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Language

Bad Concepts

 

I find some words disturbing:  they do not seem to correspond to anything real or useful, yet they are used a lot.  You may disagree with my remarks below.

Why do I think these concepts are bad?

Many words in our languages date back to ancient times.  Great thinkers thought hard about abstract concepts and invented words for them.

But over the last 2000 years or so, we gathered new insights and refined our view of the world.  That changed the the set of concepts with which we express our knowledge.  Alchemy became chemistry, astrology became cosmology.  We no longer use the old ideas of alchemy and astrology because we know them to be false.

That does not subtract from the greatness of the ancient thinkers, after all they did not have the same data and instruments that we now have.  But it does reduce the applicability of "the classics".  Some of their concepts have now been publicly disavowed, e.g. “race”.  Sometimes global upheavals were needed to make these changes in the outlook of the general public.

Advances in psychiatry and understanding of the brain made other concepts superfluous, such as "possession by the devil", and make yet others at least wobble on their pedestals.

The following section lists a few words and concepts I have trouble with.  Many of them cover too much and in a vague way.

List

Appropriate

This word is usually used in a hypocritical sense.  It nearly always means there is something hidden that should not be talked about or should be avoided in social intercourse.  I have great suspicion of people who use it often.

Conciousness

Philosophers talk a lot about it, trying to define and redefine it as we get to know more and more about the brain.  I think we should just throw it away.  It covers too many distinct states of the brain that actually live alongside each other.

Free Will

Without free will religion can hardly function.  But do we really have it?  Its sole purpose is to assign blame and responsibility.  Like consciousness it really covers a large set of distinct states of the brain, some of which society cannot tolerate, but they are still real.  That I do not believe in the old concept of free will means I must also believe that most criminals cannot help doing what they did.  That paedophiles cannot help their impulses.  However, that does not imply that we should condone just anything:  we can certainly remove undesired people from common society and lock them up.

Understanding

Another hobby-horse of some philosophers.  Since Turing’s work on automata there is a simple test for whether or not a system “understands” something.  Philosopher Searle continues to deny this with sophisticated distractions from the main definition (see his “Chinese Room” argument in which there is no emphasis on the state of the room as recorded on paper or other memory implements).

Mind

See understanding:  “mind” is a word for what we don’t yet understand of the workings of our brains.  And let us not forget that every brain has grown differently, stores different memories etc. just like every body is different and there is no single strict specification for a human being.  Attempting to understand “the brain” is impossible because each one is different.  Understanding the large majority of the brain’s processes is however possible.

Truth

Again quite necessary for religions.  And for the justice systems where everything is still mostly black and white.  But nothing is that sharp:  there are always conditions and boundaries beyond which situations are different.  Fortunately we are fast changing to a more sophisticated view of what works and what does not.

Respect

Like “appropriate” this word hides intentions of the user.  I find it is most often applied by people who in fact wish to dominate those they accuse of too little respect.

And should I respect people or opinions?  Certainly never opinions.  Or do you think that some people have the right to use 3.0 as the value of π just because that is their belief and it should be “respected”?  What with Flat Earthers?

I will listen to a person who has shown he/she understands certain things better than I, or to a politician who has the support of the people, though I would use other words than “respect”.  I will listen to them not because I “respect” them but because my past experience with them has shown that the probability that they are right is quite high, so I might learn somethin guseful.  But should I respect a cleric whose only merit is that he (clerics are almost never “she” by the way) has done well at manipulating his fellow humans?

Belong

Why do we feel we “belong” to a certain community, or “don’t belong here”, etc?

A maxim

I would rather belong to the group that was described by a journalist visiting CERN.  He exclaimed:

Amazing!
Here are people who change their minds in the face of evidence!

The mere fact that the journalist found this amazing shows how few people examine reality and draw their own conclusions.

Change your mind in the face of evidence