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Re: Identity

  • From: Lars Marius Garshol <larsga@i...>
  • To: "'xml-dev@i...'" <xml-dev@i...>
  • Date: 23 Jun 1999 14:28:07 +0200

names and identity

* Lars Marius Garshol
| Within that fictional universe, two main approaches seem useful:
| [...]

* Miles Sabin
| Ahh ... OK, it looks like I shouldn't have used an example with
| fictional characters. I'm not all that interested in truth in
| fiction: just rerun my argument with a non-fictional example.

Or, even better, you can just go back and re-read my post, noting that
since I say '_Within_ that fictional universe' I effectively stop
regarding it as fiction. :-)

Given your last two posts on this subject (in the 'I want to parse
like Superman' thread) it seems you really should read it again.  You
use the term 'denote' in discussing names and identity, but seem to
ignore the fact that this makes some fundamental assumptions about the
universe and the web, and it's not immediately obvious that these are

For example, you like to think that the term 'Jupiter' denotes a
planet, and that this planet is a solid well-defined thing, right?
Well, it's not obvious that this really is so. You're referring to a
ball of gas floating in a near-vacuum, but you'd be hard pressed to
find a precise border where you can say that "Here the near-vacuum
ends, and Jupiter begins", since the transition from the one to the
other is so gradual.

And if you look at the meaning of 'Jupiter' that denotes the Roman god
things get even worse, since this is an entity that as far as we know
doesn't exist and whose exact alleged attributes have varied through
the centuries as people's beliefs have changed.

This may sound like philosophical nitpicking, but I'm not so sure that
things are that much clearer on the web. For example, do these two
URLs denote the same resource?

<URL: http://www.stud.ifi.uio.no/~larsga/linker/XMLtools.html>
<URL: http://birk105.studby.uio.no/linker/XMLtools.html>

They're not byte-by-byte equal, but there certainly seems to be a
connection between them. What criteria should a web robot apply to
decide that they are the same resource?

And when the contents you get from following a URL vary with the
cookies you've set, the user-agent you use, your accept headers and
your domain, what is then the resource behind all that? And what about
banner ads, are they part of the resource? And how do you tell that
they really are banner ads, anyway?

In all these cases ('Jupiter' and the web examples) we, humans, impose
a categorization on the universe we observe into distinct objects with
identity and it's not really clear that this grouping into objects has
any independent existence outside our heads.

--Lars M.

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