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Schrödinger Semantics August 3, 2007

Posted by malthusio in Uncategorized.
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Erwin Schrödinger, is perhaps best known inside and outside of physics for the “Schrödinger’s cat” thought experiment. In a paper on parser construction, Aycock and Horspool develop a lexing technique that allows for the superposition of token types, to allow the deferal of token type determination. A single token which is considered to have a superposition of token types is here termed as a “Scrhödinger Token “.

In Haraway’s work, with it’s metaphorical density, I would say that she has gone on to develop Schrodinger Semantics (as juxtiposed with syntactic entities such as Schrodinger Tokens).  By encoding (or at least allowing for the decoding of) multiple readings into her work, it exists as a superposition of multiple meanings, densely encoded, and expansive unpacked. Until the wave function of her work is collapsed by interpretation of it, it’s meaning is indeterminate. I think it’s somewhat ironic (probably intentionaly) that in attempting to reify the bipolarity that she sees as built into our conceptions of the world, her own work is subject to a combinatorial explosion of interpretation as readers attempt to reinsert the divisions between her antagonistic and contradictory concept pairings. The cyborg itself is an epitomization of this tendancy.

I admire her for being able to exploit ambiguity like this as a coding mechanism. I remember trying to do the same thing myself when I was younger, but I could never manage to convince people that I actualy meant an ambiguity to be read as “all possible meanings”. People would typicaly pick just one possible meaning for an ambiguity, and then of course, the whole idea would fail to be communicated. Of course I will also admit, that I was probably doing this very badly at the time, so it isn’t much of a wonder that the results turned out badly for me. At the same time though, I also wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that she compresses dual meanings into her work using antagonistic and contradictory pairings. More and more I find myself coming to see contradiction as a very usefull retorical device, whereas before I would avoid contradiction for fear of undermining myself. Although again, I suppose this is different in her case, as she uses contradiction to undermine the ideas that she sees as entrenched in our ways of seeing the world.

 I also realy appreciate her use of metaphorical technology. Language itself is the oldest information processing technology, but I don’t think we have come close to exhausting the potential of this technology. For some reason, we have been using language in basicaly the same way, and believe it or not, this is also aparent in the aplication of linguistic technologies in computing as well. Pretty much all language processing tools that I would put under the umbrella of “compiler technology” have only been used in one way. And that is to make other languages that have the same format as ones that already exist. We are too used to seeing language as inhabiting certain specific images and not others (i.e. spoken word, type and hand written text, etc). Meanwhile everything inside a computer is symbolic, and inherently linguistic anyway (this is what formal automata theory is all about after all).

Only in thinkers such as Donna Haraway, with her idea of the material-semiotic, have I seen even an inkling that there might be other ways to apply our linguistic technology. Thinkers such as Freeman Dyson and Norbert Wiener have gone some distance towards realizing the importance of metaphor and analogy, but not nearly as far as Haraway. Dyson chooses to use analogy to frame his writing and speaking, but this is still a traditional use of linguistic technology, even if he does pull this off better than many scientists. Wiener goes a bit further in agreeing that all of mathematics is nothing more than analogy, but again, I don’t think he goes as far as Haraway. I’ve read his book “Cybernetics”, and a rather brilliant, if somewhat Freudian, critique of his life by Katherine Hayles (“How we became posthuman”), but nothing more. Wiener was generaly fairly insightfull, and he was somewhat interested in these things, so it’s possible he might have gone further than I’m giving him credit for here.

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