Sunday, January 06, 2008

Language and problem solving

In the most recent New Scientist (Vol 197 No 2637) there is an interesting article discussing the issue of language and how it frames problems. The perspective of the article was that English's newtonian way of describing the world failed to frame questions properly for quantum and other similar non-newtonian physics. The article even goes so far to say that the lack of progress in non-newtonian physics is because problems are framed via the language with a newtonian world view.

Does the same problem exist in the world of the internet? While I realise the Internet world is great at creating new words, these are still framed by the overall language. A language that is "newtonian". As Internet shifts to flows and systems as opposed to objects and links, do we need to look at how we frame the discussion via language to open up the problem solving juices of the internet community? New next wave of innovation will be less around nouns towards verbs, the doing rather than the being and yet we still primarily use nouns in discussing the web and its evolution. Should verbs that describe process, systems and flow be the primary descriptors of the next web?

The article describes an example of Montagnais phrase "Hipiskapigoka iagusit". It very, very roughly translates to "singing health", a process, within which a medicine man and sick person exist. However, a dictionary written in 1729 translated into something that emphasised the objects and not the process. The web is shifting to loosely coupled processes as opposed to objects. I wonder whether the discussion of Robert Scoble's recent tiff with Facebook, would have evolved differently if the language emphasised process (say maintaining contacts) as opposed to data (the contacts themselves). The discussion was about who owned what objects (the contact data) rather than what the ins and outs of maintaining contacts. Another example is the current discussion going on about whether data is a commodity or not. Again the language is of objects rather than flow. How would this discussion evolve if it was frame by a language of flow (verbs) as opposed to objects (nouns)?

The same questions can be asked of programming. Everyone expresses the need to ramp up parallel programming to take advantage of the distributed nature of the internet and multi-core processes. However, can any real problem be solve properly while the language used to frame the problem is based on objects rather than flow? Does the conceptual framework that underpins object orientated programming preclude successful problem solving in the parallel world? Yes there are languages that focus specifically on parallel programming but I am also talking about the language used to describe and communicate the problem. These will need to respond to the requirements of a parallel world for people to solve problems and communicate solutions.

A lot of questions asked. I don't have the answers and I expect no one will for a while. It is interesting to step away from objects and consider things from a flow perspective. I even think I need to re-visit my recent post of Data Ecosystems and look at it from the perspective of flow rather than objects

Tags: Data, Language, Programming, Internet, Physics, Data Ecosystems