Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Definitions of words and misinterpretation

  1. Mar 3, 2007 #1
    So I thought to myself, how about a thread where people would post (just post, not discuss) definitions of words they use that have a lot of room for misinterpretation, such as "intelligence", "consciousness", "matter", "god", etc.

    Then, whenever a need arises, they could put "(def #153)" link to this thread to clear thing up without having to explain themselves again in every thread they post in.

    What do you think?

    (edit: in guidelines, "explicitly defining key terms" is suggestion #1, btw)
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2007 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    And what if they disagree on the definitional level?
  4. Mar 3, 2007 #3
    At least they will be able to understand each other.
  5. Mar 3, 2007 #4
    Did he actually say that? I've said that a lot of times before.
  6. Mar 3, 2007 #5
    I said somewhere else that a language breakthrough would be very needed to make unequivocal statements that everyone can follow. I find it difficult and time consuming to come up with unequivocal terms. Take a definition that should be simple:

    universe: everything that exists.

    Alright, but what does it mean to exist? What is a thing? And that "every" part, does it mean each one, does it mean every one, or something else? In a philosophical discussion, different people will inevitably interpret even this short definition differently.

    Being unequivocal is difficult. It may require a whole new dictionary where every word has one and only one meaning. English probably doesn't have enough words for all meanings since many words have multiple interpretations. You may need entirely new words to pinpoint specific, unequivocal meanings, culminating in a much longer dictionary containing terms nobody recognizes except the select few.

    I don't have a solution to this. Maybe I just have an exaggerated perception of the problem. Maybe someone actually has a breakthrough solution.
  7. Mar 5, 2007 #6
    You could have different definitions for different discussions, but total number of these definitions should be quite small (imho).

    In your example, "universe: everything that exists", btw, how does "universe" is different from "everything"?
  8. Mar 5, 2007 #7
    Yes, this is what people currently do. But it does not address your original post about having a "central" reference for commonly used but ambiguous words. So discussions tend to drift because a definition stated by one participant differs from another participant's understanding, or the words used in ad-hoc definitions in turn need to be explained...

    Good question! It nicely illustrates how producing unequivocal definitions is a meticulous task. :smile: Another definition of "universe" might simply be "all".
  9. Mar 5, 2007 #8
    ...in this thread.

    So you put here a line, like "Definition 123: universe is simply all", and link here instead of explaining yourself; that's the idea.
  10. Mar 5, 2007 #9
    definition 1: dispute is an argued disgreement
  11. Mar 5, 2007 #10
    If anyone here studies philosophy/and or linguistics, he/she could never demand some universal definitions of words. One can just define words in some context. Since there is no fiexed context and never will be, this discussion of definitions is non-productive. Words, contrary to preconceived notions, are not definitions of meanings. Its is the context for that word that determines the meaning of it. On top of it all, words->thoughts are not independent of the its content. The notion that we learn language/thinking by pointing at things and label them is surelly a incorect one. What we end up doing is spiraling down through dead level abstractions untill we are completely lost, misusing language and abusing thinking process, unable to look at things from different context.
  12. Mar 5, 2007 #11
    Of course not universal (and because of that this thread is useless), but when ever making a discussion thread you should always define the words you are using so others can interpret them better so people can discuss it better.
  13. Mar 6, 2007 #12
    But you know, people, it is up to you, really. I don't feel like trying to convince you any longer. I made a suggestion how to cut the crap a bit, you don't like it, ok, go on, proceed with fruitless discussions, over and over. /unsub.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Definitions of words and misinterpretation
  1. Definitive or not? (Replies: 11)

  2. Is there a word? (Replies: 10)