Examining Semantics in Physics Discussions

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In summary, the conversation discussed the semantics of the term "path" in relation to photons, with examples of its usage and varying definitions. The issue of using words in different contexts and situations was also brought up, as well as the use of coding in computer programming and math in physics to eliminate ambiguity. The conversation also touched on the idea of "his" definition versus "my" definition and the idea of deliberately twisting meaning in the software engineering profession.
  • #1
.Scott
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I suggest we be way more alert and expert when working arguments that are based substantially on semantics.

A recently locked thread (still considered "hot" at the moment) presented a lively debate on the term "path"
as applied to photons.

In a few cases, the passive tense was used: "It's called a path.", "By a path is meant a...".
There was an allusion to "scientifically correct terminology" - although no suggestion that such a thing really exists.

It was particularly entertaining to find someone who thought that "path" was inanimously defined - since "inanimous"
itself could be either a misspelling of unanimous or a variant intended to emphasize the lack of argument.

Most importantly, the thread went on for at least a week before the issues of semantics started taking the forefront. And
even then, there was no attempt at a summary - for example, a list of possible "path" definitions and the situations where
each would "work" in the sense of successfully communicating a concept.

--------------------

Human language is purposeful. But isolating a single term and attempting to use it for exactly the same purpose
regardless of context is not human. Your High School grammar teacher never succeeded at this; the semantically-
challenged Commander Data seldom succeeded at this; and scientists using narrative to exchange ideas should not
expect this as a standard.

To be clear, this isn't an issue of "his" definition vs. "my" definition. Even if we carefully attempt to avoid it, all of us
vary how we use different terms in different situations. "His" or "my" definition now can change in the next
paragraph.

In my field (computer programming), ambiguity is eliminated through coding. In Physics, there's the math.
 
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  • #2
.Scott said:
To be clear, this isn't an issue of "his" definition vs. "my" definition. Even if we carefully attempt to avoid it, all of us
vary how we use different terms in different situations. "His" or "my" definition now can change in the next
paragraph.
This post is not at all clear to me. I consider myself somewhat of a stickler on the proper use of words, meaning, and context. Could you be more specific about this issue?
 
  • #3
gleem said:
This post is not at all clear to me. I consider myself somewhat of a stickler on the proper use of words, meaning, and context. Could you be more specific about this issue?
When discussing the semantics of a topic, it is common for one person to assert a specific meaning of a term claiming that it is "the" meaning - and I gave a few examples from the "path" discussion. The rejoinder is commonly "well, that is 'your' definition, not 'the' definition". Such a rejoinder is okay - but not directly on target. Especially when dealing with new concepts, new situations, new technology, etc., people will use old words for a new purpose. There is nothing exceptional about this - it's just part of using a language fluently.

Since you are a stickler for the proper use of words, meaning, and context, I will provide an example of how the context of "path" can change mid-paragraph:
In a Mach-Zehnder interferometer, laser light will follow two paths within the instrument and exit with an interference pattern. The pattern is formed even when the light is so dim that individual photons have no opportunity to interact with each other. So the interference pattern is formed by each photon following both possible paths through the instrument. When one of those paths is blocked, the interference pattern disappears into a soft blur. This is an interesting effect when one considers the regions of the blur that were previously dark bands. The photons in those locations in the blur have reached there because they followed the unblocked path - and because the path they did not follow was blocked.
The above paragraph includes at least one outright self-contradiction. Do photons follow both paths or only one? But the paragraph should not be judged on how well context is maintained but on whether the purpose of the paragraph is met. - Does it present the counter-factual effect?

If, stickler that you are, that paragraph still meets your criteria for "proper use of words, meaning, and context", then perhaps you have also authored similar text. And as author of such text, you may find the notion of "his" definition vs. "my" definition as off-target as I do.
 
  • #4
Who wrote this passage? Was it one who should have known better? I suppose by your post it was not called out quickly.

.Scott said:
When discussing the semantics of a topic, it is common for one person to assert a specific meaning of a term claiming that it is "the" meaning - and I gave a few examples from the "path" discussion

Could you restate those examples?
 
  • #5
gleem said:
Could you restate those examples?

The thread I am referring to is the current "featured thread", "What do physicists mean when they say photons have a "path"?".

Passive tense:
Post #64: "It's called a path." (though that author also focused on purposeful use of terms),
Post #72: "path" was described as inanimously defined.
Post #114: "By a path is meant a...".

As for "called out quickly", they all got responses as part of the discussion. What I find missing is that that there didn't seem to be any "walk-away".

My view may be stilted by my profession - I'm a software engineer. If you hung around SW folks, you may have noticed we have a weird sense of humor. We deliberately twist meaning, playing with the ambiguities of the English language. When what you do never works until all the ambiguities are resolved, human language looks quite absurd by that standard - but that's a misplaced standard.
 
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  • #6
The title of the thread is called

What do physicists mean when they say photons have a "path"?​


So what did yu expectto find therein? I think a subset of the issue here was semantic, but not the predominant issue.
 

Related to Examining Semantics in Physics Discussions

1. What is the definition of semantics in physics?

Semantics in physics refers to the meaning and interpretation of language used in discussions and explanations of physical concepts and theories. It involves understanding the relationships between words, symbols, and concepts in order to accurately communicate and comprehend scientific information.

2. Why is examining semantics important in physics discussions?

Examining semantics is important in physics discussions because it ensures that information is conveyed accurately and effectively. Misunderstandings or misinterpretations of language can lead to incorrect conclusions and hinder progress in scientific research. By examining semantics, scientists can also identify and address any inconsistencies or ambiguities in their theories and models.

3. How do scientists study semantics in physics discussions?

Scientists study semantics in physics discussions through various methods, such as analyzing written and spoken language, conducting experiments and surveys, and using computational tools. They may also compare how different individuals or groups use language to discuss the same physics concepts, in order to identify common patterns and areas of confusion.

4. What are some common challenges in examining semantics in physics discussions?

Some common challenges in examining semantics in physics discussions include the use of technical jargon and complex mathematical equations, which can be difficult for non-experts to understand. There may also be cultural or linguistic differences that can affect the interpretation of language. Additionally, as language is constantly evolving, scientists must continually reassess and update their understanding of semantics in order to accurately communicate scientific concepts.

5. How can the study of semantics in physics discussions benefit the scientific community?

The study of semantics in physics discussions can benefit the scientific community by promoting effective communication and collaboration among scientists. By understanding the nuances of language and how it is used in physics discussions, scientists can improve the clarity and accuracy of their research and theories. This can also help bridge the gap between experts and non-experts, making scientific concepts more accessible to a wider audience.

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