Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Shakespeare is (not) Shakespeare

In the early part of the book The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker, the problem of what-a-name-names, is explored with the example of Shakespeare. Pinker distinguishes between Shakespeare: the historical figure, and Shakespeare: the author of numerous plays like Hamlet attributed to Shakespeare.

In my earlier post, it was somewhat easy to see that there were multiple aspects to Superman because each aspect already had its own name; Superman vs Clark Kent. With Shakespeare however, it is much more subtle because the different aspects have the same name: Shakespeare. Additionally, we are not used to thinking that they are different aspects that can be independent of each other, any more than we think of Cher-the-person and Cher-the-singer as being independent things. But, as discussed in the book, many people over the centuries have debated whether the author of Hamlet, et al was really Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth, etc.

The interesting thing is that because Shakespeare is SO ingrained as the name of the playwright that even if Sir Francis were to be proven the author, the headline will be "Bacon is the REAL Shakespeare!" which is absurd because clearly, Shakespeare-the-historical-figure is the "real" Shakespeare. Changing the human associated with the author-of-Hamlet concept will not change the concept's name; it will remain "Shakespeare's Hamlet (written by Bacon)" and not "Bacon's Hamlet".

So, when assigning ID#(s) to putatively single entities, flexibility should be built in to allow ad-hoc collections of attributes of any entity to be grouped and named and referenced separately. Otherwise, the system would not be able to represent the statement: Shakespeare is not Shakespeare, Bacon is.

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