Ian Guthridge.com

Tag: science

Language: It is all Meaningless

by Ian on May.28, 2009, under Rants

Do words have an intrinsic meaning?  Take a simple word such as tree.  Without context does this word mean anything?  To answer that we first have to create a coherent definition of meaning.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines meaning, as it relates to this subject, as “Something that one wishes to convey, especially by language.”   The key part of that statement is “that one wishes,” implying that a statement, and therefore its constituent words, cannot mean anything on their own.   

You can try to counter this by claiming that definitions constitute meaning. The issue I take with this is that a definition isn’t grounded in anything; it is just another statement consisting of words.  Each of these words has its own definition consisting of more words; each having their own definitions.  A cycle endlessly repeating, never yielding any meaning.  That is, unless it is examined by someone who then provides a necessary context for those words to live, thereby providing them with meaning, albeit only an abstraction of whatever the originator of those words meant. 

Language does not represent thought; instead it abstracts thought.  If it did represent thought, then some fundamental unit of language would have to map in a one to one relationship with thought.  This relationship would be like an ideal hash map, a list of data referenced by unique keys.  Unfortunately like a hash map, given a finite set of keys collisions become inevitable as the set of information increases in size.  So is there an infinite, or large enough, set of unique morphemes, words, sentences, etc. that could theoretically provide us with a truly unique mapping between words and thoughts.

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by Ian on Apr.11, 2009, under Rants

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed.’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’”

-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision Of The Human Future In Space

I apologize in advance for the often tangental nature of my ranting.

I have come to the sad realization that I would not struggle with my acceptance of Christianity if it was not for other “Christians”.  (This is really about religion and beliefs in general, I just specify Christianity because that is the belief set I most closely associate myself with.)

I have always felt that one’s beliefs were a personal issue and one should not attempt to impose them on others.  This behavior has often caused people who do not know me well to assume that I hold some set of beliefs, or lack thereof, often attributed to a group I belong to.  This is prejudice.  When one makes an judgement purely on past experience without acquiring new, more accurate data; that person is a bigot.  I make this assertion not to claim that I have ever been discriminated against, but to merely state that people often make biased judgements of other people without even realizing it.  In short, my omission of my beliefs does not mean that I do not have them, just that I do not feel that you need to know them.

I say this because I am tired of people telling me that I am going to hell because I support some scientific theory X.  I am tired of people accusing me of being closed minded, or not considering the possibility of something because I want evidence.  I am tired of people claiming something is “only a theory”, that X is true “only as far as we know”, or that “scientists could be wrong”.  Yes, science is not absolute.  Yes, science does change.  Yes, scientists often are wrong.  No, I do not believe I know everything.  I believe I have a reasonable layman’s understanding  (I can make it through a fairly technical paper on most subjects given enough time) of currently accepted scientific theory (and the corresponding evidence) and can therefore make fairly confident assertions that the science is correct unless overwhelming evidence to the contrary is presented.  Why?  Because science consists of long term experiments that produce striking results.  Because science repeatedly tests concepts that are “common knowledge”, and these “silly” experiments sometimes demonstrate a massive misconception about the world.  THAT is why I place “faith” in the scientific process.  THAT is why I am “close minded”. THAT is why I believe that God created a universe that relies on underlying, immutable physical laws and that modern scientific theory is our best approximation of those laws.  I DO accept that there is a LOT science has yet to explain.  Based on all my observations thus far, it is far more likely that an unexplained event has a physical explanation rather than a paranormal one.  The physical explanation may be very counter-intuitive and unconventional, but I believe it exists and any explanation that does not account for known physical laws is. complete. bullcrap.  

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