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Re: [ontac-forum] Theories, Models, Reasoning, Language, and Truth

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 17 Dec 2005 23:04:30 -0500
Message-id: <43A4DFCE.3000609@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Barry,    (01)

Yes, I was trying to summarize too many complex issues
in much too short a statement:    (02)

JS> In short, all our perceptions are signs, and the objects
> themselves are hypotheses that might turn out to be
> illusions.    (03)

BS> something wrong with both grammar and logic, here, I think;
> but in short: the fact that every single one of the hypotheses
> we have about objects might be false, does not mean that they
> ALL might be false; also 'hypothesis', 'object', 'illusion'
> are terms referring to entities in different categories    (04)

I agree.    (05)

To separate the entangled points in a more extended summary,
let me start with a description of the processes of perception
along the lines that cognitive psychologists have been discussing
for the past 40 years or so:    (06)

  1. Incoming signals that impinge on our nerve endings are signs.    (07)

  2. Perception involves the interpretation of those signs by
     a process of retrieving one or more chunks of previously
     experienced signs (traditionally called _percepts_) that
     are assembled into a pattern that matches the new signs.    (08)

  3. The process of perception is rarely an exact match of
     old percepts to new signs.  Instead, the assembly of
     percepts has the nature of a hypothetical construction,
     which may involve a considerable amount of deformation
     and adjustment.  The process is definitely fallible and
     possibly ambiguous, in the sense that several different
     selections of percepts could be adapted to match the
     any given incoming pattern of signs.    (09)

  4. Peirce called the process of perception a kind of abduction,
     and that term has been applied by computational linguists,
     such as Jerry Hobbs, to the process of parsing natural language
     sentences (which are usually processed by methods similar to
     the steps outlined in #2 and #3 above).    (010)

  5. Not all percepts are associated with words in a natural
     language, but many of them are.  A natural language description
     of the perceived experience could be generated by assembling
     the words that correspond to the percepts in an NL sentence
     according to the syntax of the language and with the help of
     auxiliary morphemes, such as function words and inflections.    (011)

Assuming a process of perception of this sort (which is a common
hypothesis in cognitive psychology), I would expand my earlier
sentence thus:  the process of perception involves the matching
of incoming signs to a hypothetical construction from stored
percepts.  The pattern matching process is fallible, and any
particular construction is a hypothesis that could be, and
often is, falsified or at least corrected by future experience.    (012)

What we call "objects" are the external projections of our
internal constructions that have proved to be useful over long
periods of time.  Peirce said that a great many of our beliefs
that have survived extensive testing are probably true within
the limits of our ability to perceive and verify.  We can
probably be sure that our cherished beliefs will survive tests
that are similar to our past experiences, but we can never
be certain how far they can be trusted.    (013)

Note the ubiquitous signs:  the original signals from the nerve
endings, the store of percepts in the brain, the assemblies of
percepts used to interpret the new signs, the stable constructions,
which we call "objects", and the words and sentences we use to
describe them.  They're all signs.    (014)

Different psychologists may have different theories and different
terminology for the processes of perception, but what they're
discussing is still signs and signs of signs.    (015)

John    (016)

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