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   Re: [xml-dev] Data vs. Process was Re: [xml-dev] Vocabulary Combination

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[struck by lightning and out of the discussion for the past 24 hours, so just
now catching up]

Jonathan Borden wrote:

> Fair enough. For certain, some types of writing are meant to be interpreted
> primarily if not completely by the reader, for example poetry. Other types of
> writing are meant to be interpreted exactly by the reader as written by the
> author, for example: a medical prescription. Other documents are intended to
> fall somewhere in between.

In fact, the only way to prevent unanticipated uses of *any* text is to insure
the intractable stupidity or unimaginativeness of every recipient who might get
hold of it. Could that possibly be accomplished? Yet publishing has always been
about just the opposite:  broadcasting a text to the general public, and thereby
relinquishing any meaningful control of its subsequent uses, interpretations or
consequences. My academic field (classical philology) was effectively dismantled
and reconstructed from scratch in the twentieth century, after Milman Parry
forced it to confront the larger implications of how composition was done and
what precisely composition is when it consists of  reworking (in performance!)
traditional material and oral formulae [this is the point at which Sean McGrath
might be expected to pipe up with Yeats's observation about separating the
dancer from the dance]. Your academic field (medicine) continues to rely on a
guild system to insure that accepted practitioners will reliably render an
orthodox interpretation when confronted with an authoritative text. The irony of
what you say above is that there is far less latitude in philology now than
there was a century ago for any particular reader's interpretation of the text.
Meanwhile, I have just had the experience of a highly respected medical
practitioner effectively substituting his own idiosyncratic interpretation for
what should have been the authoritative command of a prescription:  in rendering
a particularly expert second opinion, he treated the prescriptives of a
colleague as tantamount to 'I see what he's trying to do, but the very
particular anomalies he has identified should lead away from the standard

The common ground between the practice in our two fields is this:  semantics are
as elaborated by a particular interpreter from a rendition of a particular text
in the particular circumstances of a particular occasion. Markup, and the markup
of ontologies, are good and useful ways to add value to a text and perhaps to
shape it toward a particular interpretation, but ultimately that text will be
processed anew at each understanding of it, and there are no guarantees of how a
particular interpreter might see it, nor indeed of how a particular renderer
might present that text to that interpreter.

> Ontologies _are_ an effort to proscribe a deliberate _set of meanings_ (as you
> write, this is spot on) between the reader and writer (i.e. across processing
> contexts if you wish to use this language). I hope you will allow that there
> are certain tasks for which it is essential that the reader and writer share a
> common understanding of the document (e.g. medical documentation).

With my pedant hat on:  you mean 'prescribe', not 'proscribe' (though your
ontology can reliably do neither with any particular interpreter of it on any
particular occasion). Common understandings go only so far, and progress in your
field, as in mine and most others, relies upon new interpretations of some of
the same familiar material.


Walter Perry


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