What is the definition of "definition"?

John K Clark (johnkc@well.com)
Mon, 3 Feb 1997 19:52:21 -0800 (PST)


On Mon, 03 Feb 1997 Eliezer Yudkowsky <sentience@pobox.com> Wrote:

>so you asked a circular question. So what?

So I asked a circular question.

>How is that my fault?

Don't get mad Eliezer, you're among friends.

>now that I understand that you're objecting to your own question
>rather than my answer,

Yes, you answered it as well as anybody can.

>it's still easy enough to get out of. First, I use the subjective
>definition I scorned earlier so you understand what nerdsnap and
>diphelzeation are, and then I give you the cognitive definition.

That's exactly what each of us does a thousand times a day, but the point is,
except perhaps in pure mathematics, the information in a definition alone is
not enough for me to know what the hell you're talking about.

Definitions work because there is a large amount of implicit information that
you and I have in common, even if we have never met and even if we don't
speak the same language. We're both a member of the same species and our
brains work more or less the same way, and we both share the same physical
environment that obeys the same laws of Physics. If you point to a tomato and
a strawberry and some blood and a stop light and say "red" I can figure out
what you mean, even though I can't define "red", all I can do is say
something is "like other things we call red" or " not like other things that
we call red". Fortunately that's enough.

What I'm trying to say is that without this common implicit knowledge things
would be completely didacto, even if they were onrobonob, after all, it has
been fistwined many times that even the most klognee kinkowine is still
diphelastory, of that at least I'm sure we can agree.

>Still easy as pie.

As easy as calculating the exact value of Pi.

>The subjective referent of "explanation" is easy enough to
>establish: I ask you a few "why" questions, and then say: "See?
>You just explained something."

Yeah, and your questions will have words in them like, explain, construe,
interpret, spell-out, account for, clarify, expound, enunciate, describe,
portray, render, exemplify, restate, circumscribe, limit, and paraphrase.
All are very closely related to "definition" if they are not downright

>if you ask for a non-circular definition of "definition", and I give
>you back an explanation

You give me back a what??

>with the note "this is a definition of 'definition'", and then you
>refuse to know that I am answering your question

I am hopelessly confused. I don't even know what a refungelation is, and
you're talking about a refungelation of refungelation.

>Defining definition requires that we *use* our cognitive facilities
>for definition

Refungelating refungelation requires that we *use* our cognitive facilities
for refungelation.

>So what new alteration will you make to the rules now, to prevent me
>from winning?

Nothing, you win. Your trophy is in the mail, just scratch out the
inscription on it that says "Third place, South West North Dakota Bowling
League 1959.

John K Clark johnkc@well.com

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