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the coproduct of doom [userpic]

semi-random thought

March 3rd, 2003 (12:36 pm)

Physicists use objects called tensors for coordinate-system independent expression of physical phenomena.
I wonder, why don't we have language independent objects for expressing ideas to each other?


Posted by: John (dolohov)
Posted at: March 3rd, 2003 10:45 am (UTC)

In some respects, signs and gestures are language-independent. Traffic lights, for instance, and arrows combined with pictures. (I've always kind of wondered how the Romans would interpret the signs on restrooms, though)

I'm sure, too, that it could be argued convincingly that sculpture and other art fills this role: Guernica, for example.

Posted by: plorkwort (plorkwort)
Posted at: March 3rd, 2003 11:44 am (UTC)

(I've always kind of wondered how the Romans would interpret the signs on
restrooms, though)

the importance of cultural context in interpreting signs is also an issue in designing radiation warning signs that have to warn of danger for hundreds of centuries without encouraging explorers of the forbidden.
when the world is overrun by mutated monsters, or semi-intelligent cockroaches, what certainty have we that they'll be deterred from poking their antennae into our hoarded nuclear waste (and, alternately, will we even care at that point?)?

Posted by: John (dolohov)
Posted at: March 3rd, 2003 12:28 pm (UTC)

I guess we can consider that revenge from beyond the grave?

Besides, they'll figure it out eventually, just like humans figured out not to live on the slopes of volcanoes... Er. Or not to live where the temperature regularly gets below 0 F... Um. Or not to explode nuclear weapons in the first place...

OK, so as long as we're positing a species smarter than humans, we can assume that they'll figure it out.

Posted by: the coproduct of doom (oonh)
Posted at: March 3rd, 2003 11:54 am (UTC)

Look at this.

Posted by: John (dolohov)
Posted at: March 3rd, 2003 12:34 pm (UTC)

That is brilliant. Far and away the most clever thing I've seen all day.

Posted by: sabine's archives (sabinenotagoth)
Posted at: March 3rd, 2003 01:07 pm (UTC)

i was going to say, "gestures, tone of voice, body language, and facial expression," but someone else got there first. ;)

Posted by: Lexicat (lexicat)
Posted at: March 6th, 2003 12:22 pm (UTC)

I'm going to give you the actual answer because, as a mathematician, I like to think about things like this.

First, to expand on tensors: a tensor is just a property, such as heat, that we can measure in different ways, such as Farenheight or Celcius. When a physicist talks about a tensor, he's talking abstractly about that property and how it interracts with other properties, perhaps as in a mathematical equation, or whatever. But she still cannot communicate the value of the tensor, how hot it is outside, without resorting to a coordinate system.

A tensor is just a name for something to be used while you don't want to talk about it's exact properties. We already have those in language, some of which even transcend individual languages: proper nouns, common nouns, and pronouns.

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