Saturday, July 28, 2018

Scripts, Golems and Ideal Types

In an attempt to bring together the viewpoints of the digital humanities on the one side and the knowledge representation community on the other, it is instructive to ask what the commonalities and differences are between scripts (Schank & Abelson, 1977), Golems and Ideal Types (Weber, 1912).


Scripts are supposed to structure habitually reoccurring events. They have to do with how people internalize appropriate behaviors and how to negotiate situations. The classical case is eating at a restaurant. There are actors for capturing the participants; there are roles that these actors play in the various scenes that structure the event, and there are rules of continuity, consistency and temporal ordering that hold between the scenes and the events. Non-actors or matériel is present as well and has its own rules of continuity between the scenes. Not all scenes are required, and some scenes can be repeated multiple times. 

  • At the restaurant, the patrons, as well as the serving staff, are actors.
  • The other patrons belong to a backdrop unless people are sharing tables in a full cafe or similar.
  • The menu and the tableware and the condiments form part of the matériel that is utilized in the individual scenes.
  • On a bad day, the scene of an order being rejected due to lack of ingredients might repeat several times. That scene might be elaborate if the waiter has to check each time with the chef if there is any clam chowder, bass, salmon, lobster or shortcake left.
  • The action relations are keyed to the scene of specific types which structure the roles; for example, the paying of the check is an economic transaction or a purchase, with the patron in the role of the buyer, the restaurant as represented by the waiter in the role of the seller. At the same time, it is a praising if the waiter receives a tip or a criticizing if the tip is small or withheld altogether. 
  • Different matériel may require different sub-scenes structures; for cash, there is often change brought back; for credit card transaction, a receipt has to be signed to complete the transaction. If the payment is a gift card or a voucher, none of these might be necessary, unless the payment is partial. 
All in all, a pattern matching grammar for events that talks about expectations, down to the {n:m} notation of repetitions, and what one is going to find.


While the statements about scripts, roles, actors, matériel and similar cache out as rules with universal or existential quantification, the process of authoring these statements is sometimes not as intuitive as one would like.

Taking a leaf from prototype-based programming, Golems sketch a situation using generic terms that stand in for the involved types. If a script is more like a narrative or a "what I did last summer" essay, the Golem is more like an explanatory drawing in an encyclopedia.

(Image from the Public Domain Pictures Net)

Given such a setup, one can easily speak about the sternum being connected to the second (true) rib "through the intervention of the costal cartilage anterior." The naturalness of the authoring comes from bracketing the need to be specific about quantifiers, which are implied. Furthermore, there is a completeness to the golem that can be exploited to note that any connection not enumerated is therefore implicitly absent, akin to a completely enumerated collection type.

On the whole, while the script appears to be a more flexible form of representation, the Golem is a more concise form of representation that has a clearer affinity to natural language use.

Ideal Types

The notion of ideal types was introduced by Max Weber in his essay on the objectivity in the social sciences. Weber pointed out that expectations and recognition are guided in the social sciences by superimposing the features and substructures discovered on exemplars into a coherent role that subsumed all but over-described any of them. The canonical example has been the Medieval city, with its burghers and guilds and churches and fountains and market squares, defensive installations and city government, rights and duties and privileges and so on and so forth. And though no specific Medieval city ever covered all of these aspects, at least not at the same point in time, the ideal type guides discovery of information and serves as a backdrop to explanations and narrations.

In terms of knowledge representation, the ideal type is of course a very different beast altogether than either the script or the golem representation and some thoughts on how that difference cashes out is going to be the main concern 

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