virus: Multiple meanings of faith

Reed Konsler (
Thu, 11 Feb 1999 10:17:05 -0500

>Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999 16:37:39 -0500
>From: "Eric Boyd" <>
>Subject: Re: virus: Multiple meanings of faith
>On the other hand, it is *very* useful to have absolutely strict
>definitions of words, as this give one the benefit of knowing what one
>is talking about. (this sort of topic is debated on the TCS list as
>well, but they have already *defined* their words in stone. They say
>if you don't like using the chosen word to mean what they say,
>substitute a made up one with the given definition, as it's the
>concept, not the word, which matters).

Well, that is the first step to becomming an academic. People have been doing this kind of thing since...well, the first example I can think of is the Pythagoreans. For them, Geometry described the shape of the universe. For the Positivists, it was formal logic. Hell, even the chemists have a rigid formal system for describing connections and structure in molecules.

You know what? As soon as you create a rigid formal system a couple of things happen. The first is that you find that some real objects can't be defined according to your rules...they "resonante" (this has a very technical meaning in chemistry, you will recall). Resonance is not a characterisitc of a substance. Benzene just sits there like any other molecule. This half-way-ness or chimeric quality is a function of using a simple system to describe a complex reality.

And then, suddenly, the "discoveries" start to all be about finding things which violate the rules. Non-Euclidian geometry, non-classical carbocations, non-classical proofs (like Godel's). The process certianly has purpose, it grinds out better and better models. That works really well in some circumstances, and it creates very complex language.

But, having gone through this a couple times already, I can tell you that I'm not interested in doing so in this context.

>And to make people happy, we could just add faith=trust to the virian
>semantics list, on the understanding that it (the word faith) will not
>be used to justify an entrenched belief...

But, Eric, we are seldom talking about what "we" mean and are so often talking about what "they" mean. Other people don't know our definitions. You have to learn to translate on-the-fly if you are going to understand what they mean. We ought to be practicing things which allow us to do this more effectively. Creating a formal system will draw this group together and separate us from the rest of common discourse. I think that is counterproductive.


  Reed Konsler