27 April 2010

Simulation as a Symbol of Meaning

These are a couple of board captures from a recent conversation on the relationship between the Semiotic Triangle (or Triangle of Reference) and the effort of representing some referent within a simulation (by first modeling it).

If the referent is the original object, in ideal form (whatever that is - meaning that all perceptions bring prejudice, so that in a Hume-like sense we can never know the ideal form, only our perceptions of the form), then a model of that referent is a conceptualization of it (much in the way that we talk about conceptual models as the blueprint for data modeling, and that an ontological representation is the expression of a conceptualization). By going one step further, and expressing that model in a simulation that mimics the dynamic existence of the referent (albeit, in some abstracted way - such as in a computer simulation), then the simulation becomes the expressed symbol representing the referent.

This highlights two prejudices that I (and others at the VMASC research group I interact with) have, namely that the act of going from referent to simulation really encompasses two different paradigms - the modeling paradigm (where we seek to understand the referent, in terms of some theory or model), and the simulation paradigm where that model (or theory) is then given form in a method that can give it dynamic existence (life?) over time, taking some inputs as the initial state of that "life", follow the strictures of the model (theory) and progress the processes of the model over time to induce changes to the objects and relations amongst those objects.

An interesting idea, if only because it implies that a simulation is a symbol for some referent. Much as a word (in natural language) is a symbol for some referent.

This reliance on the earliest version of the semiotic triangle leaves out an important stage in the transference of meaning from one agent to another - and that is understanding (or, more formally, in the domain of M&S, the agreement of one model with another).

Regardless of the flaws, the triangle is an interesting tool in understanding what is "modeling and simulation". And it can be seen (from the diagrams following) that there is some effort at reimposing the triangle on each of the vertical arms of the original triangle - (1) going from referent to model, and (2) going from model to simulation. An interesting theory like the triangle of reference is always coming up again and again the more you consider it in additional contexts...

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