10 November 2010

Hello, world ; what are you?

Hi there. Long time, no hear. Yeah, been busy again, doing stuff, acting up, playing around. You know, life.

But not only has life been busy, but my brain has gone into overdrive over the most absurd notions the last few months. It all kind begun when I was working for Free Systems Technology Labs in India last year when I was working, quite heavily, on a failed ontology that would be a compromising and pragmatic approach to the intersection between us social human beings and the concept of doing business. Yeah, so the scope was crazy right off the bat, but when did that ever stop me?

I'm now several months later still fiddling with it, because it's such an interesting concept; make a model, or a language if you like, of human doings. We all kinda do this every day, but unawares; when you talk to your neighbors and friends you use words that make up phrases that denotes some context you're trying to pin down; you're making a verbal version of a model in order for you to communicate a concept to another human being. All communication in the end fall down to this basic concept.

As they say, some models are useful, all models are wrong, and I've talked a lot about this in the past as well. But what I'm pondering these days is more the fuzzy intersection between things and our thoughts on them, or, to be a bit more specific, between the identity of things, and the things themselves. Here's an example ;


Now, that's just my name, and in the context of reading it on or through my blog, it's fairly easy to assume that my first name somehow refers to me, the person. And you'd be right, too. Except, not really ; It's just a word. Here's another one ;


For some reason we all think that words actually mean something, but they don't! Not a single word you see will have one - and only one! - meaning. Any one word can have millions of meanings, depending on where you see it, what mood you're in, what other words surround it, what language it's in ... so, it depends on context. Heavily. Seriously. Unconditionally.

Even a word such as "respect" can mean so many things, and yet, in our everyday lives, we use words like this as if they make perfect unambiguous sense. Even written down in big serious books we tend to think our words as proper guides for meaning and context, but we're pretty much wrong. All communication fails, it's more a question of the severity and complexity of that failing. Even me writing this blog post is an example of a fail. Hopefully it's up to you to tell me how badly I failed. Be gentle.*

* See what I did there?


  1. It's a fascinating and infuriating subject, all right. Usually it's easy for a person to pick a sensible meaning for a word from many alternatives, but how does that happen (of course, I'm completely ignoring all those shades of meaning to mention, and the effects of prosody as well)?

    As to gauging if you've failed in your essay, well, strictly speaking we'd never be able to tell, would we?

    Perhaps we need to work in some operational definition here - if your writing precedes some behavior on my part that seems to align with what you expected that your words might induce, perhaps the words have communicated roughly what you intended. This approach is used in the legal system to some degree. The effective meaning of legal terms gets established by years of court decisions. The lawyers (should) know these meanings, but a lay person would not.

  2. Hey Tom! Wonderful to hear from you again, and thanks for the comments. Yes, the intersection between language and how things really are is my main focus these days, digging into philosophy (when you speak of formalities, those formalities are always anchored to something, but what if those anchors are themselves ill-defined?) and the subtle difference between semiotics (supertype) and linguistics (subtype) and the evolutionary influence.

    And as to me failing, well, you nailed it on the head, of course. :)

  3. Alex,

    Hey. You may be interested in looking at integrationism (integrational linguistics) and Roy Harris.