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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« Apologies | Main | Descartes v Natural Selection »

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Justin Kaeser

I have considered myself what makes sentences such as (1) so hard to understand. From the viewpoint of a computer scientist, the most straightforward explanation lies in computational complexity: Most language utterances can be constructed and understood by humans in real time. This very much limits how complex its structure can be. In practice, you will be hard-pressed to find recursive clauses with more than one embedding, maybe two in written language. Restricting the depth of such constructs, they can be dealt with by a low level parallelism and limited working memory. Indeed, I'd argue natural language can be described with regular-level grammars, at the cost of generality and elegance.

Shieber85 (http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~shieber/Biblio/Papers/shieber85.pdf) may argue that "down this path lies tyranny", but I'm more inclined to see it as a path of liberation from over-generalized rule systems and toward computational tractability.

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