Why is it hard to define something?

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Even the concepts that words are pointers to are sometimes so complex that they can defy easy definition. For example, what is a room? In order for there to be a room, there already have to exist in your lexicon a whole lot of other words and concepts. Even then, it's difficult to be precise--when does a box-like space stop being a room and become a box, for example?

Philosophers expend a lot of energy worrying about this stuff. I don't.
I didn't worry about it earlier but somehow now I'm thinking about it too much. I'm not going into philosophy though , I'm trying to think in lines of linguistics and psychology.

EDIT:Taking your example - room and box, what troubles me is that our brains can distinguish between room and box when shown but we cannot clearly express/define what either of them is.
Siimilarly for other things, it is sometimes difficult to define something, but when shown in front of us our brains can clearly tell what it is. Why is this?
 
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  • #27
harborsparrow
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I didn't worry about it earlier but somehow now I'm thinking about it too much. I'm not going into philosophy though , I'm trying to think in lines of linguistics and psychology.

EDIT:Taking your example - room and box, what troubles me is that our brains can distinguish between room and box when shown but we cannot clearly express/define what either of them is.
Siimilarly for other things, it is sometimes difficult to define something, but when shown in front of us our brains can clearly tell what it is. Why is this?
Actually, it is well known these days in cognitive science that people over-estimate how much they "know". Our thinking minds make a lot of guesses and interpolations as we try to communicate with others. Further, our internal thought-streams distract us so much that we often don't even really hear what other people are saying.

Thankfully, the semi-crazy, endless, internal thought-stream that we all have in our heads (which is a by product of having learning language to some extent) is not who we really are--we have an awareness that is beyond the verbal thought-stream. To allow this awareness to gain precedence over the incomplete knowledge of the verbal thought-stream is one reason why people turn to meditation. Also, just learning to remain aware of your own breathing (and not letting the thought-stream completely own your awareness) is a way to get in touch with the awareness that we have beyond verbalness.

I'm old, but I started to learn about meditation in my twenties. Now, I'm glad that I did, although at the time I just did it because it made me feel good. But it has other purposes, one being as described above.

You have learned a tremendously important thing, which might not be popular in this site, which is dominated by people who love "hard science" (I love that too)--and that is, humans cannot know everything, or even maybe, much. Life is very complicated, and our attempts to model life with natural language, and with all the things and technology that humans create, is still not enough to "know" everything. It gives you some respect for life's complexity. That is good!
 
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  • #28
harborsparrow
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P S - There is ample evidence (and oriental medicine supports the idea) that our deepest awareness is not centered only in the brain, but reaches into our gut, and our chest/heart area. We are so much more, and capable of much more, than just our reasoning ability.
 
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P S - There is ample evidence (and oriental medicine supports the idea) that our deepest awareness is not centered only in the brain, but reaches into our gut, and our chest/heart area. We are so much more, and capable of much more, than just our reasoning ability.
I'm going to take that as a reference to the hormonal control sys. of our body and not voodoo...
P.S. I've been meditating since 4th grade, it's NOT voodoo as many people seem to believe.
 
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harborsparrow
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Smiling at Enigman!

Back to the original question--natural language is imprecise and, well, messy. New words come into use all the time without a precise definition being offered, and people "just know" from context what is meant. Or do they? The imprecision is a known, difficult problem, and naturally unsettling to those of us (like me, I do computer science) who like things to be precise.
 
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Thanks for all your insights and opinions.
I learned a lot. Even though universe may be following some simple rules, life is complicated, we humans are complicated and I appreciate this complexity. I discovered this in the process: Game of life, which clearly explains my point.

P.S. :- I didn't understand much in the last 2-3 posts but nevermind.
 
  • #32
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The same object can be defined in multiple ways, because the same object can be seen from multiple perspectives.

If you wish to be truthful to your own experience, this is called sincerity, integrity, honesty. The question is not, "is it raining outside?" The question is, am I telling the truth or am I lying?

A 2nd kind of truth is defined by map:territory correspondence, it means your interiorly held symbolic representation of reality is a reflection of the exterior reality you inhabit.

Moreover, math evolves through each individual person in a different way. As a math student approaches math from age 1 to arithmetic, algebra, geometry, finance, probability, infinitesimal calculus, abstract algebra, set theory, sentential logic, model theory, etc. this beautiful and complex thing such as math is one that goes through successive stages of evolution... and different wings of it can be evolved along the way. This is a thing that is constantly changing within each and every individual, so of course it is a thing that would also be constantly changing as a shared concept among a culture. This is another reason why "math" is "difficult to define."

Many of the things that we hold sacred are constantly changing. We hold them to be sacred because of their endurance and diversity of forms produced throughout their evolution.

There is credible argument that some things cannot be defined. Try defining music, or love.
 
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  • #33
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Math is logic to me. Logic expressed in a language we happen to call math. Musical theory is math to me, it can be discrete math and yet it can be abstract. It's a form of logic expressed in a language, commonly Italian for music, and a set of symbols just like calculus or algebra.
Languages are logical - their structure follows a certain pattern. If construct I the like sentence this, it wouldn't make any sense to anyone, what happens is everyone recognizes what I was saying anyway, because they reorganize the words and it suddenly becomes logical
Pattern recognition isn't always the same, though. If one were to make a long sentence containing many different plots it can be interpreted differently. Same as math, an assignment gives scrambled pieces of information that you are to reorganize for it to make sense and reach the solution. The solution is a destination just as a conversation about something. If there wasn't any goal to achieve the information becomes unusable. It's like decyphering.

This is becoming kind of philosophical, so I'll stop.
 
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  • #34
harborsparrow
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You (anyone, actually) might be interested in reading Hassim Nicholas Taleb's latest book, AntiFragile. He addresses what cogitive scientists, buddhists, and others already know--that there are two kinds of knowledge, or mind, or thinking--the logical, and the experiential/inexpressible/unexplainable (a gut-feeling "knowing" based on the totality of life experience one has at the time). He does a good job of exploring these, and also in pointing out some of the limitations of a word such as "science" in some contexts.
 

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