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Re: [ontolog-forum] Spatial Extent of Abstract Entities?

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: rrovetto@xxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Fri, 24 May 2013 14:47:44 +0900
Message-id: <CADM4J9wOsc5AsG_5OG_R3VeJ4dmPZ4en_aGHR5EE8=+1mYzZsQ@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

On Fri, May 24, 2013 at 11:57 AM, John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Pat C, Kingsley, Rob,

All these threads are going around in circles on closely related
themes.  I'll combine my comments in this thread, since it seems
to be the most general.

General principle:  Everything stored on a computer is a sign
of one kind or another.  Every language, natural or artificial, is
a system of signs.  Every social organization of any kind involves
signs in its charter, its activities, and in every interaction of
its members with each other, with nonmembers, and with the world.

> Abstract entities, in particular information such as text or images
> (abstracted as pixilated raster objects), do not themselves have mass or
> extent, but they may have physical representations (as markings on paper,
> solid models, audible sounds, light wave patterns).  So can they be said
> to have physical "location" or "extent".

For signs, everybody quotes Peirce's type/token distinction.  But they
forget (or never learned) that the 2-way distinction is part of a triad:

  1. Mark:  Every sign has an observable mark, which may be perceived
     by vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, or some internal feeling.
     The mark is always physical, and it has a spatiotemporal location.

  2. Token:  Every mark that is interpreted is a token, but it could
     be interpreted in an open-ended number of ways, each of which
     is a different kind of token.  Each token has the same physical
     constitution and location as the uninterpreted mark.

  3. Type:  The type is an abstraction that specifies how a mark is
     interpreted as a token.  If you're a logician, you might call the
     type a monadic predicate.  If you're a philosopher, you might call
     it a universal.  Whatever you call it, it's abstract and it has
     no spatiotemporal location.

RR: In philosophy, as you know, the question of universals is often an ontological one (whether they exist mind-externally and in what manner). An abstraction, however, can be characterized as a mental entity, as a mental object created by an abstraction (thought/cognitive) process(es).
> I haven't yet encountered an occasion to actually *use* the physical
> 'location'.  It can be problematic.

Every sign (mark or token) that you perceive has a physical location.
If it didn't you couldn't perceive it.   But I think you're talking
about sign types.  I recommend that you adopt the mark/token/type
terminology -- it can clarify many issues.

For example, just look at the mark 'Yojo' on your screen at this
moment.  It's not the same mark that I saw when I wrote this note,
and neither one is the same as the marks that are stored inside
our computers.  But they can all be interpreted as tokens of the
same types:  an ASCII character strings, four Latin letters,
an unknown word, the name of John Sowa's cat, the name of
the ebony idol owned by Queequeg in the book _Moby Dick_, etc.

> But one also needs to decide whether it in fact 'exists'.

Marks and tokens are physical entities that exist in the same way
as any observable physical entities.  Types are abstractions, and
there are varying opinions about them.

If you are using Common Logic, you can represent types by monadic
relations, and you can use existentially quantified variables
to refer to them.  By Quine's dictum "To exist is to be the
value of a quantified variable," they exist.

That is my preference.  I am a realist about the existence of
relations (including monadic relations that are sometimes called
properties and 0-adic relations that are called propositions).

Since I believe that the laws of physics are real, I classify
those laws as propositions, and I happily refer to them by
quantified variables.

RR: Are you saying that you consider realism of relations to consist of quantifying over n-adic properties/propositions?

And if so, do you believe realism of rel involves anything other than that (perhaps something in a non-FOL or non-computational context)?

> the same sentence generated by two different people, existing
> simultaneously, are still different individuals, though they may
> have the same propositional content.

This is another example that can be stated more precisely with the
mark/token/type distinction.  The two people uttered or wrote different
marks.  Someone who understands the language could interpret them as
two tokens of the same type.  That type *is* the proposition.

RR: So in this case the type is the meaning of the tokens
> The challenge here is mapping Relations in RDF with Relations in a
> SQL RDBMS, without losing the audience.

I agree that you have to tailor the explanations to the audience.
For example, I would not dump a tutorial on Peirce's semiotics on
an unprepared audience.  (I tried and lost half the audience,
but the other half loved it.)

But I agree with Richard Feynman:  If you get a clear understanding
of a subject in your own mind, you should be able to explain it
in an honest way to an intelligent 12-year-old.

RR: Agreed.

In this case, I wouldn't attempt to go into the details about
SQL or RDF.  But I could show an intelligent 12-year-old how
to represent the same data in a table or a graph.

> However, text and images are not abstract entities. That is,
> unless you are considering the type/universal (rather than
> the token/instance) as being beyond space-time.

I strongly recommend that anybody who works on applications
of ontology to computer data should adopt the mark/token/type

> the Information Artifact Ontology... distinguishes between the
> information content and that which bears or carries the information
> (the information bearer). Examples of the latter include markings
> on paper, and perhaps your EM waves.

Yes.  Randall Dipert, who works on the IAO, is a Peirce scholar from
way back.  But I admit that it takes some effort to start thinking in
a Peircean style.  For a very brief intro, see Section 2 (pp 3 to 9) of

Iwas a student of his, specifically with artifacts, iao and onto in general.
    The role of logic and ontology in language and reasoning


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