Define Your Terms II

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

If you try to define "the Sun" to a child, you are more likely to mislead him. If you say it is a burning fireball, he may imagine a burning tennis ball. You tell him it is bigger. He imagines a burning football. You tell him it is much bigger, bigger than the Earth itself. Even at this point, it is highly unlikely that the child knows what the Sun is. Can he imagine the Sun's corona? Can he feel its heat? No matter how much detail you give him, it falls short of the actual experience. This is because you are building up an experience from its reduced version. You are building a whole from its parts when you don't even know all its parts. Therefore, an experience is prior to the word that is used to describe/capture/symbolize that experience.

Whenever you define respect or love, you merely produce concepts. You are more likely to mislead people and even delude yourself if you have not had the experience yourself. There is no such thing as a definition. There are only descriptions. The next time a child asks you about the Sun, take him outside at noon and show him.

Words are symbols, arbitrarily defined at best. When enough of these symbols are places together, you manage to externalize some of your abstract internal feeling or cognitive states. Yet, the sum of these symbols is nowhere close to your actual abstract thoughts. Therefore, when talking to others, try to feel them, not to listen to the words per se. They may be lacking in vocabulary. Don't try to dig more meaning from symbols.

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