Archives 2005 - humanist @ roua.org :

civilization

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Here and there, I hear or read about civilization, and, while the dictionary says it's an advanced state of human society, i'm pondering a more operational definition of it.

A civilized society should be able to guarantee coverage for the basic needs of the modern human: food, shelter, health, knowledge (communication, education, research). As a limit, if a human is born today, he should be provided with these resources to live to the estimated end of his life, unconditionally. I mean that he should have no obligation to do any kind of formal work to acquire those resources, except the actions necessary to use and maintain them.

This provision is, in my opinion, what a civilized society basically means.

A society not being able to provide food, shelter, health and knowledge (communication, teaching, research) to all its new members, gratis (for free, as in free beer), is not civilized, I would call it primitive.

A truism: a primitive society is a society which can't afford to grow a modern human.

So, I'm pretty dissapointed I haven't heard of a civilized country yet (and I'm 40+, btw). If you heard of one, please let the readers and the author of this blog know. Note: I'm not talking about making people compete for these resources, that still belongs to the animal realm, to a primitive world; a modern human is defined by having a natural access to them, and by his ability to maintain or create them so any neighbour can have natural access to them too.

There's a horrible term today, in wide circulation: "earn a living". What??! Why did you bring a newborn in this world? To put him to "earn a living"? Did you ever ask yourself if it's worth it? Better find a way to check that out before enslaving him to this idiocy.

Quite a few adults would say it's no problem with this, you have to earn a living, but if asked to state the motives for this attitude, it becomes clear that this answer is a matter of instinct: while you're alive, you should check the neighborhood first to satisfy your instincts, certainly you'll be able to satisfy some, and you can keep going hunting until you die. Fine, but that's just animal instinct, nothing part of the definition of a modern human, a civilized human. Again, it's nothing wrong with being animals, that's what we are, basically. But my point is that 'basically' isn't enough to make me or the surrounding society, civilized.

Some other adults would be shocked to listen to any alternative to "earn a living", their point being that, letting a human do whatever he thinks, the human would do nothing except consume food, so he will harm himself and the society around. That would be true only if the human wouldn't be naturally endowed with something beyond the animal features: capacity to learn. A human, starting as an animal in a civilized society, can't simply consume resources (knowledge among them) without feeling miserably after a while, he will start looking for something to make him happy, and he will, given the resources above, understand rather soon that he'll not be happy himself unless the modern humans in the neighborhood are happy too. A modern human, in a civilized society, would start acting as a consequence of understanding his civilized context, that is, in as much freedom as is humanly possible.

Unfortunately, this is not the current situation with us, all of us. We are either born on somebody's property or work for somebody's property (watch carefully around), or work for 'our own' (those of us are the 'happy' primitives, the ones whose instincts are about to be temporarily satisfied mostly at the expense of their neighbours), so most of us are still animals and still living in primitive, tribal, societies.

So why give birth to children until those resources (food, shelter, health, knowledge (communication, education, research)) are there to let the modern human be? I see no reason. I barely understand the reason why we, the primitives, are still here and keep on going with the current tribal rules.

My only civilized reason of sticking around this mess is to help somehow building a situation where those resources will be available for the newcomers, this time by natural right of the modern human. Friendly advice: don't take this goal too seriously, although everybody has at least the same civilized reason, we are so far away from civilization that you may find yourself, sometimes, forced into an aimless drift, aka, in primitive terms and in a primitive context, ignorant, jobless, homeless or hungry, whatever suits you.

It seems we live in a fourth world, in fact: most of what we do is hunting and being hunted, and breed in between; the current, tribal, categorization of the world (in 'developed', 'developing' and 'underdeveloped' peoples), is mainly a matter of hunting intensity and hunting tools: who gets the honors for grabbing that only bloody sausage and who's left to make the next one in the following hunting season.

This boring repetitiveness is due to lack of food, shelter, health, knowledge (communication, education, research), so, either we're too many as a total or we're mixed with too many hypocrites. Whichever is true (and nobody can really check either of them), we should breed less and think more (this one keeps the natural proportion of honesty/hypocrisy constant and, besides, it stays the cheapest) before moving things around, until our followers (yes, somebody will keep breeding, nonetheless) will manage to get their act together and build a civilization, so that their followers will be able to live as modern humans and not in hunting packs, like us.

"Oh lord, Oooh you are soo big, Soo absolutely 'uge, Gosh we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you...", Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, that an insight.

essay on time, subject and object

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Time is a measure of how many events happen in a given situation, it means noticing (counting) them, it is a measure of the knowledge an observer can gain about the surroundings. This kind of time is not universal, it is proper to the observer(s), to the observed, and, in general, to (de)limited physical systems, that is, different observers have naturally different proper time units, dependent on the contexts of those observers.

We can build a more formal relationship between time and knowledge or information. We'll use two ideal cases to formulate a plausible hypothesis, and then plunge into a more realistic world with it.

An observer immersed in a space with no events, would wait an infinity for an event to happen, in other words, the unit of time proper to the observer would be infinity, the observer can't notice anything happening, cannot use a definite unit of time for itself. There's nothing else the observer can define its unit of time relative to, so we can't speak of an infinity of units, therefore, in this ideal case, it's more reasonable to consider its unit of time as being infinite.

To put it differently: if the probability of an event is equal to zero, the unit of time of the event counter (the observer) is infinite.

An observer who is absolutely sure an event will happen (has total knowledge about it) has a unit of time equivalent with zero, null. Because total knowledge about an event means exactly noticing that event, while it happens (if not being the event itself).

To put it differently: if the probability (p) of an event is equal to one, the unit of time (u) of the event counter (the observer) is equal to zero.

These ideal, extreme, cases, suggest, therefore:

if p=0 then u=∞ if p=1 then u=0

A simple function which maps these two extreme cases onto one another is the natural logarithm, so, we can write:

u=-kln p

This mapping is not unique, just a plausible proposal. k is a dimensional constant.

Now for the real world, where multiple events happen, let's label them with an integer, i. An observer surrounded by a number n of events, each of them happening with a probability pi, where i labels each of those events, can calculate an average unit of time, using the logarithmic relation above:

<u>=-kΣipiln pi.

This relation says that the average unit of time proper to an observer is equal with the quantity of information contained in that part of the environment which interacts with it, the 'noticeable' part).

In other words, any thing's proper unit of time is proportional to the informational entropy of its interacting context.

In the mechanical world, where the Newtonian, or Einsteinian, time is used, anything is bound to happen with absolute certainty, so the average time unit u calculated above, is zero.

However, given the history of our concept of time understanding, we chose a constant unit of time, to use it as a gauge for all the other times we'd like to measure. This mechanical gauge has been chosen because the physical process used in defining it is extremely regular (doesn't bring any new knowledge to the observer: the observer knows already what will happen with this regular system when it notices other, independent, events). So we can come with this constant and add it to the relation above, to accomodate our present, conventional, use of the mechanical, constant, unit of time. Let's name this constant c. It means a conventionally transferred knowledge from a purely mechanical system.

So time and knowledge are the same, and their formal relation is:

<u>=-kΣipiln pi+c.

In other words, any thing's proper unit of time is linearly dependent on the informational entropy of its interacting context (that part of the environment which interacts with it).

Now, if we split conceptually a physical system in two, how can we delimit which one is the observer/subject and which one is the observed/object? Based on this kind of time interpretation (each delimited physical system has a proper unit of time of its own), we can say: that physical region having a smaller characteristic unit of time is the observer, the subject, the rest of it, up to the whole (initially delimited) system in discussion, is the observed/the object.

This delimiting procedure is natural, a subject relies on some object invariants to study it, in other words, the subject's time unit has to be smaller than the object's own time unit (the subject needs at least one event to notice an object's relatively invariant feature).

Let's call it statistical time, if not physical time, shall we?

So, unless you know a way to unknow or uninteract with things, you can't turn back in time. This asymmetry should pervade any self-respecting formalism about the relevant parts of nature.

This is an idea which started to define itself in 1986, and took the present form in 1996. This essay is its first, widely available for public, instance.

Peer review this and don't forget to quote me, maybe somebody will find it useful, check my CV and will offer me a research (programmer) position in a (spanish, optimally) digital library, after all ;).

Classified in : physics Tags : none

semantic libraries

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Why semantic libraries

1.Context

The scientific research and its use by the public is strongly affected by the way authors, librarians and publishers interact.

The fast evolution of the digital environment brought this interaction in a modern crisis: the scientists use today non-semantic software tools for authoring their articles (tools designed around certain types of media, rather than around the semantic document concept), while the librarians and the publishers try to sloppily recover as much ad-hoc semantics as they can to answer to their on-line users (among which are the researchers themselves). This semantics recovering effort is also one of the reasons for the recent prices escalation by commercial publishers, phenomenon which ignited reactions such as the Open Access initiative.

Ignoring the lack of semantic depth in the scientific documents produced with traditional tools will only lengthen the current crisis, any other way of solving this conflict is only masking its primary cause: the high cost of dealing with digital documents built on shallow semantics.

Without a semantic authoring language focused on domains which are relevant for the needs of scientific authors, and for the librarians and publishers involved in their research process, it is virtually impossible to improve substantially the quality of the modern research activity or to pull it out of the current flow of scientific information crisis.

The current digital technologies allow a better, systemic and long run, approach to the process of building science and its history, in an Open Access paradigm.

I salute the plans for European digital libraries, and I hope to get directly involved in them.

To construct a clear picture, I propose three definitions: semantic library, functional document, semantic authoring tool. A functional document is a digital, semantically rich, platform independent document, which allows reuse, data mining and interoperation with other digital documents or applications by providing a list of digital resources it contains and an interface to it for external entities to use (parse, manipulate).

A semantic library is a digital library built on functional documents.

A semantic authoring tool is a software providing support for building functional documents.

2.Proposal

As an attempt to alleviate the burdening effects of putting shallow semantics documents in circulation, I propose:

  • the study, design and implementation of a human-friendly, semantically rich, authoring language for scientists, along with grammar based tools able to transform documents authored using this language into machine friendly documents (e.g. XML), and round-trip between these two structures (i.e. the authoring friendly space and the machine friendly space) while preserving the document's semantics in the process.
  • initiating an international collaborative process to construct domain specific controlled vocabularies, or semantically enriching the existing ones (e.g. OpenMath, MathML, MusicML, ChemML), by proposing appropriately focused E.U. research projects and by building collaborative consortia of interested parties (university/research libraries, publishers of science, researchers involved in language structure, data mining, domain-specific vocabularies, semantic annotations, digital ontologies, education etc.)
  • helping, through example, the scientific and education communities to become aware of the benefits of authoring documents with a flexible and layered semantic architecture for their own, and their readers, use.

No short-term project can really cover all these directions: my experience in the field suggests there are difficult, subject-specific issues of legacy to solve, as a prerequisite to making full benefit of these solutions, while the building and extending of domain-specific controlled vocabularies is, in principle, a never ending set of necessarily parallel tasks.

The optimal framework to a concerted approach to these problems is the long term study, design and creation of a set of Open Source software tools and specifications for authoring scientific documents and build, with them, semantic libraries for public use.

This direction of research will address the needs of authors, librarians and publishers in a democratic way by continuously incorporating their feedback through fully exploiting the currently typical Internet facilities (e.g. collaborative content management tools and communication standards), so that imbalances like the crisis mentioned in the context can no longer appear or last.

The author of this proposal is prepared to get involved in the development of semantic libraries at any level of detail.

3.Benefits

The beneficial consequences of such an effort on the modern scientific research processes are multiple and deep:

  • the semantics used at the authoring stage hints the archiving agents or library engines, that means enabling a high quality library service, and a high efficiency of reusing research results;
  • the librarians and/or the professional groups will have a well defined framework for developing and refining controlled vocabularies and build richer semantic structures based on them;
  • the researchers/authors can reuse these vocabularies for better structuring their documents and for better using the documents themselves by feeding their structured sections to automata where appropriate.
  • from a library which stores semantic documents, a researcher or student can effectively assemble up-to-date monographs on the fly, based on a class of subjects of interest;
  • history of science and the issues of long term preservation can be effectively supported because the archiving process is semantics oriented, semantics which has been made available at the authoring stage, by the creators of the document, and can preserve the usability when facing a new drastic change of media.
  • a more effective scientific exchange is enabled because the semantic structures can be rendered in the notional space of arbitrary readers;
  • the publishing industry is freed to focus on providing renderings better tuned to specific users, machines or media, due to the availability of rich semantics in the original documents.

4.The big picture

  • let scientists easily interleave their own natural language with controlled vocabularies they helped create while authoring,
  • so that librarians can use the layered semantics for long term preservation and satisfying research queries with answers of higher relevance than today,
  • to enable publishers to improve the quality, and maintain a low price of their offerings by making their reader related processing orthogonal to the authoring process,
  • to encourage and build a sustainable concept of scientific self-archiving while simplifying the peer review processes.

For the legacy documents, available in physical form and waiting to be digitized, I have some comments related to their copyright.

Those interested further in this subject may want to read this simple essay on the meaning of scientific documents.

subiect și obiect

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Ca să poți observa un obiect, e necesar să notezi un număr oarecare de evenimente, în esență, să numeri. Numărul ăsta trebuie să fie mai mare decât numărul de evenimente proprii obiectului (obiectul observat rămâne relativ "același", are niște trăsături invariante observatorului, pe timpul observării).

Așa că, prin definiție, observatorul (subiectul) are o unitate de timp proprie (caracteristică) mai mică decât a observatului (obiectul), cu alte cuvinte, o entropie mai mică (o să vedem, un pic mai încolo, de ce și cum unitatea de timp proprie unui ceva e proporțională cu entropia acelui ceva).

reprezentarea lui a fi

Written by Romeo Anghelache no comments

Și numele astea, pe care le inventăm pentru cele ce nu fac parte (încă) din vreo "lege a naturii": cum le alegem? Ori avem deja ceva asociații în minte, ș'atunci numele e, să'i zicem așa, social, ori nici o asociație satisfăcătoare nu'i posibilă ș'atunci numele e sinestezic, aproape arbitrar: depinde de un acord de moment între simțurile proprii și mintea'ți, un acord ce'ți promite o degradare mai lentă.

Oricum am da'o, orice nume care n'aparține încă unei legi declarate, sociale, "a naturii", aparține unei legi aproape individuale, nelocale în orice caz. O versiune de lege neverificată explicit/social, da'n relație cu biologia mamiferelor să zicem, sau cu experiențele tale de până atunci, cu ce'ai mâncat în ziua în care ai inventat numele pentru un lucru cu care nu te'ai mai întâlnit, pe care nu l'ai mai gândit.

Un nume inventat e un acord psihologic între tine și tine însuți, poate fi ca o revelație, poate da o senzație de completitudine, e o rețea de fire ce conectează o gramadă de evenimente aparent necorelate. Și dacă pune'n legătură multe din cele pe care vecinii tăi le simt asemenea, numele ăla devine social, și dacă simplifică rezolvarea vreunei probleme, devine lege a naturii, în timp ce mută alte nume în irelevanță, tăcere; și sfărâmă alte legi, alte gramatici, care rezolvau alte probleme...

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