2004-08-27

Seeing As...

I just googled "seeing as" and got 405,000 hits. Now, there's a physterity if there ever was one. Some of those posts are really like "seeing as to how..." so they're off topic, sortof, but many of the others are close to the notions of subject identity that I'd like to toss out here. Specifically, I'd like to start the discussion around the notion that subject identity has two (maybe more!) senses, one of which is some absolute identity, and the other of which is context sensitive.

Absolute identity, itself, is a tricky thing. If you start with my name, Jack Park, and google that, you will get some good hits (moi!), and some not-so-good hits, like someone with my name authored a book on sporting events. So, names alone, won't cut it.

in context identity, now that's a whole 'nother bag-o-worms, with an entailment mesh as wide as the universe. So, I'm going to go out on a limb (copyright-wise) and type into here some of the the words of Gian-Carlo Rota [1] who was describing the words of Stanislaw Ulam, under the banner "In Memoriam of Stan Ulam: The Barrier of Meaning". I do so, to start a discussion about that marvelous mantra of working biologists: Context is everything, which comes from the amazing ability of a pluripotent stem cell to morph into just about any of the zillions of kinds of cells in an organism according to the local context, as defined by the hormonal bath surrounding it. This relates directly, I think, to part of the thinking behind the latest topic maps Reference Model in which identity, or the composition of identity in a topic is more robust than naming or published subject indicators. The quote:

"Now look at that man passing by in a car. How do you tell that it is not just a man you are seeing, but a passenger?
When you write down precise definitions for these words, you discover that what you are describing is not an object, but a function, a role that is inextricably tied to some context. Take away the context, and the meaning also disappears.
[skipped text]
Do you then propose that we give up mathematical logic? said I, in fake amazement.
Quite the opposite. Logic formalizes only very few of the processes by which we actually think. The time has come to enrich formal logic by adding to it some other fundamental [n]otions. What is it that you see when you see? You see an object as a key, you see a man in a car as a passenger, you see some sheets of paper as a book. It is the word "as" that must be mathematically formalized, on a par with the connectives "and," "or," "implies," and "not" that have already been accepted into a formal logic."


[1] in Physica 22D (1986) 1-3, North-holland, Amsterdam, and found in Doyne Farmer, Alan Lapedes, Norman Packard, Burton Wendrof, editors, Evolution, Games, and Learning: Models for Adaptation in Machines and Nature, North-Holland.