> I wonder if Glenn Morton and Dick Fischer might numerically "rate" the
> points that they use to defend their respective positions. This would be
> somewhat subjective, but it would give a feeling for what they feel gives
> their argument the most support and for what they feel are the gravest
> objections to the other's model. For instance, Glenn Morton seems to feel
> that the *parochiality* of the recent Mesopotamian flood is a serious
> objection to it while Mr. Fischer believes that the antiquity of the
> Mediterranean flood is equally damaging to that idea. Now, numerically
> rating the importance of data might be artificial and stilted, but I
> wonder if it wouldn't in some cases help, especially when someone presents
> a relatively long list of points.
Gene's suggestion here is interesting, and prompts me to say something very
general regarding how we should handle such discussions. It is a digression
that has nothing to say about the content of the debate.
We who have electronic access to information are beginning to suffer from
"information overload". (Example: I have been sitting here for an hour
archiving and discarding old email messages, and still have a long way to go).
On this list, in addition to information, most of the postings are connected in
a "thread" which takes the form of a more or less logical discussion or debate.
It has (usually) four aspects: a beginning, 2 sides, and an end. But threads
also contain branches and digressions, such as this one.
In order to manage this information, people are, I predict, going to start
doing a lot more work in the areas of "natural language processing" and "agent
technology". These are areas that deal with all kinds of problems in
metalanguage, cognitive science, semantics and computational linguistics, and
other such fields that I know nothing about. But what it amounts to is the
development of a higher level of language that can be used to quickly process
and evaluate -- not just words -- but sentences and perhaps even whole lines of
Actually, we do this already, more or less unconsciously, when we select what
we consider important and dismiss other things. We have to do this to preserve
our sanity; the brain works hard on this while we sleep. Some call it
prejudice; others call it genius:
"The essence of genius is knowing what to overlook."
At any rate, apparently what Gene is suggesting is a kind of simplified Delphi
method of rating ideas numerically. This is a preliminary attempt to codify and
automate the task of evaluating information, and I think we ought to experiment
with it just to see if it can help.
I encourage everyone to become aware of these fields of study, and to
encourage your students to pursue them. A decade from now philosophical debates
may be resolved by two computers battling it out as in a chess game!
Paul Arveson, Research Physicist
(301) 227-3831 (W) (301) 227-1914 (FAX) (301) 816-9459 (H)
Code 724, NSWC, Bethesda, MD 20084
"Practice thoughtful kindness, and helpful acts of beauty."