Friday, May 05, 2006

If someone's shoulder is just a shoulder one moment, then next a pillow, and the next a place for another person to stand on, then does the definition of the person's shoulder change? If its definition changes, does it change? I would say that the definition of the use of person's shoulder may change, or take on more information, but the shoulder won't itself change. We use words to describe our world, but that doesn't mean that when we percieve something differently that the actual object etc has physically or essentially changed.



Blogger erik said...

In terms of the definition of an object, while it is certainly true that we humans distinguish objects in one way or another in part because of how we've been groomed to recognize them, it isn't like we wouldn't see a shoulder and know what it is. Whether it's a shoulder, or a hombro, or anything else, we still know that first and foremost it's the thing that keeps our arms from falling off. Or, for example, a tree... we all know what it is, despite perhaps not knowing it's purpose.

3:03 PM  
Blogger kipepeo said...

To go off on a tangent, if one person's trash is another person's treasure, is trash something special that is only definable by the human mind. We can generally agree about what things are telephones, and pencils, but not so universally trash. This works along the same lines as the question posed i think by Bertrand Russell, of what dirt is. He seemed to conclude that the definition of dirt differs from culture to culture. If you think about it, many tribal cultures have dirt floors. In that case, the definition of dirt would be different. In conclusion, I think that there are two kinds of definitions. The first, is inherent to whatever object or idea it is, and the second is contrived by humans. Furthermore, I think that the inherent definition often eludes us, but if we search hard enough, we just might discover it at some point.


7:19 AM  
Blogger linford86 said...

If it is the case that how you define something changes from person to person - i.e. there is no universally accepted definition of a given thing - then it is also the case that the given thing does not actually exist independently of mankind.

One example of this is beauty. The human conception of beauty is something which exists merely in the human mind; no amount of physics could ever reveal its presence hidden somewhere in nature (of course, there are certain things that are described as "mathematically beautiful" - but the beauty used in that sense wouldn't exist without the mathematicians to think that it is indeed beautiful. Likewise, a given painter does not have to still be alive for his painting to be viewed; but for his feelings about the painting to still be around, the artist has to still be alive - assuming, of course, that dead people don't have emotions.) As such, there is nothing fundamental to nature about beauty; it is a human concept.

Although it might be argued that other living things might feel the same emotion, this would only provide evidence for our similiar evolutionary histories. Beauty might be something similiar to speech, which simply would not exist if speaking animals (like us) weren't around. Obviously, other animals can and do develop forms of communication. And millions of years from now, some other species might develop a society as complex as ours along with its own language. My point is simply that I am not saying that speech is restricted to only times when human beings exist; it is, however, restricted to existing only when speakers exist. Like wise, beauty exists only when those who are capable of percieving it exist. The same can be said for thought, or a multitude of other things.

Please note that I am not arguing that the idea that things can be beautiful; only that in order for them to be so, there must atleast be some sentient being to percieve them as such. I think a similiar thing is true of love - without anyone to experience it, I hold that it is highly unlikely that it could be said to exist (but doesn't make it any less real.)

I think that trash is like that too. That is, trash is that stuff which has the property of us calling it trash, and its status as trash wouldn't exist if we didn't exist to classify it as such. But there is nothing metaphysical going on here; the fact that certain things appear to exist purely out of convention is nothing new either. But this is a strange sort of existence, although I think it is more intuitive to believe that one might first think.

The other thing I would like to point out is that it has occured to me that it appears that we are all refering to slightly different things when we say the word "definition." For our purposes, I propose the following definition of the operation of "defining":

d is a defining operation if and only if it relates some arbitary collections of sounds/symbols/communicative devices with some arbitrary meaning. D is the definition of A if and only if D is related to A through d. That is, a given definition D is related to some term A by the operation of defining.

Next, I will propose some notation:

dA|->D means that when you apply the defining operator to a given term A, the result is the definition D.

Using the definition of "definition" given here, it is apparent that which words go with which definitions is merely a human thing; i.e. the choice is said to arbitrary. Considering this, it is obvious that when objects change, the definition of a term does not (that is, definitions do not rely on anything in nature for their existence; they rely on the human mind to apply arbitrary assignment operations.)

11:16 PM  

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