My reply to Lucien didn't make it to the list. Here is my reply.
Lucien has already replied to me privately so in a few hours I will forward
her reply to the list as per her instructions.
>From: Lucien Carroll [mailto:email@example.com]
>Sent: Thursday, May 09, 2002 2:29 PM
>Glenn Morton wrote:
>I didn't mean that puckle was a made up word (ie, made up by you,
>without semantic value outside your mind), but that its semantic value,
>by convention, is that of an _imprecise_ quantity. I had googled the
>word to find its meaning. I don't see how this is an example of
>non-ambiguity of language.
That wasn't quite the issue I was addressing. I don't know what you found on
google, but what my Doric friends have told me it means 'some'. And that is
a precise meaning of a word. The word means precisely something that is
imprecise. That is different than saying that the word is ambiguous.
For those who wish to see something very similar to Doric (if it isn't) look
http://www.lallans.co.uk/wittins.html. To hear it spoken with their accent,
it is unintelligible to me.
Even technical language, designed to be
>non-ambiguous, is full of ambiguities. So much more words like "puckle"
>or "stuff" from common speech.
No, it doesn't mean stuff. Here is an example of its usage:
"A puckle veisitors fae Inglan fund the Scots tae be "great criticks" that
regairdit thair ain leid Scots as 'purer' nor the 'corrupt' Southron ( as
the langage o Inglan wes whyles kent.) "
That says: Some visitors from England found the Scots to be "great critics"
that regarded their ain leid[don't know this one-grm] Scots as purer not the
corrupt southern (as the langugae of England was ? ?.)
The very same speaker, in just a slightly
>differenct context will use the same word for something quite different.
>The production and interpretation of language is informed by context,
>both internal and external to the interlocutors. Thus, some meaning
>(particularly pragmatics) is subjective, but still there is meaning
>which we can objectively say is carried by the utterance, by design.
>There is a meaning that an utterance does carry and a multiplicity of
>meanings that the utterance does not carry.
I don't disagree that words take on different meanings depending on the
context. But that same thing happens with biopolymers, which is one of my
points with Peter.
>> There is a structure which determines its meaning, but it is an agreement
>> between lots of people. It is internal to them but NOT inherent in the
>> sounds or inherent in the letters. It is a mental state, like my thoughts
>> about my boss or the thoughts of my employees about me. I can't quantify
>> their mental states (nor do I really want to know what they
>think about me).
>You are correct in saying it is not inherent in the sounds, but in the
>context of an interaction between speakers of the same language, its
>meaning is determined. And there are sounds which cannot be speech in
>any language. Because of our physiological features, our speech does not
>sound like the languages of the odd life forms from star trek. Because
>of cognitive features (presumably) human speech does not include all the
>permutations of grammar that are mathematically possible. Because of the
>conventions of speech communities, there are permutations of sounds you
>will never encounter in speech, in any of the worlds languages. These
>first two things that determine the structure of acceptable speech are,
>I think you would agree, objective features of the environment from
>which speech sprouts. The third thing, conventions, is likewise an
>objective feature of the environment.
I think I only partly agree with this. Conventions are objective, but they
can't be recognized a priori and thus are also part of the subjective.
Obviously for us, the language you and I are communicating in has an
objective standard (dictionary) for what things mean. But the dictionary, as
my professor who taught me Wittgenstein said, is a great tautology. It is a
game in which all words are defined by reference to other words. Because of
this, the structure of a language simply can't be objectivized in the way in
which Shannon entropy can be. Shannon entropy is defined such that a given
sequence will have a given informational content. But when we speak of
semantic information, we have moved into several different games, as
Wittgenstein called it, in which tautological definitions rule and there is
no objective standard. Chinese zi dan's [I think that is the word for
dictionary] define words in reference to chinese zi's[characters]. English
define English words in relation to English words. etc for other languages.
Wittgenstein would claim that one couldn't translate things because it was
like translating the Monopoly into Checkers. I don't go as far as he does,
but he does have a point that language is a great circular chain. And each
tautological system is held together only by an internal agreement between
>> The problem, as I see it, is that in order to know something exists, you
>> must be able to recognize it. When I put out those sequences
>and have asked
>> people who claim that it exists, they can never recognize in
>> it exists. This is analogous to the claim that there is some sort of
>> 'biological' information in molecular sequences, but they can't tell you
>> what it is or that it exists a priori. I think I have a perfect right to
>> doubt the existence of this supposedly objective 'semantic'
>> no one can even recognize it when it is put before them.
>They may not be able to recognize in which sequence it exists, but were
>they go to the terrible effort of interviewing a million people if they
>recognized semantic content in the strings, the more conventionally used
>strings would recieve a much higher response rate than the random or
>cyphered strings. The investigator would not have to know anything about
>the strings in order to determine that the mandarin phrase held semantic
I think you miss the problem.Don't limit yourself to known language speakers
on earth. Let's say we receive a string of 1's and 0's from Alpha Centauri
on 1630 mHz. People record it and if you bunch it in bytes of 5 bits it fits
Zipf's law. For those who don't know, Zipf's law is a mathematical relation
which fits languages. Anyway, if we find this, does it mean that we have
found those proverbial little green men? I don't think so. In fact I am not
sure we would understand that we have a language. How do we know that the
sequence is to be 5 bit bytes? Zipf's law fits many other things, like the
population of cities and no one 'designed' that relationship.
The biological information in molecular sequences "tells" you
>about the workings of the biological system, but it can't be verbalized
>at your request because the thing is such a monstrously complicated
>system. Drug creation and testing is all about this kind of
>investigation. They "interview" a biochemical about the semantic value
>of umpteen million virtual molecules, and then try moderately successful
>ones again with real-world versions.
When they do this, they find that one molecule often performs multiple
>ok fine. We can say the source of the information is in the mind. But
>the speech sounds bear the imprint of that information, and mediate the
>exchange of information.
>> CHinese provides some really interesting examples of this (the only
>> technical flaw is that I will omit the tones and they might not
>be the same.
>> But to the western ear, at first one doesn't hear the tonation anyway).
>> ee shou ge is a song.
>> ee ge shou is a hand.
>There is nothing remarkable about how exchanging the order of words
>changes the semantic value of an utterance. The sentence "The guy bit my
>dog" and the sentence "my dog bit the guy" are different because of the
>semantic importance of syntax. I prefer the case of when we deal with
>different conventions. A couple years ago i was in paris with my family,
>and we went into a chinese restaurant. The lady asked, i think in
>english, "how many people," and one of us either held up our hand or
>replied "five" in english. As she headed off toward the table, she said
>"cinque", but i because i was expecting chinese rather than french, i
>heard "san ge" and tried to correct her, "wu ge". The same sounds under
>one convention filled the same grammatical role as under the second, but
>had different lexical value.
I probably would have made the same error. I like this story. But, it does
show a that there is no way to KNOW that there is semantic information in
the sound a priori. You were working in the wrong Wittgensteinian game!
Wo you ee ge wen tea. Ni hui shou Zhong guo hua, ma?
The above is a test for Lucien only.
>As mentioned above, there are limits in speech sounds too. And like
>alternations in protein forms that all perform similar functions,
>language has synonyms and varying levels of specificity that may
And language has different families of words which are synonymous, i.e. do
the same function. Similar words from different language sources (borrowed
words) are like what I know happens with biomolecules. Those with
cytochrome c structure are probably not the only sequences capable of
performing the function.
>I think it is quite unfortunate that laypeople misunderstand entropy
>(for pete's sake, its definition uses so many words that outside of
>technical contexts have such different meanings), but i think there is
>plenty of confusion about information theory even among people who
>should know better. I for one, still have really poor thermodynamic
>intuitions, even though i did fine in my thermo/statmech courses.
>Perhaps Shannon information would be easier to explain to people if
>semantic information were better understood.
Probably, but as Shannon said, his form of 'information' has nothing what so
ever to do with semantic information. The problem is the logical
equivocation upon the word 'information' and there is where the confusion
for lots of creation/evolution information
personal stories of struggle
for lots of creation/evolution information
personal stories of struggle
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