Radu Luchianov`s: Pastime: Commentary
Knowledge Bummers

"Deety: He's a Mad Scientist and I'm his Beautiful Daughter. [...]
"Zeb: Amphigory. The operative symbols were 'mad', 'scientist', 'beautiful' and 'daughter'. The first has several meanings; the others denote opinions. Semantic content: zero."
-- Robert Heinlein "The Number of the Beast" p.11

Fact: Sometimes people disagree. I disagree a lot with many people. I also like to think that I'm not crazy, but that the disagreement comes from my [superficial] knowledge of many domains involved in the study of the Mind (or bits thereof). Examples? Here:

  • Linguistics is highly overrated.
  • [Most] PhDs granted worldwide are not deserved.
    I'll take them one at a time...

    Why didn't I choose a Comp in Linguistics
    Part of the work toward a PhD in CogSci at Carleton we're required to do 3 Comps. That means we have to put a significant amount of work in 3 of the fields which make contributions to the study of the Mind. Considering that I intend to work on Knowledge Representation for my dissertation, and that we, humans, use Language to communicate Knowledge, it seems odd that none of my CogSci Comps are in Linguistics. That is not an accident, though. Computational Linguistics would have been a strong candidate when I made my decision,

    The basic idea behind Linguistics, the idea that makes it a Science (instead of the Black Art I consider it to be), is borrowed actually from a bit of epistemology that lays the foundation of natural sciences. That basic idea is the hypothesis that Language is an abstract kind, exemplars of which (English, French, Romanian,...), can be 'collected' for evidence, analysed, dissected, reassembled as formal theorems, probed for consistency and predicted. I disagree. More so with the last three attributes of the actually interesting abstract kind I call Language (see why in the list below). Abstract concepts give me the creeps, because they have no shape, no sensorial mapping, and therefore the context where they are used pulls them into any shape that seems consistent with the constraints used to define the term. So in a normally human attempt to create myths for things not yet understood (which tactics seems to have been adopted also by the Scientific process), I prefer to think of Language as a many-headed (n)-dimensional beast. A Planes Walker for people familiar with the Multiverse. In this analogy, any formal language - or any attempts at formalizing natural Languages would be just a (n-m)-dimensional subset of the actual natural Language. [where both n and m are practically infinite, with m practically infinitely smaller than m] RPG notions are much simpler: a formal language is a Material Plane in the Multiverse generated by a given natural Language. Look no further than implementations of programming languages. These are formal by definition, but not even the strictest standards can keep actual implementations in check. Most striking example: after its creation, Lisp was implemented at different universities differently, then most of these people put together Common Lisp and even then, complex code written under one CL interpreter is not guaranteed to work under another... Similarly, though it was created from a standard, JavaScript has almost as many implementations as there are script-enabled browsers AND versions of browsers. In the attempt to understand why that may happen, let's consider the attributes that are supposed to make Linguistics a Science.

    Here's a bit more on evidence. It's possible that the vast array of methodology employed in the 'psych' fields (neuropsych, developmental psych, psycholing, etc.), will reach at a certain point a synthesis of all variables involved in cognition. It's possible, but in my opinion not probable. Situatedness provides a better approach. Piaget was right, I prefer to use data gathered in informal settings - everyday life. I observe people in meetings, on the street, in buses, playing games, interacting. Environments can be set in which technology is an integrant part of the activity that's being studies, so data can be gathered on human performance without having participants jumping through hoops in lab conditions.

    If it were after me:

    Time for the second disagreement. I suppose that the following quote, with which I agree, will be heavily disputed... at least in academic environments, because Academe thrives on and is structured by degrees.

    "[...] 'piled higher and deeper' [...] degrees per se are worthless. Often they are honorifics of true scientists or learned scholars or inspired teachers. Much more frequently they are false faces for overeducated jackasses. [...] A doctorate is a union card to get a tenured job. It does not mean that the holder thereof is wise or learned."
    -- Robert Heinlein "The Number of the Beast" p.79

    Sadly, PhDs are not what they're cracked up to be...
    ... otherwise we would have gathered much more Knowledge than we actually have to date. By Knowledge I don't mean trivia like which GB theorem may be responsible for a given movement in a parsed tree of an actual English utterance (which could be considered lower-case knowledge). What I mean by Knowledge are observed facts or deduced theories which could be of use to a large number of humans. Applied, that is. Ever wondered why great scientific leaps happen during wars? It's because pure theory is squeezed to the maximum for any helpful applications under the pressure of possible annihilation. There's a Romanian proverb that comes to mind: "The country is burning and the Ol'lady is brushing her hair." Unfortunately, it seems that peace-time research, with economic pressure buffered by grants left to the latitude of Academe leaves plenty of time for the Ol'lady to comb her hair...

    Philosophers keep reinventing the wheel and arguing about how many spokes it actually has. There are debates coming through the ages, from the earliers records of meta-thinking. Subsets of facts keep being interpreted and reinterpreted this way or that way, thought experiments keep being restated, analogies keep popping up. False analogies (based on surface similarity or unwarranted transfer), have strong tendency to resurface.


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