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Re: [ontolog-forum] Body Parts and Early-Learned Verbs

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From: "Hassan Aït-Kaci" <hassanaitkaci@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 04 Sep 2013 15:34:53 +0200
Message-id: <522736FD.4000506@xxxxxxx>
"... it is clear that the internal functioning of intelligent assimilation [...] is constantly reinforced by the causal situations in which the anticipations are followed by effective controls (the success or failure of the swinging depending on whether the hanging object was really a mobile or not, etc.).

This does not mean that all the immediate inferences of the preoperational levels have a causal content. They can serve as classifiers."

Jean Piaget, Understanding Causality (1974).

On 9/3/2013 7:12 PM, John F Sowa wrote:
Joanne, Sandro, and Mike,

This study is one of many that show how the semantics of natural
language is grounded in the neural mechanisms of perception and action.
Isn't that what the symbol grounding problem is all about?
Yes. But I believe that the work on psycholinguistics and neuroscience
is more relevant than philosophical debate about Chinese rooms.

This is a fascinating observation about relationships, and raises
interesting questions about whether and how well we can capture
context and culture in our current mapping schemes.
That is the critical issue:  How is all the work on logic, ontology,
reasoning, and computation built on top of the basic patterns that
a child learns before the age of 3?

When I try to use ontologies to do something useful in a computer
I frequently have to overcome the problem of converting data patterns
into symbols and symbols into actions.  There is still relatively
little research in how to bridge this semantic gap, if you consider
how important it is.
The behaviorists in the US ignored that issue.  But European
psychologists such as Piaget devoted decades of work to that topic.
Seymour Papert, who collaborated on AI with Marvin Minsky at MIT,
had spent several years working in Piaget's institute.

 From http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/2008v32/7/HCOG_A_302167_O.pdf
The overall acquisition pattern — from relatively many mouth verbs,
to more hand verbs, to less bodily defined verbs — was unexpected and
tantalizing in its similarity to traditional Piagetian (Piaget, 1953)
descriptions of the developmental course of sensory-motor development
as infants first explore relations in their world.
It's significant that researchers who are using the latest results
from neuroscience find parallels to the stages that Piaget and his
colleagues identified over half a century ago.

It seems to me that for ontologies that are relevant to businesses,
there must be a similar but separate grounding requirement, to that
of a child or other mammal.
Piaget addressed those issues.  I certainly won't claim that he solved
all the problems, but the framework is sound:

  1. The pre-verbal sensorimotor stage is fundamental.  It begins
     at birth and continues to develop for a lifetime.

  2. A three-year-old child relates the words and patterns of language
     to the sensorimotor schemata.  Older children and adults build on
     that foundation, extend it, and make revisions where necessary.
     But they never replace it.

  3. Conceptual thought is a structural shift from the concrete
     patterns to more abstract patterns.  Young children don't
     understand metaphors, but the more abstract patterns are a
     metaphorical application of the concrete patterns: The stock
     market goes up or down.  Justice is served or thwarted.

Following are some excerpts from one of Piaget's books.  For further
discussion (with references) of related issues, see Sections 2 and 3
of http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/goal.pdf .



Jean Piaget (1955) _The Construction of Reality in the Child_,
translated by Margaret Cook, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Excerpts from the last chapter, "The Elaboration of the Universe":

At the outset, two innovations place conceptual thought in opposition to 
sensorimotor intelligence and explain the difficulty of transition from 
one of these two forms of intellectual activity to the other. In the 
first place, sensorimotor intelligence seeks only practical adaptation, 
that is, it aims only at success or utilisation, whereas conceptual 
thought leads to knowledge as such and therefore yields to norms of 
truth. Even when the child explores a new object or studies the 
displacements he provokes, there is always in these kinds of 
sensorimotor assimilations, the concept of a practical result to be 

By virtue of the very fact that the child cannot translate his 
observations into a system of verbal judgments and reflexive concepts 
but can simply register them by means of sensorimotor schemata, that is, 
by outlining possible actions, there can be no question of attributing 
to him the capacity of arriving at pure proofs or judgments properly so 
called.  But it must be said that these judgments, if they were 
expressed in words, would be equivalent to something like, "one can do 
this with this object," "one could achieve this result," etc. In the 
behaviour patterns oriented by an actual goal, such as the discovery of 
new means through active experimentation or the invention of new means 
through mental combinations, the sole problem is to reach the desired 
goal.  Hence the only values involved are success or failure, and to the 
child it is not a matter of seeking a truth for itself or reflecting 
upon the relations which made it possible to obtain the desired result. 
It is therefore no exaggeration to say that sensorimotor intelligence is 
limited to desiring success or practical adaptation, whereas the 
function of verbal or conceptual thought is to know and state truths.

There is a second difference between these two types of activity: 
sensorimotor intelligence is an adaptation of the individual to things 
or to the body of another person but without socialisation of the 
intellect as such; whereas conceptual thought is collective thought 
obeying common laws. Even when the baby imitates an intelligent act 
performed by someone else or understands, from a smile or an _expression_ 
of displeasure, the intentions of another person, we still may not call 
this an exchange of thoughts leading to modification of those 
intentions. On the contrary, after speech has been acquired the 
socialisation of thought is revealed by the elaboration of concepts, of 
relations, and by the formation of rules. There is a structural evolution.

It is precisely to the extent that verbal-conceptual thought is 
transformed by its collective nature that it becomes capable of proof 
and search for truth, in contradistinction to the practical character of 
the acts of sensorimotor intelligence and their search for success or 
satisfaction. It is by cooperation with another person that the mind 
arrives at verifying judgments, verification implying a presentation or 
an exchange and having in itself no meaning as regards individual 
activity. Whether conceptual thought is rational because it is social or 
vice versa, the interdependence of the search for truth and of 
socialisation seems to us undeniable.

The adaptation of intelligence to these new realities, when speech and 
conceptual thought are superimposed on the sensorimotor plane, entails 
the reappearance of all the obstacles already overcome in the realm of 
action. That is why, despite the level reached by the intelligence in 
the fifth and sixth stages of its sensorimotor development, it does not 
appear to be rational at the outset, when it begins to be organised on 
the verbal-conceptual plane. On the contrary, it manifests a series of 
temporal displacements in comprehension and no longer only in extension, 
since in view of corresponding operations the child of a given age is 
less advanced on the verbal-conceptual plane than on the plane of action.

In simpler terms, the child does not at first succeed in reflecting in 
words and concepts the procedures that he already knows how to carry out 
in acts.  If he cannot reflect them it is because, in order to adapt 
himself to the collective and conceptual plane on which his thought will 
henceforth move, he is obliged to repeat the work of coordination 
between assimilation and accommodation already accomplished in his 
sensorimotor adaptation anterior to the physical and practical universe.
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