Intellectual Self Defence

Brains are delicate things…

Risky Business- dangers in ISD

A few disclaimers and thoughts to ponder

Problems of time and place;
We must remember that words change meaning over time (like Humpty, they are often pushed and pulled). Context changes. Any of the following words -nature, liberal, conservative, humanism, laissez-faire- would have very different meanings 200 years ago. We often forget that when we read tracts from hundreds of years ago; see the excerpt from George Monbiot’s Schumacher1996 speech, under ‘Property’.

Illegal immigration;
Anyone with more than a passing knowledge of another language is in luck, because they know that translating even relatively simple phrases often involves importing or exporting shades of meaning, allusions and connotations.

Normal schnormal;
Terms assume our norms. e.g. ‘non-linear’ suggests that linear is the norm; the same for ‘disequilibrium’ and ‘aperiodic.’ How often is this an order and pattern imposed by human minds, with their all-too-human needs? This point from Alan Beyerchen, cited by Ron Eglash in an account of a 1998 MIT conference on ‘Embracing Complexity.’

Then again, in focusing so much on words and their meanings,we can end up spending more time struggling over definitions than realities, becoming doctrinaire or sectarian train-spotters in proportion to our powerlessness and fecklessness (this is known as the ‘narcissism of small differences’)

We might end up with our own peculiar definitions that aren’t easily understood.

We might fall in love with our creation to the extent that we think that it is the correct, “natural” and “proper” usage of the word. It’s at this point that the label sheds more light on the person applying it than the concept itself. (Or maybe more heat than light)

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