[Haskell-cafe] Category Theory woes

Richard O'Keefe ok at cs.otago.ac.nz
Sun Feb 21 19:37:00 EST 2010

On Feb 21, 2010, at 8:13 AM, Nick Rudnick wrote:

>> Of course a basic point about language is that the association
>> between sounds and meanings is (for the most part) arbitrary.
> I would rather like to say it is not strictly determined, as an  
> evolutionary tendence towards, say ergonomy, cannot be overlooked,  
> can it?

I see no evolutionary tendency towards "ergonomy" in the world's  
*Articulatory economy*, yes.  Bits are always eroding off words.
But as for any other kind of "ergonomy", well, people have been talking
for a very long time, so such a tendency should have had *some* effect
by now, surely?  While there seem to be some deep unities, the world's
languages are a very diverse lot.  Let's face it, who really _needs_
a paucal number?  Or 12 noun classes?  Or 16 cases?  Maori manages
just fine without any of those things.

>> Why should the terminology of mathematics be any different?
> ;-) Realizing an evolutionary tendence towards ergonony, is my  
> subject...

Does such a tendency exist?
If it does, why should we aid and abet a tendency which, to the
extent it exists in biology, excels in producing parasites?

> Thanks for this beautiful example and, honestly, again I ask again  
> whether we may regard this as «just noise»: In contrary, aren't such  
> usages not paradigmatical examples of memes, which as products of  
> memetic evolution, should be studied for their motivational value?

Quite possibly.  But ergonomics is *not* the driver.

> The problem I see is that common maths claims an exception in  
> claiming that, in it's domain, namings are no more than noise

No such thing.  Quick now, what semantics is transparently revealed
in the names "birch, beech, spruce, fir, oak"?  To a native speaker
of English, these things mean what they mean by convention and nothing
else.  (If we can trust the OED etymology, "beech" may have originally
meant "a tree with edible fruit", but this is very far from transparent
to a native speaker of modern English.  And spruce trees are so called
not because they are particularly spruce but because they came from
Prussia, again, very far from transparent to a native speaker of M.E.)

> And, to close in your figurative style:
> Which woman gets hurt by a change of clothes?

The one whose new clothes fit her worse, of course.

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