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My Opinion!

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Posted by Richard D. Stafford, Ph.D. on April 12, 2002 16:32:26 UTC

Hi Aurino,

Please stick around for a long time! I do enjoy reading your posts. You asked, so I will tell you what I think (true or not true). Understand that what follows is entirely opinion and no more.

Words have meaning! That is their raison detre! The problem is, how do I come to know the meanings? I hear (or read) how people use them that is how! Even when I go to a dictionary, I am merely experiencing another persons expression of how he thinks the word is used (dictionaries are written by people you know). So, with all this information, I guess what the word means. Sometimes I clearly guess wrong: i.e., further experience yields the fact that my guess is not consistent with a usage accepted by others so I am forced to guess again.

Now, Harv would say that maybe their usage is wrong but such a response to the situation is worth very little. In fact it is much more logical to merely presume they are speaking a different dialect. To expect everyone to understand your personal dialect is rather self defeating. It is much better to realize that words are no more than communication tokens. From this perspective, there is fundamentally no difference between numbers and words; neither have any meaning in and of themselves.

'The most meaningless concepts ever conceived"? Nothing has meaning not attached by you! -- Reminds me of a joke--

This guy goes to prison and in the exercise yard he occasionally hears some prisoner call out a number after which the other prisoners laugh. So he asks his cell mate what is going on. His cell mate tells him that the problem is that there is only one joke book in the prison library and any prisoner who has been here any length of time has read that book so many times that he knows the number of every joke. Instead of telling the joke, the guys are just calling out the number.

So this prisoner goes to the prison library and memorizes the entire joke book. Later in the exercise yard he calls out a number. No one laughs! He figures they don't think that joke is funny so he tries several others with the same result. Back in his cell he asks his cell mate what is going on; no one laughed when he called out any numbers yet, later he had heard other prisoners call out some of the same numbers and they got a laugh.

"Well", said his cell mate, "you know, some people can tell a joke and some people can't!"

So the real problem in expressing logical relations with words is the great number of dialects. The result is that no logical argument expressed in words can be longer than a very small number of steps. In mathematics (which is in may respects just another language with very specific syntax and very limited vocabulary) there are very few dialects and logical constructs can far exceed the limited capability of the human mind (you don't have to keep the specific meanings applicable to this argument in your conscious mind). Or another way to look at it is that mathematics, although very limited in its ability to express ideas (very limited vocabulary), is very easy to use for communications. What we need to do is expand the vocabulary without sacrificing the clarity. But don't expect that to happen in the near future. In a way, that is what I am trying to do.

If you want to be logical, translate what you want to say into mathematics first. In essence that is exactly what anyone who does logic does anyway. That is exactly what they are doing when they define the word tokens very carefully.

Most of what people try to do is just plain old sloppy thinking.

So that is my opinion; you asked for it!

Have fun -- Dick

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