaming "Help!" while partially submerged in water
means something very different from a person screaming "Help!"
out of the window of a burning building.  And the presence of
a shark fin in the water or smoke coming out of the window has
more influence on the interpretation than the actual word that
is spoken.  A wordless scream would be sufficient.    (07)

FK> My humble experience shows that children understand the world
 > a lot earlier before they can speak or use any vocalisations
 > of a language type.    (08)

That is certainly true.    (09)

FK> This also means that thinking is not tied up with using an NL,
 > and the building blocks of thinking are not concepts, especially
 > not words.    (010)

No.  It means that an enormous amount of thinking is independent
of and a prerequisite for any NL.  But there is also an enormous
amount of thinking that would never occur to anyone without an NL.    (011)

In addition to the writings by Temple Grandin, I highly recommend
the studies of the great apes -- chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas,
and orangutans.  They are extremely intelligent animals whose
perceptual organs, motor mechanisms, and emotions are very similar
to humans.  I recommend the following book for insight into their
psychology and sociology in comparison with humans:    (012)

    de Waal, Frans (2005) _Our Inner Ape:  Power, Sex, Violence,
    Kindness, and the Evolution of Human Nature_, Penguin Group,
    New York.    (013)

But just as important is the insight from seeing the changes in
behavior of those apes who have been taught a sign system that
is language-like.  To a very large extent, they become even more
human-like.  In the paper I cited earlier,    (014)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/pubs/pursuing.pdf    (015)

I quoted the following passage about Kanzi the bonobo, who understood
a large number of words of spoken English.  The observer is Stuart
Shanker, a skeptical Wittgensteinian philosopher, who became a
believer in Kanzi's abilities after spending some time with him:    (016)

    On Shanker’s first visit, Sue asked Kanzi, "I’m going to take Stuart
    around the lab. Could you please water the tomato plants for me while
    we're doing this?" Following is Shanker's description of what Kanzi
    did:    (017)

    "And sure enough, I watched as he trundled over to an outdoor water
    faucet, picked up a bucket that was lying beside it, turned on the
    spigot and filled the bucket, turned off the faucet himself, and
    then walked down to a vegetable patch at the far end of the compound,
    carrying the bucket in one hand.  When he reached the vegetables, I
    watched as he poured the water on a small patch of tomato plants
    growing in the corner of the vegetable patch."    (018)

    There is no evidence of which words of the request Kanzi understood.
    But he was undoubtedly familiar with the task of watering the
    tomatoes, and he understood the language games related to that task.    (019)

FK>> If you co-operate with your environment smoothly, you do not need
 >> to communicate at all.    (020)

LY> Thank you for this observation. This may be stated succinctly as:
 > communication is ephemeral.    (021)

That discussion is hopelessly misleading, and the word 'communicate'
is the heart of the confusion.  Instead, I would recommend the far
more general word 'sign'.  All "cooperation" depends on signs, as
does all forms of resistance and fighting.  And what does "ephemeral"
add?  Most signs are conveyed in much less than a day.    (022)

LY> I think that thinking is epi-phenomenon as well.    (023)

That raises an enormous number of questions that lead to endless
confusion.  Talking about signs makes the discussion far more
concrete, and it makes it possible to discuss and analyze all the
phenomena of human communication, ape communication, as well as the
intermediate cases of apes and humans who use a form of language.    (024)

Please read that paper I cited, which discusses and classifies the
various kinds of signs and their relationships to the specialized
signs of language.    (025)

John    (026)

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