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    nmw 20:46:50 on 2016/12/30 Permalink
    Tags: binary logic, , , , don't know, , , , , , linguistics, logic, 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 15:27:59 on 2016/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: academia, academic, , , , , , , , bandwagon, bandwagon effect, , , , , , , , , , compute, , corrupt, corrupted, corruption, , , , , , , group think, groupthink, , , , , , , , , , , , logic, majority, , , , , populism, populist, , , rason, , , , , , , , , , systemic, , , trusted, , , universities, , valid, validity, vote, votes, voting, ,   

    The Spectre of Populism 

    There is a spectre haunting the Web: That spectre is populism.

    Let me backtrack a moment. This piece is a part of an ongoing series of posts about „rational media“ – a concept that is still not completely hard and fast. I have a hunch that the notion of „trust“ is going to play a central role… and trust itself is also an extremely complex issue. In many developed societies, trust is at least in part based on socially sanctioned institutions (cf. e.g. „The Social Construction of Reality“) – for example: public education, institutions for higher education, academia, etc. Such institutions permeate all of society – be it a traffic sign at the side of a road, or a crucifix as a central focal element on the alter in a church, or even the shoes people buy and walk around with on a daily basis.

    The Web has significantly affected the role many such institutions play in our daily lives. For example: one single web site (i.e. the information resources available at a web location) may be more trusted today than an encyclopedia produced by thousands of writers ever were – whether centuries ago, decades ago, or even still just a few years past.

    Similarly, another web site may very well be trusted by a majority of the population to answer any and all questions whatsoever – whether of encyclopedic nature or not. Perhaps such a web site might use algorithms – basically formulas – to arrive at a score for the „information value“ of a particular web page (the HTML encoded at one sub-location of a particular web site). A large part of this formula might involve a kind of „voting“ performed anonymously – each vote might be no more than a scratch mark presumed to indicate a sign of approval (an „approval rating“) given from disparate, unknown sources. Perhaps a company might develop more advanced methods in order to help guage whether the vote is reliable or whether it is suspect (for example: one such method is commonly referred to as a „nofollow tag“ – a marker indicating that the vote should not be trusted).

    What many such algorithms have in common is that on a very basic level, they usually rely quite heavily on some sort of voting mechanism. This means they are fundamentally oriented towards populism – the most popular opinion is usually viewed as the most valid point of view. This approach is very much at odds with logic, the scientific method and other methods that have traditionally (for several centuries, at least) be used in academic institutions and similar „research“ settings. At their core, such populist algorithms are not „computational“ – since they rely not on any kind of technological solution to questions, but rather scan and tally up the views of a large number of human (and/or perhaps robotic) „users“. While such populist approaches are heralded as technologically advanced, they are actually – on a fundamental level – very simplistic. While I might employ such methods to decide which color of sugar-coated chocolate to eat, I doubt very much that I, personally, would rely on such methods to make more important – for example: „medical“ – decisions (such as whether or not to undergo surgery). I, personally, would not rely on such populist methods much more than I would rely on chance. As an example of the kind of errors that might arise from employing such populist methods, consider the rather simple and straightforward case that some of the people voting could in fact be color-blind.

    Yet that is just the beginning. Many more problems lurk under the surface, beyond the grasp of merely superficial thinkers. Take, for example, the so-called „bandwagon effect“ – namely, that many people are prone to fall into a sort of „follow the leader“ kind of „groupthink“. Similarly, it is quite plausible that such bandwagon effects could even influence not only people’s answers, but even also the kinds of questions they feel comfortable asking (see also my previous post). On a more advanced level, complex systems may be also be influenced by the elements they comprise. For example: While originally citation indexes were designed with the assumption that such citation data ought to be reliable, over the years it was demonstrated that such citations are indeed very prone to be corrupted by a wide variety of corruption errors and that citation analysis is indeed not at all a reliable method. While citation data may have been somewhat reliable originally, it became clear that eventually citation fraud corrupted the system.

  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 17:57:54 on 2016/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , character, characters, , , , , , indexes, , , informationretrievel, intelligability, intelligable, , , logic, , , , , , , , ,   

    Fundamental Principles of Rational Media 

    In my previous post, I noted that my concept of rationality differs from the general, widely accepted views of this notion. I do not disagree with these views. Instead, I believe the way I view rationality is more generalized.

    To put it simply: Rationality can be interpreted as any idea – in other words: any idea can be considered rational – if it can be expressed in language. What language is / isn’t – that’s perhaps a more difficult question to answer, but as mathematics is one such language… and as logic, i.e. „mathematical logic“ can be interpreted as a subset of mathematics, logic can also be interpreted as a language.

    Most so-called „programming“ languages are also, well: languages. „Natural“ languages are also languages (indeed: the distinction between „natural“ language and „artificial“ language is really not very distinct, clear, obvious or anything like that). And as I mentioned in my previous post, even facial expressions, scents, DNA and many other things can also be interpreted as language.

    In the context of „rational media“, however, I suggest limiting the meaning of the expression to what is often referred to as „machine readable“ language. I would even suggest limiting the extent of „rational media“ more than that, because there are actually many types of machine-readable expressions which are usually considered to be unintelligible by humans without machines. For example: Hollerith cards, magnetic tape and discs, compact discs, usb sticks, bar codes and QR-codes to name just a few. There are also some expressions which are simply difficult to express in the traditional notion of natural language – for example: numerical values written in hexadecimal formats.

    All of this is by and large simple and straightforward in an online setting, because web addresses are almost all written using what most people consider to be natural language expressions (though note that so-called „international domain names“ / IDNs are written in a code which allows for algorithmic translation between the latin character set used in all domain names to transformed expressions in specialized character sets [and vice versa] ). In general, surfing the web is very much like using an encyclopedia, a lexicon or what used to be called a „card catalog“. The primary difference is that whereas the web is considered to be distributed, the traditional forms were usually viewed as created by a single author, organization or institution. Therefore, whereas for many decades and even centuries people had become very accustomed to indexes being something created by specialized „indexers“ or „indexing services“, today the „index“ to the web is considered to be integrated into the web itself (note, however, that the registries of „top level domains“ [TLDs] are actually sort of like the „indexes of last resort“ … that is, „last resort“ excluding ICANN).

    I will simply abruptly stop here for now – as I feel this is probably already quite a lot to digest. If you would like to add comments, ideas, questions or anything like that, please feel free to register @ nooblogs.com, which is intended to be more for discussion and/or sharing of ideas.

  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 17:08:46 on 2016/03/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , in real life, incoherence, incoherent, IRL, issue, issues, , , logic, Mark Twain, , , Mysterious Stranger, , , , , , situation, situations, The Mysterious Stranger, , , , , , ,   

    There is No Such Thing as Context-Free Meaning 

    For this post, I would like to start out with two operational definitions:

    1. Context-Free Websites
    2. Contextual Websites

    „Context-Free“ websites purport to be containers without context. Supposedly, there is no „situation“ or „issue“ which constrains the content – it is assumed that all data contained in such a website is provided without any context whatsoever. Some readers may be reminded that this is one marker of a „Retard Media“ website (but there are others – for more on „Retard Media“, see this definition).

    The diametric opposite of a context-free websites are referred to as „Contextual“ websites. Contextual websites are clearly situated in the real world, and they also have clearly defined „in real life“ (IRL) issues. They are anything but open spaces, free-for-all playgrounds, romping rooms released to anyone, be they brand name marketing department representives, or whether they come from spamming outbacks, hacker havens or other terrorist enclaves.

    Contextual websites are most definitely constrained: If you do not appreciate such constraints, then you are plain and simple not welcome.

    What is less clear to most is that context-free websites are by their nature meaningless. Yet if you reflect a little, it should be easy to see and understand that incoherent babble – as it does not cohere to anything – must be meaningless babble.

    One of my favorite authors – Mark Twain – described such a „detached from life“ being at the end of one of the last stories / novels he published (see, e.g. “The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories”, by Mark Twain):

    “Life itself is only a vision, a dream.”

    It was electrical. By God! I had had that very thought a thousand times in my musings!

    “Nothing exists; all is a dream. God—man—the world—the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars—a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space—and you!”


    “And you are not you—you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream—your dream, creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me….

    “I am perishing already—I am failing—I am passing away. In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!

    “Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries, ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities. Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him!…

    “You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks—in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.

    “It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream—a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”

    He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true.

    The more incoherent a site is, the more meaningless are the messages the site aims to convey. The content – whether big data or small bits – thereby becomes as insiginificant as nothing more than a heap of garbage. To top it off, one could of course lie to people… – for example: one could tell them it is all about faces even though in reality it is all about brands. 😉


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