020-Error and Meaning

What is an error?  What is a mistake?  

To err, to stray, to mis take (take in error).  The prefix "mis" added to verbs means wrong (mistake, mismanage, mislay)

Machines do not err.  Nor do machines get things right.   When we say a machine performs correctly, it means it performed to our expectations.  When we say a machine produced an error, we mean that it did something we did not expect or plan for.  

Computers, being machines, do not err.  A typical computer follows a process laid out via programming.    A computer cannot get things right.  It is the programmer who gets things right and then programs the computer functions in an expected and desired way.  When a program produces an unexpected or anomalous outcome, we call these bugs*. [after the first bug presumably.  A moth that got into the hardware.]  But what is actually happening is either a program made a mistake either of data entry or conceptually about how a program was or was not going to function, and when an un-anticipated condition occurs in the program, the program operates in a way the programmer did not conceive.  

When we think of human beings making mistakes, we mean that they did something, but not what was desired or expected. the person (or animal) can change their behavior or thought process to produce a different outcome.  But mistakes in human beings are not computational programming errors.  There is no program running a person.

When learning a new skill, a person may try doing both the right action and the wrong action to get a sense of how they are different. Learning to swim, or learning to dance require body adjustments.  In that process you can try different body motions to see what effects these motions have.  If one of the motions is considered an error, you can still do it.  

A computer cannot do an error.  A computer cannot intentionally make an error or avoid an error.  A computer executes a program, a computation. 

Organisms do not run programs. Organisms, from insects to human beings, do engage in repetitive behavior, but repetitive behavior is not a program or a computation, or a mechanism.  When we see a creature repeat a behavior over and over without producing an outcome the creatures "wishes" to obtain, we would say that creature is unable to adapt to it's situation, or that a person or creature is unable or incapable of perform an action.   We do not say there is a programming flaw in the creature.  

The idea of errors and mistakes require an expression of value and an expression of meaning.  Often with errors, the meaning is implicit and it is only the value component of an action or experience that we measure.  Meaning is intrinsic create value representations.  For example 2+2 = five is an error of addition.  We refer to the fact that 5 is the wrong value.  What is hidden is  the meaning of addition.  In computation, the meaning is inherent in the programmer's representation making, and the computer only deals with values.  

Here is a more glaring example:  We do not value automobile tires in the same way we value entertaining television.  The values for tires and tv. have very different meanings.  We would say they are "apples and oranges" because the values exist in different contexts and the contexts have different meanings.  Just as apples and oranges are not the same kinds of fruit, tires and television are not the same kinds of materials.  But in your brain, or in a computer system, tires and television occupy or are made of, the exact same things. 

Televisions programs and tires are made of neural and chemical pathways and signals in your brain.  And in a computer AI, they are made of binary data and processor functions.  How do you, with you brain, distinguish tires from tv?  How does a computer AI go about distinguishing them? We say they are contextually different, but that means what?  What is context?

If you mistake a tire for a television character what has happened? (What about the Michelin Man?)  If a computer mistakes tv for tires we see it as a failure of programming or a failure of the algorithms it has been programmed with.  but if a human errs in some major way we see it as a failure in the brain... or perhaps demonic possession.   [see the "the man who mistook his wife for hat"  http://litmed.med.nyu.edu/Annotation?action=view&annid=461]

We call perceptual errors, errors only because they do not comport with out own perceptions.  But our perceptions are correct in what context?  We do not see our own limitations and hence do not call our ordinary behavior erroneous merely because we do not have a robust, "superior",  alternative to compare it too. 

It is also possible to err in one context, and have the error be meaningful in another context.  Do I need to explain that?  Often, doing the "wrong" thing, looking at problems in the "wrong" way, produces changes and insights that otherwise would be ignored.  The history of art and advancement of visual art since the 1800s is an example of art done "the wrong way".   Physics and mathematics have long traditions of evolutions and transformations based on thinking the wrong things, or doing things the wrong way. 

In nearly every human field, wrong is a matter of perspective.  Because wrong, or erroneous actions open up different possibilities and outcomes.  Wrong and erroneous actions can open up unexpected outcomes and this leads to new insights and developments.    Errors depend critically on meaning.  The history of war if full of tactical victories and strategic failures.  

From apple dictionary:

error |ˈerər|nouna mistake spelling errors an error of judgment. See note at mistake .• the state or condition of being wrong in conduct or judgment the money had been paidin error the crash was caused by human error.• Baseball a misplay by a fielder that allows a batter to reach base or a runner to advance.• technical a measure of the estimated difference between the observed or calculated value of a quantity and its true value.• Law a mistake of fact or of law in a court's opinion, judgment or order.• Philately a postage stamp or item of postal stationery showing a major printing or perforation mistake.PHRASESsee the error of one's ways realize or acknowledge one's wrongdoing.DERIVATIVESerrorless adjectiveORIGIN Middle English : via Old French from Latin error, from errare ‘to stray, err.’

err |ər; er|verb [ intrans. formalbe mistaken or incorrect; make a mistake the judge had erred in ruling that the evidence wasinadmissible.• [often as adj. ( erring) sin; do wrong the erring brother who had wrecked his life.PHRASESerr on the right side act so that the least harmful of possible mistakes or errors in is the most likely to occur.err on the side of display more rather than less of (a specified quality) in one's actions it is better to err on the side of caution.to err is human, to forgive divine proverb it is human nature to make mistakes oneself while finding it hard to forgive others.ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense [wander, go astray] ): from Old French errer, fromLatin errare ‘to stray.’USAGE Traditionally, this word rhymes with her, although the pronunciation that rhymes with hair is now common.

mistake |məˈstāk|nounan action or judgment that is misguided or wrong coming here was a mistake she made themistake of thinking they were important.• something, esp. a word, figure, or fact, that is not correct; an inaccuracy a couple of spelling mistakes.verb ( past -took past part. -taken ) [ trans. ]be wrong about because I was inexperienced, I mistook the nature of our relationship.• ( mistake someone/something for) wrongly identify someone or something as :she thought he'd mistaken her for someone else.PHRASESand no mistake informal, dated without any doubt it's a bad business and no mistake.by mistake accidentally; in error she'd left her purse at home by mistake.make no mistake ( about it) informal do not be deceived into thinking otherwise.there is no mistaking someone or something it is impossible not to recognize someone or something there was no mistaking her sincerity.DERIVATIVESmistakable adjectivemistakably |-əblē| adverbORIGIN late Middle English (as a verb): from Old Norse mistaka ‘take in error,’probably influenced in sense by Old French mesprendre.THE RIGHT WORDIt would be a mistake to argue with your boss the day before he or she evaluates your performance, but to forget an important step in an assigned task would be an error.Although these nouns are used interchangeably in many contexts, a mistake is usually caused by poor judgment or a disregard of rules or principles (it was a mistake not to tell the truth at the outset), while an error implies an unintentional deviation from standards of accuracy or right conduct (a mathematical error).blunder is a careless, stupid, or blatant mistake involving behavior or judgment; it suggests awkwardness or ignorance on the part of the person who makes it (his blunder that ruined the evening).slip is a minor and usually accidental mistake that is the result of haste or carelessness (her slip of the tongue spoiled the surprise), while a faux pas (which means “false step” in French) is an embarrassing breach of etiquette (it was a faux pas to have meat at the table when so many of the guests were vegetarians).
Goofs and bloopers are humorous mistakes. A blooper is usually a mix-up in speech, while to goof is to make a careless error that is honestly admitted (she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I goofed!”)

mis- 1prefix(added to verbs and their derivatives) wrongly misapply.• badly mismanage.• unsuitably misname.ORIGIN Old English , of Germanic origin.mis- 2prefixoccurring in a few words adopted from French expressing a sense with negative force :misadventure mischief.
ORIGIN from Old French mes- (based on Latin minus), assimilated to mis- .

wrong |rô ng |adjectivenot correct or true that is the wrong answer.• [ predic. mistaken I was wrong about him being on the yacht that evening.• unsuitable or undesirable they asked all the wrong questions.• [ predic. in a bad or abnormal condition; amiss something was wrong with the pump.unjust, dishonest, or immoral they were wrong to take the law into their own hands it waswrong of me to write you such an angry note.adverbin an unsuitable or undesirable manner or direction what am I doing wrong?• with an incorrect result she guessed wrong.nounan unjust, dishonest, or immoral action I have done you a great wrong.• Law a breach, by commission or omission, of one’s legal duty.• Law an invasion of right to the damage or prejudice of another.verb [ trans. ]act unjustly or dishonestly toward (someone) please forgive me these things and the people I have wronged.• mistakenly attribute bad motives to; misrepresent perhaps I wrong him.PHRASESget someone wrong misunderstand someone, esp. by falsely imputing malice.go down the wrong way (of food) enter the windpipe instead of the gullet.go wrong develop in an undesirable way.in the wrong responsible for a quarrel, mistake, or offense.two wrongs don't make a right proverb the fact that someone has done something unjust or dishonest is no justification for acting in a similar way.DERIVATIVESwronger nounwrongly adverbwrongness nounORIGIN late Old English wrang, from Old Norse rangr ‘awry, unjust’ ; related to wring . previous next