Alphabet of human thought  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The alphabet of human thought is a concept originally proposed by Gottfried Leibniz that provides a universal way to represent and analyze ideas and relationships by breaking down their component pieces. All ideas are compounded from a very small number of simple ideas which can be represented by a unique character.

Logic and the Universal Language

Logic was Leibniz's earliest philosophic interest going back to his teens. René Descartes had suggested that the lexicon of a universal language should consist of primitive elements. The systematic combination of these elements, according to syntactical rules, would generate the infinite combinations of computational structures required to represent human language. In this way Descartes and Leibniz were precursors to computational linguistics as defined by Noam Chomsky.

In the early 18th century, Leibniz outlined his characteristica universalis, an artificial language in which grammatical and logical structure would coincide, which would allow reasoning to be reduced to calculation. Leibniz acknowledged the work of Ramon Llull, particularly the Ars generalis ultima (1305), as one of the inspirations for this idea. The basic elements of his characteristica would be pictographic characters representing unambiguously a limited number of elementary concepts. Leibniz called the inventory of these concepts "the alphabet of human thought." There are quite a few mentions of the characteristica in Leibniz's writings, but he never set out any details save for a brief outline of some possible sentences in his Dissertation on the Art of Combinations.

His main interest was what is known in modern logic as classification and composition. In modern terminology Leibniz's alphabet was a proposal for an automated theorem prover or ontology classification reasoner written centuries before the technology to implement them.

Semantic web implementation

In a speech by former CTO and co-founder of Metaweb Technologies, John Giannandrea acknowledges that Freebase was at least linked to the alphabet of human thought, if not an implementation of it.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Alphabet of human thought" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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