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Re: [ontolog-forum] Hermeneutics and semiotics (was FWD: mKR2IKL)

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Bruce Schuman" <bruceschuman@xxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 2014 13:50:32 -0700
Message-id: <001d01cf4dec$06105cf0$123116d0$@net>
Thanks so much for the encouraging reply.    (01)

As I got back here from my morning hike up Cold Springs trail (in Santa
Barbara), I was wondering whether the human race will forever be stuck with
inherently touchy-feeley approaches to communications.  In a high-speed
high-stress and super-complex global environment/economy, where we more or
less "gotta start doing things right (or else)" -- these fundamental
communication failures look like a real target of opportunity for somebody
with an inventive new perspective.      (02)

Your concluding comment -- addressing my question on "how we can understand
each other" -- might be a slightly different way of defining my own proposed
solution (at least for now, without the benefit of magic/transcendent
scientific-philosophical insight).    (03)

As an answer to the question "How do we avoid misunderstanding - in 'human
to human' communication?", you say: "Ask questions. Continue the dialog. As
Peirce said, the fundamental rule of reason is "Do not block the way of
inquiry."    (04)

When I was trying to build models of the human-to-human communication
process, I got into the concept of "mutually acceptable error tolerance".
The basic idea -- following, I think, your concept of continuing the dialog,
with the goal of homing in on the specifics -- was to keep asking defining
and narrowing questions -- to narrow the bounded ranges in all the critical
variables in that particular context -- to get those bounded areas of
uncertainty to within some mutually-acceptable bounded range, where all
parties in a negotiation are comfortable and don't need to drive the
specification to a narrower refinement.    (05)

For example -- if I am a house painter, and I tell you that "I will paint
your porch for $500" -- your first question might be, "well, mister, what do
you mean by 'paint'"?    (06)

Please put some precise dimensionality into that word.  Is that price labor
only, or does it include materials?  You are going to prepare the porch.
What will that entail?  Scrape the loose paint to an acceptable degree (what
exactly is that?), clean the area (how are you going to do that?), then
apply a primer, then when the primer is correctly dry, then apply the
correct or agreed-upon paint -- and do all of that within a certain time
frame.  I tend to define all these kinds of things as "bounded ranges" --
with uncertainty remaining within a bounded range (I said I would use a
"good" paint -- but I didn't say which brand).  Is that good enough, or must
you know the exact brand and grade?  At the bottom of our 10-dimensional (or
however many) job specification, there would be a bounded range of mutually
acceptable uncertainty (which I tend to see as related to "round-off error"
or "lowest level of significant decimal place" in any specification).    (07)

This kind of thing goes on constantly in any sort of contract negotiation --
somebody wraps a big project up in a few simple phrases -- "I will build a
baseball park for the city of Miami for x dollars" -- but there are 100,000
particular implications inherent in that broad statement -- many of which
could quickly lead to high-tension disagreements, all of which we might want
to head off while we are writing the contract.    (08)

***    (09)

I appreciate this list.  I'm not really a technician, as most here are, and
I only have a B.A. in psychology, and barely a single course in computer
programming.  But back in the day, I had about 10 James Martin books (and
about 50 more university-grade books on computer science, and 200 Scientific
American reprints) -- and I was studying the theory of databases -- and what
Martin called "Telematic Society" (something like "CompUtopia") -- before I
ever had my hands on an actual database.  I just love the logic of databases
-- and I became (perhaps naively) convinced that "absolutely anything" could
be modeled "to any desired degree of perfection" through a matrix of rows
and columns.    (010)

Lately I've been involved with what is often called "Transpartisan" politics
-- the attempt to convene a political process where people really listen to
each other, employ the best methods for collective intelligence, and really
crank up the bandwidth for political dialogue.  I've been looking at
cell-phone interfaces, and considering the growth of the cellphone industry.    (011)

I recently met a guy who has been working as a "community organizer" for the
last twenty years in the heart of Silicon Valley.  He's got very ambitious
plans, and he's lined up something like 100 Silicon Valley companies to
participate in his projects for community development.  He's been at this a
while, and told me he has actually organized more than 2,000 community
events over this period of time, connecting serious corporations, community
agencies, schools, etc.    (012)

He is more of a hands-on face-to-face person than an internet guy, but he
spearheaded the use of a "keypad" input system at large-scale face-to-face
group meetings -- 50 tables in a big room, six people at a table --
everybody with an electronic keypad for "voting", a big screen showing the
results.    (013)

This looks to me like the initial stages of an emerging form of "electronic
democracy."  The real issue is -- simplifying the process -- reduce
everything to bullet points, and design the process to run at large scale --
probably on a simple smartphone interface.  He's made it work in
face-to-face environments.  Maybe the entire process of proposing and
"discussing" (or advocating) positions on political issues could be reduced
to a much simpler and less noisy format.  "Bottom line only" -- "get to the
point."      (014)

One thing I am doing right now that I think is pertinent to this group -- is
developing a "taxonomy of political issues" -- kind of along the lines of
the Dewey Decimal System.  More or less emerging from intuitive social
convention (ideas that are easy to understand), we've got something like 12
basic categories that describe the "sectors of community" -- or the sectors
of the human mind -- kind of like university departments -- all held
together in one "integral" model that supposedly covers every area of
society.    (015)

One basic principle is -- taxonomies like the Dewey Decimal System are
"stipulative, logically arbitrary, ad hoc, and top-down" -- which can
apparently limit their flexibility and political balance, and seem to impose
a "rigid system of categories" on everybody using the system.  Books on the
shelves have to be linearly ordered -- so we have to live with that rigid
parsing -- but we can use a system of "tags" or "keywords" to overcome this
rigidity, and locate books (or political issues) in any number of ways.    (016)

So, the basic design questions might be    (017)

1) what is a political issue? (my definition -- something like "any point of
disagreement in human relations" -- maybe defined as a break-point along a
common dimension)
2) how are political issues interconnected or interdependent or nested?
(this gets deep into the question of what concepts are, how they are
bounded, what they point to, etc.)
3) how is the relevance of political issues bounded by geographical regions?    (018)

I did hear about a smartphone app the other day where a developer has
defined 1,000,000 GIS regions -- he knows where people are, and his regions
includes things like sport stadiums, as well as neighborhoods, parks,
schools, etc.    (019)

I think a political app like this should allow people to pose an issue into
the system within some bounded range of relevance -- "where to put the stop
sign" is not a national issue, but "what should we do about immigration?"
is.  So the idea is -- drive the system on the basis of individual user
motivation -- people "nominate" issues they want to push for -- or advocate
positions (action steps) on those issues.     (020)

This whole thing, if feasible at all, would be an amazing free-form and very
fluent taxonomy of human concerns and tensions, and with anything like
Google-power behind the processing, and a simple hand-held phone app running
on the local coffee table, might open up an entire new way to understand
self-governance.    (021)

Bruce Schuman
NETWORK NATION: http://networknation.net
SHARED PURPOSE: http://sharedpurpose.net
INTERSPIRIT: http://interspirit.net
(805) 966-9515, PO Box 23346, Santa Barbara CA 93101    (022)

-----Original Message-----
From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F Sowa
Sent: Tuesday, April 01, 2014 7:41 AM
To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [ontolog-forum] Hermeneutics and semiotics (was FWD: mKR2IKL)    (023)

Bruce,    (024)

You raised some important issues.  They are fundamental to logic and
ontology.  I changed the subject line to indicate a change in topic.    (025)

> I see subject areas like "hermeneutics" or "semiotics" as examples -- 
> which look to me like attempts to create scientific or strict 
> interpretations of abstractions, but without the benefit of a 
> well-grounded precision -- the way a biologist might ground ideas in 
> chemistry, which in turn might be grounded in physics.    (026)

That's why I cited Peirce.  He founded the field of semiotics, and he stands
head and shoulders above the rest -- primarily because he covered the whole
field *in depth*.    (027)

He used precise logic and math in science.  But he also worked as an
associate editor for the _Century Dictionary_, for which he wrote, revised,
or edited over 16,000 definitions.  He understood both ends.    (028)

> I was interested in the interpretation of broad abstractions, like 
> those considered in hermeneutics.  But I took a critical and skeptical 
> view of their methods, convinced that their approach would never lead 
> to "reliable and trustworthy results" - so, without changing the 
> subject matter (deep intuition and holistic
> thinking) my methods migrated to computer science.    (029)

That's important.  There are three kinds of logicians -- and the same
classification could be applied to any branch of science:    (030)

  1. Those who make important contributions by solving hard problems
     and narrow the field to problems they know how to solve.    (031)

  2. Those who understand the full continuum.  They have solved hard
     problems, they know what it means to solve a problem, and they
     do their best to extend the field.    (032)

  3. Those who have solved some hard problems, but criticize those
     who try to extend the boundaries beyond the safe and secure.    (033)

Among the pioneers, Frege, Russell, and Carnap are the first kind.
Peirce, Whitehead, and Wittgenstein belong to the second kind.    (034)

Quine is an example of the third.  He criticized innovations even by his
mentor and best buddy, Carnap.  One of his former students, Hao Wang, called
Quine's philosophy "logical negativism".    (035)

> The Wikipedia comments on Schleiermacher illustrate this issue.
> "Hermeneutics is the art of avoiding misunderstanding".  An art, not a 
> science.  So - at some point, I would say, this task of "translating" 
> the broadly intuitive (and perhaps fuzzy) ideas of the liberal arts 
> into precisely unambiguous scientific definitions has still not been 
> accomplished.    (036)

You can't translate a vague or fuzzy idea into a precise one without
changing it.  Sometimes the vague idea is *better* or more appropriate then
any attempted translation.  That's the major strength of natural languages
-- you can continue to use the same words for the full continuum from vague
to precise.    (037)

Peirce, (CP 4.237)
> It is easy to speak with precision upon a general theme. Only, one 
> must commonly surrender all ambition to be certain. It is equally easy 
> to be certain. One has only to be sufficiently vague.
> It is not so difficult to be pretty precise and fairly certain at once 
> about a very narrow subject.    (038)

When you express your precise scientific ideas in NLs, you can use the same
words for centuries with precise, but changing definitions.
Look at physics -- the hardest of the hard sciences. The fundamental words
-- mass, energy, force, momentum, space, time -- have had many precise, but
changing definitions over the past several centuries.    (039)

In science, it's not a good idea to change the words every time you change
the definition.  URIs are good for finding documents, but I have very
serious doubts about the philosophy of replacing vague words with supposedly
"precise" URIs.    (040)

If you change your words with every change of meaning, you don't improve
communication -- you destroy it.    (041)

> my primary question is "How do we avoid misunderstanding - in 'human 
> to human' communication?"    (042)

Good question.  Short answer:  never.    (043)

Longer answer:  Ask questions. Continue the dialog. As Peirce said, the
fundamental rule of reason is "Do not block the way of inquiry."    (044)

John    (045)

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