Conjecture: Creating a Semantic Web

November 26, 2006

There are a number of distributed computing projects that use idle computers to help solve computational problems. (Seti@home is the most famous one that I’ve contributed to.)

I wonder why there aren’t any distributed projects that attempt to create a distributed semantic processing system. (Here’s a book that I’m putting on my to-read list.)

Unfortunately, I’m not even certain what a “distributed semantic processing system” would look like, or how it would perform. I imagine such a system would be able to provide correct answers to the following questions:

  • Does a fire cause pain?
  • Does a fire truck cause pain?
  • Does a camp fire cause pain?

But how the system would be designed and seeded with information, I presently have no idea.

I suspect that a true test of a semantic processing system would be its ability to respond to a silly question with a joke:

Question: Does a fire truck cause pain?
Answer: Only if it runs you over.

But that is mere conjecture.

The Metaphysical Meaning of Number

November 25, 2006

Our urge to attach metaphysical meaning to number—numerology—has had many expressions, both ancient and modern: Greek Pythagoreans, Jewish Kabbalists, Catholic Trinitarians, as well as many others.

But for the metaphysical import of certain numbers, one need look no further than the human body or the night sky.

Because we have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 legs, 2 hands, and 2 hemispheres in our brain, the number two has metaphysical significance. (Perhaps the preponderance of double features of our anatomy is why we have many conceptual dualisms: yin / yang, good / evil, hot / cold, love / hate.)

Because there are 3 large objects in our heavens—the sun, the earth, and the moon—the number three has metaphysical significance. (A triangle is formed from three points in space.)

But the metaphysical (and metaphorical) significance that we attach to certain numbers is culturally and historically arbitrary. Plastic.

The number three is important to Catholic Trinitarians because they believe God can be expressed as a trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (A patriarchal expression wholly devoid of the feminine principle.)

I like to ground the importance of the number three in a simpler observation: the three most obvious objects in our sky are the sun, the earth, and the moon. And the sun came first, then the earth, and then the moon.

In both a metaphorical and literal sense, Sun, Earth, and Moon corresponds to the meme Father, Mother, Child.

And, I hypothesize, because we all are a child of a father and a mother, we naturally want to attach importance to the number three—to the number of people in the simplest family. But I have no idea how to test that hypothesis. 🙂

A Nation is a Paltry Thing

November 20, 2006

A nation is a paltry thing: a space on a map; a pennant flapping in the wind.

A nation is a paltry thing: the illusion of identity and difference where no difference exists.

A nation is a paltry thing: its history numbered in mere hundreds (or thousands) of years; a span of time all too brief.

Yet we cling to the idea of nation, as if ennobled by it; sanctified by it; justified by it.

And some are willing to fight and die for a nation, as if a nation were more than a collective illusion.

The Midwives of Wonder

November 19, 2006

All men by nature desire to know. —Aristotle

A: How was the universe created?

B: By inflation and expansion from a singularity.

A: Why does the universe exist?

B: No one knows.

A: Your answers, my friend, are the midwives of wonder; who I shall christen Examination and Inquiry! Oh, Examination! The twin devotions of observing and testing! Oh, Inquiry! The lust to know both the how and the why!

B: “Midwives of wonder?” Devotions and lust? Uh, my friend, in what century are we having this conversation?

A: Oh, virtual cynic! That you and I are even having this conversation is a source of wonder!

B: Yes, yes, I know. The fact that we are having this conversation proves that the universe must be conducive to life.

A: Oh yes indeed! If the universe couldn’t support life, you and I wouldn’t be conversing.

B: That sounds like a tautology. It’s almost like you are saying that life in this universe was inevitable.

A: Well, the conditions of the universe are necessary for the development of carbon based life. If the physical features and constants of the universe weren’t tuned exactly as they are, carbon based life wouldn’t have developed. This is known as the anthropic principle.

B: And is it not also true that the universe consists mostly of hydrogen and helium atoms?

A: Yes, that is also true. We are living in an improbably dense space in an infinity of emptiness.

B: Is that why real estate is so valuable?

A: That’s one reason, yes. But more to the point, the universe is mostly empty. In that sense, you and I are a wondrously complex amalgamation of solid matter.

B: It’s not very flattering to think of myself as a “wondrously complex amalgamation of solid matter.”

A: Ok, how about you are a wondrously cute amalgamation of solid matter!

B: I feel better about myself now. Thank you.

A: You’re welcome.

Why do church fathers fear dark holes?

November 16, 2006

The Catholic priesthood is unswerving in its devotion to celibacy, a quaint notion that ignores the simple biological truth that we exist to have sex and reproduce.

But simple biological and sexual truths frighten men who wear dark robes; men who, for some reason, feel threatened by the damp moist holes into which they dream of poking their poles.

Perhaps the fear of dark holes stems from an unconscious fear of black holes—places which have never seen, and never can see, the light of Jesus.

If I were god and had to listen to nattering prayers and braying ululations, and if I had to endure centuries of priests and their anguished erections, I’d probably throw myself into a black hole.

Hmm. Maybe that’s where god is hiding.

The AI of Gaia

November 15, 2006

When I refer to the internet and the world wide web as the emerging mind of Gaia, I am being mythopoeic; and when I ask Google questions, I do interpret the results in terms of the myth I am expressing. After all, we all have our own lenses and biases through which we filter and interpret incoming information.

And now I read of a future that is hardly myth: of a semantic web that is capable of answering any question expressed in plain language:

[T]he Holy Grail for developers of the semantic Web is to build a system that can give a reasonable and complete response to a simple question like: “I’m looking for a warm place to vacation and I have a budget of $3,000. Oh, and I have an 11-year-old child.” (Source)

It seems apparent that artificial intelligence is an emerging reality; it is just taking an unexpected form.

And just because I enjoy mythology (and assonance), I choose to call that emerging AI the mind of Gaia.

Mythic Inundation and Forthcoming Cataclysms

November 14, 2006

Perusing the NYT Science section, I found this article covering a theory that links mega-tsunami’s to asteroid impacts. A mega-tsunami is one that would make the recent Aceh tsunami look like a spring rain storm.

One of the team of scientists is an expert in the “structural analysis of myth.” The mythic theorist claims that he has located the meteor impact that led to the myth of the flood: the meteor crashed into the earth and caused a mega-tsunami on May 10, 2807 B.C. Of the 175 flood myths

Half the myths talk of a torrential downpour, Dr. Masse said. A third talk of a tsunami. Worldwide they describe hurricane force winds and darkness during the storm. All of these could come from a mega-tsunami.

Given my recent ruminations on apocalypse, I wonder if apocalyptic myths stem from a simple source: because we were nearly wiped out in the past, it stands to reason that we will probably be nearly wiped out at some time in the future.

And surely the coming cataclysm will create myths of its own, in the forthcoming millenia.

But why should I worry?