On todays wikipedia front page, in the did you know... section, it says

Did you know...

... that Niels Kaas was the chancellor of Denmark during the late 1500s?

Now I find this to be somewhat amusing, since I'm fairly sure not too many people know anything about Niels Kaas. This is basically a new name to me. So after I read the sentence it basically says

"Did you know that Denmark had a chancellor, especially during the late 1500s and that reference(chancellor of Denmark during the late 1500s) was refered to as Niels Kaas?"

Okay, so to summarize, at least what I get from the sentence is the information that Denmark had a chancellor, and then that this fact is appearently true for the late 1500s.

Now I wonder, is there a systematic way of getting this tower of informations from a sentence, like algorithmic, or do I have to "think"?


There are two answers to this question.

On a practical level, this is being done every day, and there are AI researchers who have developed very effective heuristics that are able to mine information from text. A search of the computer science literature can point you to the appropriate research and algorithms, etc. The results are good enough for many everyday purposes.

However, from a more properly philosophical standpoint, the task is impossible, for reasons pointed out by (among others) Wittgenstein at the beginning of his Philosophical Investigations, or by Jacques Derrida in his essay "Signature Event Context." There is no systematic way to rigorously derive the meanings intended by a text, as the meaning is determined by context, and context is never saturated. There is always the necessary possibility of ambiguity and misunderstanding.

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