Sunday, September 6, 2009

Data and metadata: Together again

Data and metadata: Together again: Terry Jones has an excellent post that lists the problems introduced by maintaining a hard distinction between metadata and data. [...] This is all very squishy and messy because the distinction is, as Terry says, artificial. It comes from thinking about experience as content that gets processed, as if we worked the way computers do. More exactly, it comes from thinking about experience as a set of Experience Atoms that then have to be assembled; metadata are the labels that tell you that Atom A goes into Atom Z. But experience is far more like language than like particle physics or Ikea assembly instructions. And that’s for a very good reason: linguistic creatures’ experience cannot be understood apart from language. Language doesn’t neatly separate into content and meta-content. It all comes together and it’s all intertwingled. Language is so very non-atomic that it makes atoms realize how lonely they’ve been.

Or, as Zellig Harris argued, natural language is its own metalanguage.

I spoke recently at a VLDB panel where I really wanted to come at the issues from this point of view, but I felt that it would sound way too abstract to a database audience. Maybe I shouldn't have chickened out, but you can't demolish a deeply vested set of assumptions in just seven minutes...

1 comment:

Tomasz said...

When I hear statements such as "linguistic creatures’ experience cannot be understood apart from language" I can't help but think of Wittgenstein and his ideas concerning language and reality. Unfortunately most graduate students are busy taking Machine Learning courses and get a PhD without ever reading such philosophers.

There are probably lots of people (probably not the ones into databases) who would love to hear your take on things on a deeper philosophical level. Maybe a blog is a great place to share your ideas and at least start chiseling away at the deeply vested set of assumptions most of us take for granted.