Semantics

Behold ladies and gentlemen, the topic of semantics is about to writhe under my laser-like gaze (bombast [BAM-baest] n. …].

Most arguments are lost before they start because of differences, however subtle, in semantics. Other times, there is cognitive sabotage because the person has an erroneous definition attached to a word and lack a concise tool to grasp a particular concept because of it.

Take for instance, the word technology. Technology describes the practical application of scientific knowledge. It is a process whose workings are understood by its human creator. It is rationally arrived at, improved and still improvable. It doesn’t require new material, and in fact can simply be the more effective means of using what you already have. Por Exemplo: Kung Fu and power-lifting are technologies of technique. We all have the same hands, the same heads, the same feet, but practitioners of either discipline can do some markedly amazing stuff with theirs after prolonged application of certain established techniques, be it lifting cars of breaking bricks .

As a word, it is the core of a humanist, rationalist creed, because it says that if you have the will, the patience, the discipline, and the mind, you can change or improve anything you put your hand to. It’s the drop-forged, 14 pound hammer in the mental toolbox of the practicing optimist. As a word, its beautiful. As an idea, it’s a jewel, a glittering diamond.

Technology is not, as post-modernists would have it, “the magic that works.”

I open the floor to other words that are getting semantically brutalized. Theology vis a vis Mythology is getting a work out thanks to Hitchens’ new book. Subjective and Objective get mugged every time they go for milk.

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9 Comments

  1. Damn. I gotta get Speculist on this… you caught me off guard, but I’m sure I’ve got a word or three…

    Reply
  2. Nobody touches evolved, that’s my next one.

    Reply
  3. Blair — send me your snail-mail. I have marshmallows for you. :o)

    Reply
  4. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    BigRedBlair,
    I may be way too deep in the sciences to understand this philosophical argument exactly, but let me try.
    I agree with your assessment on technology as correct. It is indeed the application of knowledge, and it can be improved upon. I know this from my daily work. How a word is defined and used in a sentence can indeed muddle its meaning. But technology can be perceived (and therefore defined as) magic when you don’t understand the underlying science. So is this argument amongst post-modernists that modern technology is far too complex for them to understand and therefore looks like magic? Or is it that they feel scientists who practice and utilize technology don’t explain themselves well enough and therefore look like practitioners of “magic that works”? If it is the latter – there is some truth to that. Scientists (myself included) do need to do a much better job at explaining what we do, why we do it, and hot it is actually done in a way that the layman can understand and use. But many of us are not good communicators of thought unless we have data, numbers, diagrams and schematics upon which to communicate. The truly great scientists are the ones who can.

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  5. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    how it is, not hot it is.
    I need a spell check – that or English classes again.

    Reply
  6. The problem is that the narcissism of the Po Mo’s has corrupted them into thinking that there is no objective observation of the truth. So magic and technology are the same because of the internal process of faith in effect, and how this sets an internal cosmology. God is in his heaven and the lights turn on because I totemically hit the switch.

    Which is all bullshit. Technology has dirt plus one to do with your internal process. It’s about reproducible results.

    Let’s examine magic versus technology. An event doesn’t work, or has no observable effect.

    Thinking magically, we keep doing it, we ascribe an unrelated cause to the lack of observable effect, or we change something along non-causal lines, or we stop with no further understanding.

    Technologically, we observe the process, observe the causes, if we can, make educated guesses, and make regular changes while recording the result. At the end of it, we either have a process that works, a deeper objective understanding of why it doesn’t work, and we have a better assessment of why we will or won’t be doing this in the future.

    That whole internal process of belief and what not; doesn’t enter into the discussion of technology. For that there are words like epiphany, gnosis, revelation, inspiration, even genius (divine guiding spirit: he has a genius for sculpting). But leave technology out of it.

    Also, don’t get bound up in the popularization of science just yet. Trust me, the guys who cured polio probably would put the person they cured to sleep if they talked about it.

    Reply
  7. Snail mail is as follows:

    Gyeongsang National University
    Department of Psychology
    900 Gajwa Dong
    Jinju Si, Gyeongsangnam Do 660-701
    Attn: Andrew Blair

    Reply
  8. Alex

     /  June 15, 2007

    I had to read that more than once, but I now understand what you’re talking about.
    As for getting bound up in the popularization of science – too late, it has to be done, and it has taken too long for it to be done. The poor understanding of science is why funding for it is so bone dry and why most of us have to balance 10-20 research projects at a time since no one project can be fully explored anymore since not enough funding exists. R&D is not generally valued by those who control money because they don’t understand what it can do. Instead they look solely at “return on investment” which R&D really isn’t a true investment of capital, or at least it is very hard to define what the risk level truly is.
    But I think that in general science as a study is poorly understood in the liberal arts/humanities (and vice versa), and therefore more effort is needed to explain one to the other. I have started to see “the art of science” which is a step in the right direction, but more education is needed in both areas to understand the other.

    Reply
  9. I think “rational” could do with a good … whatever you want to call it, myself…

    Reply

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