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Re: [ontolog-forum] Cultural variation in cognitive machinery

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 2010 09:34:04 -0400
Message-id: <4BC3214C.7010907@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ali,    (01)

I said that my previous note was the last I would write on this thread,
but the following point is significant for ontology:    (02)

AH> When writing on the computer, with access to the internet, the type
> of thought that comes out, with all the attendant references, links
> etc, is very different than a conversation conducted say by letters
> over a several month period...    (03)

I agree that writing is an extremely important memory aid, and that
computer networks are extremely valuable transmission media.  But
I wanted to emphasize that preliterate societies also had excellent
memory aids, which modern societies don't fully appreciate.    (04)

As your friend McLuhan said, "The medium is the message."  And those
preliterate societies had a very wide range of media that modern
scientists are only beginning to decipher.    (05)

AH> With symbolic representation, it's there, plain for me to refer to.
> How I think about, process and use what you said has changed...    (06)

But language itself is the ultimate symbolic representation.  Long
before writing was invented, oral traditions could preserve and
transmit highly precise information over many centuries.    (07)

I also agree that a visual representation that people can refer to
while they're talking is extremely important.  Note the ubiquitous
use of blackboards, scratches in the sand, and other markers by
mathematicians.    (08)

And don't forget the importance of art, diagrams, sculpture, and
things like Stonehenge as memory aids.  Stonehenge is just the most
obvious because of its size, but preliterate societies have been
using notched sticks, strings of beads, totem poles, landmarks,
"sacred" mountains and trees, etc., as memory aids.    (09)

The Cro-magnon "art" wasn't just art, it was history.  Unfortunately,
we lost the accompanying oral tradition that explicates it.    (010)

The stone arrows and blades, for example, are themselves excellent
memory aids about how the artifacts are created, and modern
archaeologists have analyzed them to recreate the technology.    (011)

Another important point is that the oral tradition depended very
heavily on rhythm and music to preserve the words verbatim.  I'm
sure that we have all noticed that we can remember words of songs
much more precisely than anything our teachers told us in school.    (012)

All the oral bards who preserved the histories verbatim over many
centuries used musical or rhythmic accompaniment.  Most often,
they played a lyre or a simple stringed instrument, and many
of the best and most accurate bards were blind.    (013)

Relevance to ontology:  The medium might not be the entire
message, but it is an important aid to getting the message
across.  The current media that people have been using for
representing ontologies (e.g., RDF and OWL) represent the
an extreme *degradation* of the medium.    (014)

We desperately need better media for representing ontologies.
Graphics can help, but a lot of innovation is necessary to
discover good forms.    (015)

John    (016)

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