jcreed avatar jcreed committed 7ff9c76


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+<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8"/> 
+td { text-align: center; }
+.container { margin: auto; width: 640px; }
+<div class="container">
+Here's a little visual parable about language.
+ It's kind of an attempt to make a
+version <A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_resemblance">Wittgenstein's
+point about "Family resemblances"</A> but bearing in mind that
+venerable adage about the importance of visualization --- I believe it
+goes: <blockquote><I>pics or it didn't happen</I></blockquote>
+If it turns out I'm horribly misrepresenting Wittgenstein, well, all I can say is
+<A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wittgenstein_on_Rules_and_Private_Language">I'm in good company</A>.
+So. What we did is we loaded our old friends Alice and Bob into a brain
+scanning machine.
+<tr><td><img src="001a.png" width=320 height=240>
+<td><img src="002a.png" width=320 height=240></td></tr>
+Alice and Bob have had different experiences, but speak roughly the
+same language. They've both learned to call some experiences "shmed" and
+other experiences "plue". Not least because they've had different
+experiences, they have different understandings of what the words "shmed" and "plue" mean.
+But these different understandings aren't <I>so</I> different. If
+we copied<sup>*</sup> over experiences from Alice to Bob and vice
+versa, we'd find that they wouldn't disagree about what they should be
+called, given how they inferred the meaning of the words from
+their <I>actual</I> experience. If we overlay the above two images,
+all the red dots are in the red area for both parties, and the same
+with blue:
+<center><img src="003c.png" width=320 height=240></center>
+(<sup>*</sup>we got one of those combo brain-scanner/brain-printer/brain-photocopier things down at BrainStaples)
+Now we let Alice and Bob have some new experiences together. The very
+same experiences! They disagree about whether those experiences are
+"shmed" or "plue". Alice thinks they're all plue, and Bob argues for shmed.
+<tr><td><img src="001b.png" width=320 height=240>
+<td><img src="002b.png" width=320 height=240></td></tr>
+They argue about the <I>essence</I> of shmedness. They <I>carefully
+define</I> pluity in terms of other concepts, but arrive at different
+And what happens if we try to be objective ("objective") and consider
+all the experiences both of them have had?
+<center><img src="003b.png" width=320 height=240></center> What was
+before pretty obviously two distinct blobs --- two distinct domains of experience,
+two <I>concepts</I> --- is now kinda one blob, transmogrified into a
+greater unity by the addition of a bridge of new experiences.
+So is the whole project of human language hopeless, then, doomed to
+collapse into <A HREF="http://isotropic.org/papers/chicken.pdf">an
+eternal, indivisible ॐ</A>? Wellll, probably not. For when faced with
+an otherwise meaningless, and more-or-less connected scattering of
+experiences, for example:
+<center><img src="004.png" width=320 height=240></center>
+we are able to nonetheless able to identify bulges and regions and
+peninsulas and sorta-semi-coherently clustered chunks and give them
+arbitrary labels like "Scandinavia" and "The Iberian Peninsula". We
+can definitely all be in agreement that Oslo is in the former, and
+Madrid is in the latter. But we aren't surprised when their exact
+boundaries aren't a matter of perfect, crystal-clear universal
+consensus, because there's <I>no obvious ground truth</I> about
+the <I>right</I> way to cluster such a set. We don't (or at least
+shouldn't!) suppose that there is a True Definition of Scandinavia or
+an Essence of Iberia or an objective truth out in the world about
+where France <I>ought</I> to be.
+And that's how language works.
+<!-- jcreed 2012.8.5 -->
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