I am slowly working my way through Quicksilver. This is most definitely not science fiction, which is interesting the same could be said about William Gibson's last novel. Why is it that two of the big Cyberpunk authors have moved so far from the style that first brought them onto the scene? Interesting question, but it's not like I am going to stop reading them, they'r moving into different realms and taking me along for the ride, which is what it's all about.
Anyway, I need to go back and look at some of the source materials, but the roots of the Royal Society and the things they were working on are fascinating. Here is an interchange between John Wilkins, founder of the Royal Society, and Daniel Waterhouse, starting with Wilkins:
"If we stayed away from politics we could be flying winged chariots to the Moon within a few generations. All that's needed it to pull down certain barriers to progress---"
"Latin!?. But Latin is---"
"I know, the universal language of scholars and divines, et cetera, et cetera. And it sounds so lovely, doesn't it. You can say any sort of nonsense in Latin and our feeble University men will be stunned or at least profoundly confused. That's how the Popes have gotten away with peddling bad religion for so long --- they simlpy say it it Latin. But if we were to unfold their convoluted phrases and translate them into a philisophical language, all of their contradictions and vagueness would become manifest."
"Mmmm... I'd go so far as to say that a proper philisophical language existed, it would be impossible to express any false concept in it without violating its rules of grammar," Daniel hazarded.
"You have just uttered the most succinct possible definition of it --- I say, you're not competing with me, are you?" Wilking said jovially.
"No," Daniel said, too intimidated to catch the humor. "I was merely reasoning by analogy to Cartesian analysis, where false statements cannot legally be written down, as long as the terms are understood"
"The terms! That's the difficult part," Wilkins said. "As a way to write down the terms, I am developing the Philosophical Language and the Universal Character --- which learned men of all races and nations will use to signify ideas."
While this is a fictionalized discussion, it is rooted in fact and outlines what Wilkins was really working on. Neal Stephenson has a further writeup on the Philosophical Language which was eventually published as "An essay towards a real character, and a philosophical language" in 1668.
So does that Philosophical Language remind you of anything? The "terms", those pesky terms which identify objects and concepts, and do so unambiguously and universally. You should be reminded of the semantic web and RDF which uses URIs in place of those "terms".
So at the very least people were working on these ideas back in the days of the Royal Society. When I talk about the problems that people working on RDF are tackling are large and that they have been worked on for a long time, this is what I meant: 350 years.