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I'm having trouble understanding this sentence from a book on system theory, which reads like a modern version of Euclid's Elements:

Intuitively, we would expect the concept of a system to involve some kind of inter-relation between the percepts it generates, and which then become identified with corresponding relationships between the external qualities which generated them.

The idiomatic construction would be "inter-relation between x and y" but the meaning of "inter-relation between the percepts" seems to be "a set of relations among a set of percepts" because there is no noun y to follow. Here is my attempt at a paraphrase, with parentheses to identify nouns:

The concept of a system involves (a set S of (relations among (a set of (percepts generated by the system)))) such that S becomes "identified with" (a set of (relations among (a set of (external qualities generated the percepts)))).

Does this seem right?

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    Become is not 3d person singular, so its subject can only be the plural percepts: it is the percepts which become identified... You're probably confused by that superfluous and, which improperly suggests that become and involve are parallel. – StoneyB on hiatus May 28 '15 at 18:39
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    What is generating what? Is the system generating the percepts or are the the external qualities generating the percepts? To what noun does the final word "them" refer? – TRomano May 28 '15 at 18:52
  • Here's the source. If OP is having difficulty understanding what the writer means, that's probably just because the Ideas being discussed are complex, not because the words themselves need "explaining". So I think this is Off Topic philosophy, not "language use" as such. – FumbleFingers May 28 '15 at 19:32
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    @FumbleFingers: At least to my ear, "between" suggests something dual about its referents. "Arguments between family members" sounds like two family members are quarreling; "arguments among family members" could involve the whole family. In this case, there are more than two percepts generated, the percepts can have relationships with multiple others, these relationships can be non-binary, and the reader might assume that only binary relationships exist; thus my saying that the author means "among." – ExOttoyuhr May 28 '15 at 20:40
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    @ExOttoyuhr: Google Books thinks it has 344 instances of disagreement between politicians, compared to 483 of disagreement among politicians, and glancing at a few pages of the former it looks like about half of them are ...between politicians and [journalists, etc.], so I agree you have a point. But both usages occur. – FumbleFingers May 29 '15 at 13:05
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The idiomatic construction would be "inter-relation between x and y" but the meaning of "inter-relation between the percepts" seems to be "a set of relations among a set of percepts" because there is no noun y to follow.

X and Y are, in this case, combined into a single plural term (since there's no natural way to distinguish between percepts in this kind of general statement).

This is a very awkwardly constructed sentence.

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  • I'm guessing that "inter-relation" would be contrasted with "relation" in this usage; an inter-relation applying to a collective, a relation applying to a pair. – user122427 May 28 '15 at 20:52
  • @kdsch: my thoughts as well, and this further underlines how "between" is a very strange word choice here. – ExOttoyuhr May 28 '15 at 21:34

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