IGS Discussion Forums: Learning GS Topics: Reference Points
Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, December 14, 2006 - 12:14 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

The first distinction is between not having a reference point and indicating the speaker as a reference point. Compare "This looks good." to "This looks good to me.". In your statement, Relative to Kirk's theories, theater without conflict is bad," or "Theater without conflict is bad to me.", you show examples of both, because the first is without speaker reference, and the second is with. Without speaker reference the statement is still an "absolute" statement, even though it qualifies a specific context. The difference is that of level of abstraction, not "to-me-ness".

Both are absolute statements.
(1) "Theater without conflict is bad,"
(2) "Relative to Kirk's theories, theater without conflict is bad,"

Both acknowledge the speaker's responsibility for the judgement.
(3) "To me, Theater without conflict is bad."
(4) "To me, relative to Kirk's theories, theater without conflict is bad,"

(1) and (3) are both more general - at a higher level of abstraction.
(2) and (4) are both less general - at a lower level of abstraction - limiting the universe of discourse.

(1) and (2) are both "absolutist", in that they provide no indication of who's judgement is involved.

(3) and (4) are both "relative", in that they clearly indicate who's judgement is involved.

There are two distinctions that must not be confused.

Level of abstraction.
Source indication.

You could say, "According to Kirk, Theater without conflict is bad.". In this case you are reporting on a judgement by indicating who made it. This statement indicates a time-binding reference. But your statement, "Relative to Kirk's theory ..." is less explicit; it does not actually say that the judgement is one made by Kirk. It implies that the speaker interpreted Kirk's theories and abstracted the judgement, but it does so in an absolutist form.

"According to" is a specific time-binding reference.
"Relative to" is a context limiting qualifier that lowers the level of abstraction by excluding the more general range, but it does not attribute the judgement to the area of restriction.

Using "to me" is desirable, because the speaker takes responsibility for the formulation in non-absolutist terms.

This distinction should not be confused with level of abstraction, where being more extensional provides additional data.

Here we must endeavor to choose the most effective level of abstraction appropriate to the question or need, and we must indicate the source of information or judgements, whether it is self or other time-binding source.

Since "love" can be directed at different level of abstraction, a formulation like "relative to my skin and considering its bruises, I do not love you." is obtuse and ambigous.

Be more direct:
I love you, but I do not love getting bruised.
I love you when you are not abusing me.

Much more can be said, but I'll stop here now.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, December 14, 2006 - 12:43 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

A "reference point" is not "to-me-ness".
"In reference to" or "relative to" are not examples of "to-me-ness".

A "reference point" indicates a restriction on the universe of discourse or a choice of level of abstraction for the content of discussion.

If you quote somebody, or if you cite a specific reference, then you do not need to say "to me".

If you interpret somebody or a reference, then it's appropriate to include "to me" or something similar.

When we are discoursing at a level of abstraction in which the subject or content is less than a whole person, then specificity limits the discourse. But that content or subject is not a "reference point".

You can say "to my way of thinking", but what does "to my brain" mean?

Consider this example:
John: "It smells like brimstone around here."
Jack: "Not to my nose."

This is just the figure of speech "personification" - where the "nose" is elevated to the status of the whole person.

It does not establish a universe of discourse limitation.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Thursday, December 14, 2006 - 01:35 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Consider, for example, Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis theory, in which a person's personality is subdivided into parent, adult, and child. In popular culture after the theory had become popularized by books such as "I'm OK, You're, OK", and "Games People Play", it was common for people to refer to one of these subdivision, as in, "my child, or my inner child", etc. Similarly, in the context of the Freudian model, one might speak of "my id, or my superego", etc.

We only need to specify our "point of view" when it is needed to make clear what we are saying, but we do need to indicate "to me" to take responsibility for our judgements and assumptions.

If I'm dyslexic, I can say, "My brain doesn't work that way."

Other that that, we would use personification of a body part only to make our speech more colorful - at the risk of being misunderstood.

"My eyes cannot see that color." would be something a colorblind person might say.

How do you like these:

"My peripheral vision just detected motion, so I turned to see what I had already seen fleetingly, only to discover that it was a beautiful woman, something I would have wanted to gaze at with full consciousness. Funny how the vision system and brain works this way."

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful woman, and I quickly turned to see her fully. Funny how this works.

Does this help?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, December 15, 2006 - 12:10 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben, you said, Well, that kinda answers my question, by sorta restating it: "Q: When do we need to specify our reference points? A: When we need to specify our reference points."

My answer was in no way the tautology you state. I said, "We only need to specify our "point of view" when it is needed to make clear what we are saying, ..."

We need to specify our "reference points" when they are needed to make clear what we are saying.

Here is your example without the reference points: "The woman punched the man in the face when she fell and hit him in the face.", in which you can see that it is not clear what is being said. That "hit" is both a synonym for "punch" and also has a meaning that is devoid of intent renders the statement apparently curiously redundant, so the more probable interpretation is that it is not an intended redundancy. This interpretation is doubly supported by the coupling of "fell" - an unintentional act - with "hit"; in the context of "fell", "hit" should be interpreted as a consequence of falling, hence unintended, thereby rendering the "meaning" of the overall sentence that the woman accidentally struck the unfortunate fellow in the face with her clenched fist during the act falling.

As you can see, the absence of the two "reference points" does not make clear what you were saying - that you were actually reporting two distinct points of view.

In your answer to Nora, you are still not differentiating between "to-me-ness" and level of abstraction vis-a-vis the universe of discourse.

To-me-ness is a way for the speaker to be explicit about his or her judgements or abstractions.

"It looks green to me.", a relative statement, contrasts with "It is green, an absolute statement"

You do not say, "to my ... (some part of me)" unless that extra information is necessary.

I gave the example of TA.

This looks like fun to my inner child, but this looks disruptive to my inner parent; however, my inner adult has convinced my inner parent that a little disruption can be beneficial to learning, and my inner child that moderation will avoid censure.

You want a rule? Then you need two of them. One for each of the distinctions.
1. Always say "to me" unless you are citing a time-binding reference.
2. Only indicate subdivisions when the main subject does not apply to the whole, and in the case of "to me", when you are discussing a context when the sub-division does not apply to the whole of me.

Seeing is something a person does, not an eye, retina, or optic nerve, although those parts are involved in the seeing process.

Understanding is something a person does, not his brain, although his brain instantiates the process.

We don't say, "MacBeth's mouth says ..."; we say "MacBeth says ...".

In other words, do not engage in unnecessary reductionism.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, December 15, 2006 - 04:59 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Ben, a major ambiguity of the indexicals "I" and "me" comes in the difference between opaque context and transparent context. Consider the following.
(1) John said I am all wet.
(2) John said, "I am all wet."

Who is wet? In verbal communication we do not have the quotation marks, so it is ambiguous, but in writing (1) refers to whomever is supposedly writing, and in (2) it is John who is wet (assuming the statements are truthful).


Indexicals are linguistic expressions whose reference shifts from utterance to utterance. ‘I’, ‘here’, ‘now’, ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘that’ are classic examples of indexicals. Two people who utter a sentence containing an indexical may say different things, even if the sentence itself has a single linguistic meaning. For instance, the sentence ‘I am female’ has a single linguistic meaning, but Fred and Wilma say different things when they utter it, as shown by the fact that Fred says something false, while Wilma says something true. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/indexicals/)

Perhaps if you were to say something more about what you mean by the formulation "reference point". Someone asks how to get to someplace. The first question you need to ask is, "Where are you coming from?", and that becomes the "reference point". (In practice, the listener often assumes that the "reference point" is "here".) In mathematics the "reference point" is usually the "origin" of a coordinate system, although it may be any other specified point. I've not, previous to your posting, encountered the phrase with regard to interpersonal communication, although "point of view" is common.

In your example,"To me, the woman punched the man in the face. To her, she fell and hit him in the face." I said (believe, saw, observed, etc.), The woman punched the man in the face., The woman said (felt, believed, etc.) she fell and hit him in the face.

These illustrate two distinct points of view - a presumed event as seen from different perspectives, but neither is "the reference point" from which the scenario is written.

Ben wrote, "To me, the woman punched the man in the face. To her, she fell and hit him in the face.", specifies that the "reference point" is Ben.

I'm inclined to think that some objective discussion of what you and others in this discussion interpret "reference point" to mean just may go a long way to clarify the question you have.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, December 15, 2006 - 05:49 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

You have illustrated a hierarchy of levels of abstraction. In it you have used a term indicating an emotional state at each level. But you have also used that term at levels of abstraction where it cannot apply. An emotional state such as "being sad" is something that only a living, animate, sentient entity can have, and by abstraction it can be applied to a collection of such entities. It cannot be applied literally at lower levels of abstraction. In your example "heart" is not used metaphorically to stand for the whole person, so "sad" is incorrectly used. Neither can it be used any level of abstraction lower than that.

We can use "heart" metaphorically to stand for the whole person, so "Her heart is sad" "means" "she is sad" in this context. But your sequence here clearly contraindicates that usage.

As I have been pointing out, the distinction you are dealing with is the level of abstraction.

"Me" and "I" are indexical terms indicating the whole person. Whole persons communicate. Even in TA, the aspects of personality are elevated by metaphorical anthropomorphizing and personification to the status of a whole person. Also groups of people (city, state, country) are also "personified" using figurative speech, and in doing so obtain the status of a person who communicates. So "me" is the only technically appropriate level when speaking.

We often use the phrase "level of observation".

Asking, however, after your "identity", "who you are", etc. - are you well defined to yourself? Are you lost? are you wishy-washy? - that is another question alltogether.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, December 17, 2006 - 10:59 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

You responded to "level" as if it were "order". They are not the same. Do not confuse the two.

Lower levels of abstraction apply in the cognitive realm whenever we look at a more detailed level of observation.

Lower order of abstraction applies to earlier in the process of abstraction, such as getting below the words to more objective levels.

To confuse matters, the descriptions of the various orders of abstraction are themselves levels of abstraction.

Order - sequence of stages of the process.
Level - degree of abstraction of the content.

The distinction is a subtle one often misunderstood.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Tuesday, December 19, 2006 - 08:50 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

Summary judgement? No rationale?

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Wednesday, December 20, 2006 - 11:47 am Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail

I had searched through the collected writings and written a bit about the general synonymy, and I had noted a subtle difference. I'm still looking for that piece, as I hate to do the research all over again. It's also the case that concepts evolve and get refined by subsequent use.

According to my recollection, early usage indicated use of "order" both as in "order of magnitude" and as in "sequential order", while "level" appeared to be used in the "order of magnitude" sense.

Refinement and disambiguation dictates using "level of abstraction" as the preferred term in place of the potentially ambiguous "order of abstraction" used in the "order of magnitude" sense (higher versus lower). The meaning of "level" is much more conducive to understanding, and "level(s) of abstraction" has become ubiquitous on the internet: google 2,062,000 citations whereas "order(s) of abstraction" had only 1,261 hits.

Since "higher" and "lower" applied to verbal levels of abstractions are metaphorical, and multiple metaphors, sometimes conflicting, can "inform" the abstract terms, I would suggest an accompanying description of how/why you "define" or "understand" the directional correlation would help.

For my view, see my article (again) Abstraction

For me, when X is made of parts x1,x2, ... xn, talk about X is at a higher level of abstraction than talking about its parts, as we are leaving out detailed structural information. They are a greater degree of precision at the same time, so the metaphor of higher versus lower can be applied by different associated metaphors in exactly the opposite way, and therein, perhaps, lies the confusion. I say lower, and you say higher. Well, we cannot argue "which is right"; but we can share which metaphor we use.

I will continue to use "level" as with respect to magnitude of details with "higher" indicating leaving out and reserve the term 'order' for the direction with "higher" indicating later in the sequence of event, object, verbal1, verbal2, etc.
But when I look at descriptions of substance, higher indicates less details and lower the finer distinctions. Moving from the architecture to the building blocks can be seen as picking out a detail (abstracting); but because there are so many more of these details, looking at the building can be seen as excluding all the details (abstracting), and abstracting is to "higher" levels. The same operation yields conflicting results depending on the point of view or metaphor being used. Being more extensional is looking at more and more details; this in the direction of less abstract, so coming to talk about electrons, while the concept is a high level of abstraction, the presumed to exist referent is at about the lowest level of physical structure possible to distinguish.

By the way, "temperature" may be characterized in terms of the mean velocity of particles, so an electron, given a velocity that can be measured, can be characterized as having a temperature based on its velocity relative to a reference point. There are 14,800 hits in google for "temperature of the electron" and another 210 for "temperature of an electron".

"The moving electrons change the properties of the photons (by Doppler shift), which gives a direct measurement of the speed and hence the temperature of the electron." http://www.efda.org/eu_fusion_programme/r-plasma_engineering.htm

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Friday, December 22, 2006 - 11:24 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


In my previous post I cited a link to a practical application in which the velocity of an electron is measured in order to determine the temperature of the plasma. I quoted the use of the phrase "the temperature of the electron" derived directly from measuring its velocity. So here is a reference to an actual device which does just what your supposed argument claims cannot be done.

Your argument is a straw man. We do not have to know the position of the electron at all; we only need to know it's velocity. The Heisenburg Uncertainty principle does not preclude measuring one quantity; it precludes the simultaneous meansurement of two related quantities.

You will find a nice macroscopic analogy explaining the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle in my dissertation:


The physics of the relation between position and velocity has some interesting structural consequences. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that the position and the momentum (velocity) of an object cannot be simultaneously measured to any degree of accuracy; accuracy in the measurement of one is lost at the expense of accuracy in the measurement of the other.(16) A homely macroscopic analogy illustrates this principle.

Take a photograph of an object in motion. The length of time the shutter is open (the reciprocal of the shutter speed) can be used in conjunction with the amount of blur in the image to estimate the speed of the object. The longer the shutter is open the longer the blur and the more accurately the speed can be measured. But the longer the blur is, the less accurately one is able to determine the position of the object. Conversely, the sharper the picture is, the more accurate knowledge of the position of the object will be, but the more uncertain knowledge of its velocity will be.

Temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy in a collection of colliding and interacting particles, molecules, atoms, electrons, etc. The relation is well defined by various equations. As you decrease the number of particles, the relation does not go away, and the transition from two particles to one particle does not negate the mean kinetic energy. One electron bouncing off the walls of a small (electromagnetic) box can have exactly the same mean kinetic energy per electron as a whole cloud of electrons. The "temperature" does not become meaningless because there is only one electron left. However, it's not exactly what we think of with our common sense ideas of temperature.

Author: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr. (diogenes) Sunday, December 31, 2006 - 02:43 pm Link to this messageView profile or send e-mail


We don't care "which" electron, and the question does not even apply in the case of a single electron. Which electron? "The" electron. We know how fast it was going, but we do not know where it was when in interacted with the photon, and we certainly don't know where it went after being deflected by the incident photon.

"Temperature" is a well defined function of the average kinetic energy of the particles (molecules, atoms, or basic particles). I'm not going to bother to look up the formula for you; you can take that as your homework exercise if you wish.

Recall that "average" is defined as the Sn i=1 vi/n, and this is defined for n=1 as just v1.

Recall also, that "meaning" is in people, so when you say "it is meaningless", you are, in fact, asserting that it is meaningless to you. It may not be meaningless to others.

It's clear that your "mind" is "made up" with respect to the issue.

The device I referred to functions satisfactory for the high enery physicists in the field. If you want to tell them that their device cannot work, be my guest.

I'll say no more on this digression.