2010.05.02 19:00 - The "language thing" again :)

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    The Guardian for this meeting was Calvino Rabeni. The lack of comments are by Calvino Rabeni.

    Calvino Rabeni: hi mitzi
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Hi Calvino. I see you are still enrobed ...
    Calvino Rabeni: yes, though i'm in Ashland now
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Ah! Seeing old friends?
    Calvino Rabeni: well, seeing old house with broken pipe :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I'm thinking we should do personal chat via voice on Skype ... or on the private channel if you can't skype from there ... and keep to the focus appropriately on topic? Or what say you?
    Calvino Rabeni: sure, first though i have to gather some attention
    Calvino Rabeni: how have you been
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I am mindly hung over, fantastic party last night. Would rather talk on voice about that.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ha ... "mindly" ... I meant to type "mildly" ...
    Calvino Rabeni: :) that seems proper or something :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: and how are u? (self conscious about abbreviations)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yes, very Freudian.
    Calvino Rabeni: was freudian slip, an article of clothing, or a skatink mishap ??
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Sure ... a frueidan slip could be expressed through a physical fall as well as a verbal gaffe!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I have been contemplating a previous topic where we discussed how some philosophers seem to assume that words have singular and precise meanings, and all the problems that this leads to ...
    Calvino Rabeni: RIght, yes, we keep running into that dilemma - which seems so false
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Is there a name for this issue?
    Calvino Rabeni: Given that false premise, it seems to lead to endless apologetics about language, and ineffability, etc.
    Calvino Rabeni: :)) It should have a name, shouldn't it, if only to more easily kind of shrug it off :)))
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Well, I propose that there is a fertile middle ground to be explored that lies between throwing up our hands and saying we can't really know the meanings of words - ...
    Calvino Rabeni: The premise is that we live in language, which is an uncomfortable sort of crampred cell or box
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... and on the other hand that words must have precise and singular meanings and thus can be manipulated like mathematical elements.
    Calvino Rabeni: Right
    Calvino Rabeni: For instance, it could help to stop assuming that language does the job of communication
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... We can get into that middle ground in various ways ... one being slow and thoughtful discussion of the subtle shades of meaning certain words may have for each of us.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes Calvino, that's an important starting point. Perhaps a requrement.
    Calvino Rabeni: Ok, who does the job of communication then? Not language. It is You and Me
    Calvino Rabeni: And the world we are in
    Calvino Rabeni: Secondly, communication is not about shoving meaning as messages through a small pipe
    Calvino Rabeni: :))
    Calvino Rabeni: Thirdly, knowledge is not something that is created by information transmitted or received
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: And there are hidden assumtions in these phrases - one is that we assume the meaning of the word "communication."
    Calvino Rabeni: RIght
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: stimuli pass between us - in the form of words typed or spoken - and we say, ahah, we are communicating.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: But, again, we are each interpreting these stimuli in our own private internal universes. The content of these private universes is inaccessible to the other.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... so that could be all very depressing to contemplate in terms of *actual* communication ... yet ...!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I feel there is this middle ground of value to be explored - it goes back to my interest in linear algebra and set theory ... groups and "generators" (if I'm using these terms correctly)
    Calvino Rabeni: I guess we could add to that deconstruction, that meaning doesn't inhere in words and cannot be "encoded"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I certainly agree with that.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Is this something your PaB compatriots generally agree with as well? Or is it considered a strange viewpoint?
    Calvino Rabeni: I'm not sure - usually it appears as some kind of struggle at the assumed boundary of language, and the idea that truth might be "ineffable"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: truth? or meaning?
    Calvino Rabeni: but I think the TSK understanding, although not well articulated, goes beyond that
    Calvino Rabeni: Anyway, the angle you seem to be pursuing I think may split in a couple directions
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: uh huh? go on ...
    Calvino Rabeni: For instance, at the MIT Media Lab, they are working on informal or commonsense knowledge, using clustering and vector space methods to model discriminations statistically
    Calvino Rabeni: which is a somewhat mathematical metaphor
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: aha! that sounds like something I would probably relate to positively.
    Calvino Rabeni: on the other hand, the philosopher Eugene Gendlin has thought a lot about language in terms of the history of ideas, from Aristotle
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yeah?
    Calvino Rabeni: his version is called "thinking beyond patterns"
    Calvino Rabeni: which posits that intelligence need not go numb at that place where language "seems" to lose its assumed precision
    Calvino Rabeni: In other words, that perhaps there are multiple ways of knowing to be correlated
    Calvino Rabeni: which makes a lot of sense to me
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yes, kind of what I was thinking
    Calvino Rabeni: Here's a link to that
    Calvino Rabeni: http://www.focusing.org/tbp.html
    Calvino Rabeni: My own preference, is to recognize the multiple modes of language - as evocative in addition to descriptive, among other functions
    Calvino Rabeni: Speech act theory seems to be a beginning of that
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: OK, good
    Calvino Rabeni: Another thing to grapple with is the "linguistic turn" in philosophy of the past century, and I think, regard it as an unfortunate anomaly
    Calvino Rabeni: Which in my opinion now seems to be reversing again, which I'd consider a good thing :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So if we are to use language in a more conscious (if you will) way, what would be the suggestions from this viewpoint.
    Calvino Rabeni: With respect to the future, the thing to keep an eye on is informal knowledge and reasoning, as well as context modeling - my personal opinion only, of course
    Calvino Rabeni: Your point is well taken too, and I think, beyond the capabilities of linguistics or philosophy at this point
    Calvino Rabeni: Not really a diffferent point than what I was driving at either
    Calvino Rabeni: But a refinement of it
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Does the greater computational bandwidth now available make these clustering or vector space models more feasible now to actually work with and study?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Question - which point did you mean is well taken and byond the capabilities at this point ...?
    Calvino Rabeni: Computational bandwidth is irrelevant if it processes metrics that don't have a basis in reality :)
    Calvino Rabeni: So the question is, if it is to be used, what are the quantities that can be measured, if there are any?
    Calvino Rabeni: I think there's a burden to establish whether that is meaningful
    Calvino Rabeni: Meaning may not have any feasible geometry
    Calvino Rabeni: It might not follow any metric spaces or have a continuity to it
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: well, I am not well informed about these vector space models, but I presume there would be metrics within those models. Is that what you are referring to? I may have lost the referent in the last few exchanges.
    Calvino Rabeni: That is, maybe it isn't something model-able using spatial analogies
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: "it" being?
    Calvino Rabeni: It's kind of like trying to model evolution using "fitness functions" that are geometric
    Calvino Rabeni: but the fitness itself is totally context-dependent
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: But I'm not sure what we are talking about ... can we slow down a sec
    Calvino Rabeni: and co-evolving, so there's a circular definition involved
    Calvino Rabeni: Sure
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Question - what is "it" in the above exchanges that you are saying may not be model-able.?
    Calvino Rabeni: Some proxy for "meaning"
    Calvino Rabeni: Or knowledge
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: OK, good. So you'd have to have some kind of experimental approach to language ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... where you have some referents that are vague enough to not be utterly precise but not so vague as to be completely arbitrary ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: and some way of mapping these onto a continuum and see how they cluster more tightly or less so depending on some parameter or another ( type of speaker, eduation level, cultural background) ... I should look into the MIT work and see what they are actually doing.
    Calvino Rabeni: Yes, they pursue that type of modeling
    Calvino Rabeni: You could also look at "experimental philosophy"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ah what aa relief, someone else is already doing my idea! Now I don't have to. :) (smiley newbie)
    Calvino Rabeni: Which seems like an idea with some potential, but not very developed yet
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Ijust googled that terms, found a blog, and Wikipedia.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Ooh! BLog looks hot!
    Calvino Rabeni: For example, it's criticism, is that - suppose you make a metric framework and then collect all kinds of folk-psychology ideas about what is going on in "consciousness" - it still begs many questions about whether that adds any objectivity to what is actually being explained, whether it even exists
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: well, so what ... I would endorse such activities anyway, because they are delving into an area that *may* be productive or yield interesting insights.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Why dismiss the approach before seeing what comes out of it?
    Calvino Rabeni: KInd of like, would a measurement of the mass of popular ideas about what "money" is, actually result in any solid new "laws" of economics
    Calvino Rabeni: They should try it, but not be naive about falling into the "myth of the given"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: well, probably it would yield some new information
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: define please?
    Calvino Rabeni: Well, the idea that, since a concept exists, it implies that there is something definite in the world that is being described thereby. And that if you have more information about the concept, you get closer to the supposed thing being described
    Calvino Rabeni: I think it is called hypostasis, a kind of reification
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yes ... go on why is that "the myth of the given" - you mean, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy?
    Calvino Rabeni: Like, if you make up a word for something that clearly doesn't exist, and use it enough, people will be hypnotized into assuming it must refer to something
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: That if yuou test for something you'll probably get some confirmatory evidence, but you really aren't mapping anyting solid - the experimental space is too huge and varied ... something like that?
    Calvino Rabeni: It is an idea of language as symbols that are descriptors for objects
    Calvino Rabeni: A deep assumption to some ideas of language, but pretty unfounded
    Calvino Rabeni: I kind of naive realism or something (I'm not a linguist, so I don't know the term)
    Calvino Rabeni: Similar things happen with properties and categories (or words supposedly describing them)
    Calvino Rabeni: For example, there's a word "me" :)
    Calvino Rabeni: It supposedly means something different depending on who uses it - an indexical I think it is called?
    Calvino Rabeni: Anyway, just because there is a word, doesn't mean there is such a thing :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: go on,..
    Calvino Rabeni: Identity is a slippery thing, when you look at it?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yes
    Calvino Rabeni: LIke saying - who am I ? - then most people would assume that the "I" refers to some object, and that the object is something that is defined by a collection of properties, that are held by this person and no other
    Calvino Rabeni: But the properties are not indicated, they in turn, are defined circularly as the properties that "I" have :))
    Calvino Rabeni: So it doesn't descriptively, ground out anywhere
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Well that's a rather abstract example ... much more difficult than say, "The red hat is on the table."
    Calvino Rabeni: Right, the quala are usually "red" :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Probably better to start out with simpler statements that have concerete referents - "Who Am I" would be in a different class of statements, the vague, difficult, philosophical ones!
    Calvino Rabeni: Not sure the red hat on the table is any easier when it comes down to it
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ,,, then slowly work our way towards the abstrations!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Aha! Let's argue. I say it is!
    Calvino Rabeni: Nor sure there are concrete things versus abstractions either
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I think it would map very tightly on one of those vector models. That is, many different subjects would agree very tightly on referent of word.
    Calvino Rabeni: Pretty tight also, about thinking they are themself too
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: say what?
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ha ha! you are funny tonight!
    Calvino Rabeni: So the vector model, what would the dimensions represent?
    Calvino Rabeni: "Hatness" versus ... "shirtness"?
    Calvino Rabeni: Or "bowlness"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: yeah, I guess!
    Calvino Rabeni: Or something like - ice cream tastes good
    Calvino Rabeni: from "very much" to "not at all"
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I should really look into what they are doing at MIT to speak knowledgeably, I'm really talking out of my ass as they say.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: And disapproving of others who do the same ... ah the irony.
    Calvino Rabeni: disregarding, flavor, how full you are, whether you have an allergy, are japanese, etc.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: "ice cream tastes good" - I can see that one could be tricky as well.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: when I am full, the thought of eating ice cream would not appeal.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So ice cream could taste good in an abstract, general way ... but not to me right now ...
    Calvino Rabeni: TO construct the metric, you'd need to have a principled way to reduce an infinite-dimensional vector space to discard the dimensions with least variance, thus creating some kind of abstraction
    Calvino Rabeni: Or begin with something arbitrary - an unmodeled "unknown" context
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: that was a very skillfully constructed sentence. My (red) hat is off to you, Calvino ...
    Calvino Rabeni: And maybe it isn't much like a vector space - maybe more like a graph.
    Calvino Rabeni: Like, person A and B are in love, but not of course equally, nor for the same set of reasons - if that set could be modeled
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I admit that I am having a bit of trouble following your train of thought here and there tonight - my brain isn't used to alchol ...
    Calvino Rabeni: The topic of course, is a free parameter :))
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: ... but that reminds me of some psychologists who can watch a video of two people interacting for 5 minutes and predict the success of the relationship based on simple body language metrics.
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: So modeling being in love is yet another really hard task!
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Why do you like the hard tasks so much ... life is hard enough ... why not pick something easier?
    Calvino Rabeni: Because life prefers the hard ones :)) that is where it lives
    Calvino Rabeni: It is almost the defining characteristic of life, to live at the edge of chaos
    Calvino Rabeni: Ask any amoeba :)
    Calvino Rabeni: I know a couple of books you'd probably find of interest
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: do tell
    Calvino Rabeni: They are compilations of spiritual practices from the fourth way tradition, somewhat softened by a little jewish and buddhist influence - a good reference to basic practices and principles.  The author studied in the Bennett lineage so it has stuff about energies, etc.
    Calvino Rabeni: http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-You-Cultivating-Spiritual-Presence/dp/0978610911/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1272855077&sr=8-1-fkmr0
    Calvino Rabeni: http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Art-Soul-Making/dp/0978610903/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b
    Calvino Rabeni: These are also available online somewhere in their entirety
    Calvino Rabeni: I appreciate when a teacher does not commodify their gift to the world
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Aha! Here's another one for you, recommended by my Gurdjieff Dances teacher: "Living Presence: A Sufi way to mindfulness and the essential Self, by Kabir Edmund Helminski (same guy who translated "The Ruins of the Heart"
    Calvino Rabeni: The above are basically, nuts -and- bolts - basic stuff
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Yes, it is heartening when people are generous that way.
    Calvino Rabeni: SO true
    Calvino Rabeni: One more , not instructional, but more for inspiriation - a collection of translations of the poet Rilke - hold on, let me find it
    Calvino Rabeni: http://www.amazon.com/Year-Rilke-Daily-Readings-Rainer/dp/006185400X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272858001&sr=1-1Mitzi Mimistrobell: my brain is flagging Calvino,
    Calvino Rabeni: Mine too, I drove all day from central Oregon - just got done with a retreat
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Rilke is worthy of lots of respect
    Calvino Rabeni: But it's great to meet up with you online tonight Mitzi
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: same here ... would like to talk on phone sometime but tonight is probably overkill ...
    Calvino Rabeni: I think that was the correct link :)
    Calvino Rabeni: OK, suits me also
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: I can figure it out from the link anway ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Thanks you .. next week?
    Calvino Rabeni: Surely, I am back in the USA
    Calvino Rabeni: BTW, Lucinda Lavender became a PAB guardian recently
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: wasn't that a beattles song? Sorry, that was USSR! Ha.
    Calvino Rabeni: that's a good thing, she brings some good depth
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Oh, that's nice, I have enjoyed intercting with Lucinda. She is thoughtful.
    Calvino Rabeni: (as do you, of course :)
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Awww thanks, I'll take the compliment!
    Calvino Rabeni: Is it flattery, if it happens to be true ? :))
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Ah back to definitions of words! We'll have to run it through the modeling software to see
    Calvino Rabeni: OK, we'll average our models :)
    Calvino Rabeni: That's what makes PaB intriguing.
    Calvino Rabeni: Well, I'm glad to be back in Ashland at this time of year, it's very beautiful right now.
    Calvino Rabeni: OK, catch you later / soon, Mitzi
    Calvino Rabeni: _/!\_
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Well enjoy the ambience of the broken pipe ...
    Mitzi Mimistrobell: Namaste
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