Re: The word "symbol"

From: Marshall Spight <>
Date: 14 Aug 2005 21:32:03 -0700
Message-ID: <>

dawn wrote:
> Marshall Spight wrote:
> > dawn wrote:
> > >
> > > The question of whether to model integers used within software as
> > > subclasses of strings, for example, makes sense when we understand that
> > > 1234 is not a number, but a symbol for one, just as "David" is not a
> > > name, but a symbol for one (in response to VC's question about whether
> > > "symbol" and "name" are synonyms).
> >
> > this is not correct, though. 1234 *is* a number.
> I disagree. Even if there were no symbol for the number 2, one could
> still have 2 sheep (as in the number 2).

You're mixing the levels again. 2 is a number-- it is not a part of the real world; it's a *concept.* Two sheep is not 2.

> It is only when I need to
> communicate this information that I need a symbol or signifier of some
> kind. That could be a sound or visual symbol.

Sure. The symbol and the thing it symbolizes are not connected. In the case of numbers, they could not even be said to be on the same plane of existence. Numbers do not exist in *any* plane of existence; they are exclusively conceptual in nature. When you have two sheep, you have some animals; you don't then physically posess any numeric concepts.

> > '1234' is a symbol
> > for a number. you have to be clear about the distinction.
> yes, indeed. There is the number 1234 and then the signifier of 1234
> for this number and then a signifier for a string with the characters
> '1234' which does not signify the number.
> > '1234'
> > is a string, but 1234 is an integer.
> 1234 is a representation of an integer, a signifier for an integer,
> although we often speak less formally and say that it IS an integer.

No, that's not correct. 1234 is an integer.

When I am talking or writing, all of the words that I use are to be interpreted as the symbolized concept, and not as a word. When one wants to refer specifically to the un-dereferenced symbol, the convention in English is to put the word in quotes. Thus: 1234 is an integer, but "1234" is a symbol.

If you want to get hinkey, you can talk about '"1234"' as being a symbol for a symbol, but there is rarely much useful that can be done at such a level.

> When a user puts that signifier for a number into an input field in a
> form, someone has to make it clear (e.g. with a cast) that this
> signifies a number.

"Cast" is a poor choice of word, here, because it means something very specific in type theory, and very very few people consider integer to be a subtype of string. (I actually only know of one such person, but there could be others.) "Conversion" would be a term more people could agree with, and it also includes the idea of subtyping, so even that one person I know ought to be okay with it.

> > Symbols and the things symbolized
> > do not in general participate in a subtype relationship.
> '1234' is a string. 1234 is a string that signifies the number
> represented by 1234.

So '1234' and 1234 are both strings? And 1234 represents a number, but is not a number? Is the number it represents also a string? How would you write just the number?

> > (David is
> > not a subtype of 'David'.)
> Right. 'David' is a string. David is a person. I cannot put David,
> the person, into the computer, so I model him with data including his
> first name of 'David'.

This paragraph gets it right.

> I cannot put a number into a computer either,
> so I model them with string values as well.

How is it that you are not able to put numbers into a computer but you *can* put string values into one?

Marshall Received on Mon Aug 15 2005 - 06:32:03 CEST

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