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Wed, 21 July 2004 13:00:00 GMT
Stop! The! World! For! A! Moment!

As a follow-up to and closing of my journey through Lakoff's "Women, fire and dangerous things", I'd like to quote (quite a bit) from what I feel is its strongest and most shattering argument for why we need to stop the world for a moment and re-think our strategies;

The objectivist Legacy (pages 183-184, paperback edition, 1990)

According to the objectivist paradigm, true knowledge of the external world can only be achieved if the system of symbols we use in thinking can accurately represent the external world. The objectivist conception of mind must therefore rule out anything that can get in the way of that: perception, which can fool us; the body, which has its frailties; society, which has its pressures and special interests; memories, which can fade; mental images, which can differ from person to person; and imagination - especially metaphor and metonymy - which cannot fit the objectively given external world.

It is our objectivist legacy that we view rationality as being purely mental, unemotional, detached - independent of imagination, of social functioning, and of the limitations of our bodies and our memories. It is our objectivist legacy that leads us to view reasoning as mechanical and to glorify those kinds of reasoning that in fact are mechanical. It is our objectivist legacy that leads us to view machines that are capable of algorithmic computation as being capable of human reason. And it is our objectivist legacy that we view it as progress when we are able to structure aspects of our physical and social environment to make it more like an objectivist universe.

[...] People have been treated as numbers and collections of records for a long time, and they will be treated much more so in the future.

Such treatment serves an important function in our society. There is a major folk theory in our society according to which being objective is being fair, and human judgement is subject to error or likely to be biased. Consequently decisions concerning people should be made on "objective" grounds as often as possible. It is the major way that people who make decisions avoid blame. If there are "objective" criteria on which to base a decision, then one cannot be blamed for being biased, and consequently one cannot be criticized, demoted, fired, or sued.

Another reason for the attempt to construct our institutions according to objectivist metaphysics is that is is supposed to be efficent. In some cases it may be, in others it may not be. But an awful lot of time and effort goes into trying to make matters of human judgement fit what are supposed to be objective pigeonholes. If the classical theory of categorization is not correct, the then wholesale importation of objectivist metaphysics into our institutions may not only be inhumane, but it may in the long run be an inefficent way for human beings to function. At the very least we should be aware that our institutions are being structured in terms of a perticular metaphysics and a psychological theory of categorization which, as we shall see, is highly questionable.

One of the reasons why the classical theory of categorization is becoming more, rather than less, popular, is that it is built into the foundations of mathematics and into much of our current computer software. Since mathematical and computer models are being used more and more as intellectual tools in the cognitive sciences, it is not surprising that there is considerable pressure to keep the traditional theory of classification at all costs. It fits the available intellectual tools, and abandoning it would require the development og new intellectual tools. And retooling is no more popular in the academy than in industry.

For people working with SemWeb related technology this implies "taking a long hard breather" before continuing. Lakoff uses the rest of this book to crush the idea of classical categorization theory, giving strong evidence and use-cases and - probably most importantly - common sense and "Duh!" moments.

Permalink (Wed, 21 July 2004 13:00:00 GMT)| Comments (3) | Knowledge and information General Topic maps Programming
http://infontology.org/ ( Wed, Jul 28 2004 )
Glad to read your articles. Interested in semantic web, but as a cognitive scientist, I have long felt that something is missing from semweb projects. Found this article that might be something for you. http://musil.uni-muenster.de/documents/WhyCogLingv1.pdf
matti ( Fri, Aug 13 2004 )
Maybe this article is in your area of interest:
http://hook.org/anselm/thirdparty/categories.htm
Alex ( Thu, Aug 26 2004 )
Thanks for the pointers; all very interesting and food for thought. I realise that Lakof's book is almost 15 years old, and yet we (as in the world of information design) mostly ignore these issues, closing our eyes because we don't know how to deal with them, pretending they're not really there.
Some prototypical languages have been created, but it is a bit hard to find because most OO languages claim they're prototypical. I've found one. I'm creating the next. :)






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