Words do not dimensionally reduce like data


0 reactions 2023-01-11

My phone says it’s 42 degrees outside, but it feels like 36. How is my thermometer more sophisticated than my top-shelf tool for thinking? To put it semantically, the thermometer tells me the meaning and character of the weather. But my personal ontology engine (POE) only gives me the meaning. This is due is a simple but unfortunately widespread misunderstanding about how words work. I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, a simple illustration will do. Take the word “entrance.“ It’s a door in one domain. In another domain, it’s enchantment.

This seems like no big deal. You can just consult a dictionary to clear things up. But it does become a problem when we start to treat words like database entries, in other words, as nodes and vectors. The letters themselves, in this order, represent a dual nature. Perhaps they have emerged from the same etymology (presumably something about entering a trance), but they’ve undergone mitosis and live two different lives.

We can repeat this process with a slightly more complex example, that of conduct. You can conduct an orchestra and, by metaphor, conduct a business. The particulars of both are altogether unique; that is to say — the metaphor falls apart as soon as you get to spreadsheets. You may have a code of conduct that speaks to behavior — how to comport oneself. And metals famously conduct electricity but not in the way that results in a symphony.

An even greater tangle is the word “state.” State has many local meanings and usages and even sub-local meanings. State - as a word, refers to a particular point (in the universal sense) and can mean a particular state that is being passed (that is to say, the content rather than the platonic vessel.)

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