Barry SCHWARTZ (Barijo ŜVARC) (chemoelectric) wrote,

Another little bit of general semantics

Another little bit of general semantics. I want to warn the reader first that, with very few exceptions, a nod of agreement followed by disregard of what I say is the 'best' I can hope for. The old habits remain. My persistence is because in the rare instance where someone breaks the habits it is only because of such persistence, and even short of that there are such things as partial success, occurring without the outright cooperation of the improved person.

Now to it. I need not explain how disagreements over the meaning of 'truth', in the as yet unscientific fields of politics and religion, sometimes result in bloodshed. So how come scientists don't pick up arms and fight for blood even when they disagree about what is 'true'? Indeed, the most vicious fights come when 'scientific' work is done in an unscientific manner. An example somewhat known to many might be B. F. Skinner's extremism; I imagine that some reading this know more about the Skinner case than I do.

Simply, in science or anything done scientifically, the people involved recognize at least on some level that 'truth' is an ambiguous term. There are different kinds of truth, depending on context, learning, experience, etc. What's more, and this is much more important than is widely realized, 'truth' is multiordinal, meaning that the term can talk about itself. For example, the comparison of different research techniques is a matter of 'truth' about the 'truths' proven by the different techniques. Such 'truths' are of completely different types. So work done scientifically automatically avoids extremist positions on a term like 'truth'; teaching children habitually scientific behavior, such as recognition of multiordinality, would help prevent extremism.

The not-widely-realized importance of multiordinality rests upon its following property: it lets us use a single term to represent any number of different types of things. An analogy in mathematics is the infinite sequence, where a letter like a can represent any number of items in the sequence, by indexing: a1, a2, a3, etc. Such indexing can be used with English words, too, where it might be helpful, and this sort of indexing is a key training tool for the scientific habit.
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