Saturday, January 05, 2008

3quarksdaily review of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, by Steven Pinker 

3quarksdaily: "In 1879 a man in Germany named Gottlob Frege wrote a paper entitled 'Über Sinn und Bedeutung.' (That means 'On Sense and Meaning.') For more than two thousand years before Frege, the Western world had been worrying about all kinds of philosophical questions: What is the nature of justice? What is the nature of beauty? What is the nature of truth? And, of course: What is the meaning of life? After Frege, we (at least Anglo-American analytical philosophy) have spent the last century-and-a-quarter mostly wondering whether it makes sense to even ask such questions, and to answer that, focusing on language itself. From Bertrand Russell's attempts to model natural languages with formal ones such as the predicate calculus, to Wittgenstein's language games, to the verificationism of logical positivism and the Vienna Circle, to Rudolf Carnap's confirmation theory, to Gilbert Ryle and J. L. Austin, to W.V.O. Quine, to, in more recent times, Hilary Putnam, Donald Davidson, and my own Ph.D. adviser (and Davidson's student) Akeel Bilgrami, the struggle to elucidate the workings of language, and therefore the meaning of meaning, has been the primary focus of philosophers, as well, of course, as of linguists. Suppose for a second that we had been struggling with the question 'What is the color of love?' for all that time. Wouldn't that have been silly? Is it not obvious that to ask, "What is the color of love?" is a category mistake? Purple, after all, is not a predicate that applies to the category "love," just as "brittle" is not a predicate that applies to something like the number 17, say. Noam Chomsky famously coined the grammatically perfect but nevertheless meaningless sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" as an illustration (partly) of this point. (And this is also the basis of Douglas Adams' joke that the meaning of life is 42.) What if the basic questions we have been grappling with for millennia are so intractable precisely because they are nonsensical?"

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Giant Global Graph | Decentralized Information Group (DIG) Breadcrumbs 

Giant Global Graph | Decentralized Information Group (DIG) Breadcrumbs: "We can use the word Graph, now, to distinguish from Web.

I called this graph the Semantic Web, but maybe it should have been Giant Global Graph! Any worse than WWWW? ;-) Not the 'Semantic Web' term has been established for a long time, I'm not proposing to change it. But let's think about the graph which it is. (Footnote: 'Graph' also happens to be the word the RDF specifications use, but that is by the way. While an XML parser creates a DOM tree, an RDF parser creates an RDF graph in memory.)"

Abstractions in Web architecture - Design Issues 

Abstractions in Web architecture - Design Issues: "The power of the web was still not totally used to its full potential until the semantic web came along. The Semantic Web's realization is: It is isn't the documents which are actually interesting, it is the things they are about!

A person who is interested in a web page on something is usually primarily interested in the thing rather than the document. There are exceptions, of course -- documents are certainly interesting in their own right. However, when it comes to the business and science, the customers, the products, or the proteins and the genes, are the things of interest. A good Semantic Web browser, then, shows a user information about the thing, which may have been merged from many sources. Primarily, the user is aware of the abstract web of connections between the things -- this person is a customer who made this order which includes this item which is manufactured by this facility ... and so on."

Tim O'Reilly on Tallis' Twine Platform 

Web2Summit: Radar Networks Unwinds "As part of the Semantic Edge panel tomorrow at the Web 2.0 Summit, Nova Spivack of Radar Networks plans to unveil the first application built on their semantic web platform, twine, a new kind of personal and group information manager. I've only seen a demo, and haven't had a chance to play with it hands-on or load in my own documents, but if it delivers what Nova promises, it could be revolutionary."

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