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    nmw 20:46:50 on 2016/12/30 Permalink
    Tags: binary logic, , , , don't know, , , , , language, linguistics, , modal logic, modal verb, modal verbs, mode, modes, , natural science, , , , , , , , , , , three state logic, , , , ,   

    The Rationality of Uncertainty 

    When I was learning science in high school, I was mesmerized by the notion that scientific facts were true, myths were false, and there were still things that needed to be „figured out“. I was very impressed by the way computers were all about 1’s and 0’s (it wasn’t until much later that I learned computers didn’t actually divide truth and falsehood quite that neatly). Several years ago, I made a graphic image that shows the difference between the way it appears that humans think vs. the way it appears that computers think.

    Note that I didn’t label which side represents human thinking vs. computer thinking. What we usually experience when we use computers is either TRUE or FALSE – we are not normally aware that there is actually a „DON’T KNOW“ state in between those two extremes. About a decade ago, I was very adamant about three-state logics.

    Several decades ago, when I was just embarking on dissertation research (which was never finished, but that story is beyond the scope of this article), I was very adamant about something called „modal logic“ – a field in philosophy (and linguistics) which focuses on human modes of thought (such as „knowing“ vs. „believing“). Since humans often make references to such modes, I was hoping to unlock a hidden treasure behind such concepts. Yet they remain elusive to me to this day, even though I may quite often be heard to utter something like „I think…“ or „I believe…“ or indeed many such modes (usually using so-called „modal verbs“).

    I think the less room we allow for such modalities – the smaller the amount of space we make for cases in which we acknowledge that we really don’t know, the more likely we are to make mistakes / errors.

    Statisticians might be very cool to acknowledge „type 1“ and „type 2“ errors without even batting an eyelash, but for most regular folks it makes a world of difference whether we want X, whether we fear Y, whether we hope or wish or whatever.

    Such very human modes of thought are rampant in our everyday lives and thinking, yet they are not given very much (or even any) room in the computer world. When there is no room whatsoever for „maybe“, then I predict the algorithms processing the data will probably be wrong.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 14:23:18 on 2016/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , language, , , mission, mission statement, , , , ,   

    The Rationality of Literacy 

    Over the past couple months, I have worked on developing a mission statement for one of my overarching goals – something like a „life goal“. Initial attempts were quite abstract, and I was greatly helped by the very considerate feedback of friends.

    In the intervening weeks since those first trials, I have kept the general aim present but I have focused on it much less. Over the past several days, I have received several ideas from other sources – more or less haphazardly, which have motivated me to reconsider this particular life goal again from a new perspective.

    For people who have been following my writing for several years, it should be no surprize that literacy is really at the crux of my thinking about many topics, and also with respect to this particular life goal for which I want to craft a mission statement. One thing that has been „bugging“ me for the past year or two is how my focus on literacy is considered by many – indeed, including myself – to be a non-human matter. In this view, reading, writing and arithmetic are technologies and therefore lack the warmth of flesh-and-blood human beings. Code and language are inert, not living things, and they cannot ultimately provide meaning in the same way as interaction with other humans can – as humans (so this argument) we are, after all, social animals.

    This view, however, interprets technology from a very parochial point of view. According to this perspective, technology is merely an artefact, a curiosity, a product… albeit of human ingenuity. We pound nails not because there is anything interesting about doing so, but merely because doing so makes our lives easier from the results of applying such technologies. There is nothing interesting about iron or steel per se, but rather such materials are only interesting insofar as they can be manipulated into helping to make nails, just as nails are only interesting insofar as they can be used to build more things. As an aside: It might make sense to think about how the technologies we use also create threating things – such as global warming, nuclear waste, AIDS and/or many other problems.

    Yet let me not drift away from the current issue – crafting my mission statement. I view language and literacy somewhat differently than most… and over the years, my thinking about these things has also undergone continued development and refinement. While I have long known (or believed) that language cannot be owned (e.g. by a monarch) or dictated (e.g. to the masses), I am now at a point where I feel it may be useful to extrapolate beyond this rather mundane and obvious fact to recognize a „rationality of literacy“, in which people make a rational decision to engage with each other via linguistic technologies. In this vein, literacy is also not simply owned or attained, but rather it is practiced (or – in the case of illiteracynot practiced).

    This is important because it redirects our attention away from the ownership of resources to the actual use of such resources. To give a concrete example: In order to engage with „cars“, it is not necessary to own cars. Engagement with cars can also happen when someone references cars. Statements like „cars are good“ or „cars are bad“ are social expressions insofar as there is agreement within a society regarding what these words (and expressions) mean.

    Likewise, our level of engagement with a topic can be as small or as large as our involvement with various other social institutions related to that topic. We might simply talk about cars with very little engagement, or we might become much more involved with cars by joining organizations that deal with them and associated technologies. Our involvement with „cars“ may lead us to become involved with „pedestrians“, „streets“, „roads“, „highways“, „infrastructure“, „pollution“, „global warming“ and many other topics, too.

    We do not need to become dictators in any of these arenas. It is completely sufficient to simply engage – to participate in the social construction of the reality related to each of these terms. It ought to be quite plain to see that the reality we thereby create in one arena might not be the exact same reality created in another arena. There might be nuanced differences, but there might also be meaningful relationships between and among the various arenas.

    Increased engagement in more and more arenas goes hand in hand with increased literacy. These two phenomena are crucially related: You cannot have one without the other (that is, at least, a hypothesis I am venturing here).

    This thinking is what leads me to venture that the mission statement I need probably goes something like: My mission is to promote literacy – in order to increase community engagement and social cohesion, and also in order to motivate humans more towards alignment and harmony with natural evolution.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 20:43:33 on 2016/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , actualization, , , , , , , , , , , interaction, language, , , , marketplaces, , , self-actualization, , , , , social network, social networks, ,   

    For some, we get lost in media 

    I opened up a copy of the New York Times today, and in an empty space within an article, there was a blurb that reads

    Social networks put individuals at the center of their own media universes

    — I am not even sure I understand what that is supposed to mean. Let alone the notion of a plurality of universes, the idea that media are not between people but rather like belly buttons for individuals to discover themselves within … I just find it mind-boggling. Then again, according to the surrounding words in the article next to this message, social media are depicted as breeding grounds for “fake news”, as cesspools for propagating mythical stories, for manipulating large populations of suckers into following this or that social media expert, leader, salesman or whatever.

    “Social” is seen as the big mistake, the errant sidetrack from the collapsing foundations of journalism. Four words seem hidden somewhere in between the lines: I told you so. Naive and forlorn like Dorothy in a dizzying whirlwind, individuals end up as victims of lever-pulling hackers, clowns and con-artists. Social media transport hoaxes and fairy tales, yet they are also instruments targeted at novice users, training wheels to guide their first steps in the cyber-landscape. The virtual world is both for the light-hearted at the same time that it’s a wide field of thin ice. Throughout this portrayal, the real world is not embodied in media. Instead, real-world people with real-world addresses exist behind real-world mastheads printed on real-world paper. They carry real-world business cards, not fake virtual URLs.

    Real-world buildings, with real-world street addresses, real-world telephones and such media are the physical conduits for real-world relationships. In contrast (so the argument), virtual facades evaporate into thin air as soon as a video screen is turned off.

    This contrast might be all good and fine, except that it is a lie. None of these things are any more real than the other. Main Street is nothing without the street sign signifying it as such. The reason why we can agree to meet at Main Street is that we both understand it to be Main Street, and this agreement is based on us both understanding how to read street signs. Indeed: we agree on many things, of which such street signs are fine examples. We can also agree on the time of day, to speak the same language, or to answer each other’s questions succinctly and truthfully. Such agreements are crucial for us to help each other reach our goals, whether we hold the same goals in common, or whether each of us is trying to reach our own particular individual goals.

    By reaching our goals, we become not only successful, we also become who we are.  We actually self-actualize our identities. For example: a writer does not simply exist, he or she becomes a writer by writing. A worker becomes a worker by working. A buyer becomes a buyer by buying, a seller becomes a seller by selling, a consumer becomes a consumer by consuming and a producer becomes a producer by producing. As these last examples show, sometimes we can only self-actualize when other conditions are met, and sometimes these conditions also require the engagement of other people. In this sense, reaching our own goals involves a team effort — as, for example, a sale involves the teamwork of both a buyer and a seller.

    Therefore, the real world is not so much a matter of separated individuals as it is the interaction and engagement of individuals with each other in a symbiotic process of self-actualization. We become who we are by interacting with one another. Our goals aren’t distinct and separate, they’re intertwined. We need to think of media as bustling marketplaces for such exchanges to take place, rather than as sterile and inert transport mechanisms. These are not empty tubes simply bridging gaps, they are stages for playing out our roles in real life.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 13:40:00 on 2016/07/10 Permalink
    Tags: , answered, , develop, , , , , , language, , , , unanswered,   

    The Unanswered Questions 

    There’s a piece by Charles Ives, a famous American composer, named „The Unanswered Question“. I have long enjoyed this piece, and in particular also its title. In my opinion, there are many unanswered questions.

    One reason why there are so many unanswered questions is that lots of questions are never actually expressed. It is a great irony that quite a few so-called „free“ societies remain unwilling or unable to allow people to voice their own opinions.

     
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