Defining things

Words are important to me. They’re pretty critical in enabling me to think about things. Understanding is also very important to me, both understanding what I myself am thinking/saying, and understanding in dealing with other people.

A problem that comes up a lot is that people dealing with each other are using a word to mean different things, thinking different things when they see a word, etc, and this causes a lot of confusion and other things that are really detrimental to discussion.

Because of this it’s often important to me to explain what I’m actually meaning by words I use. (A relevant link here is Taboo Your Words. It differs in that it’s saying “not to define your problematic terms, but to see whether you can think without using those terms at all“, but there’s still the same idea of ‘here’s what I’m talking about’ – I’m just dealing with this in terms of definitions because the reason I was using words in the first place is that that’s really useful often to a critical degree in both thinking and communication, and I want to keep using them for that. [Additional important note, the linked article also briefly gets into antitheism, which I really don’t like and have serious issue with]).

Well, a problem I keep running into is that there are a lot of things I can’t define in the dictionary way. This was a very serious issue for me, but I recently realized something that helps a lot with it.

There is, in fact, no reason why I should feel obligated to define things that way.

The goal I have is to clarify/explain/etc ‘here’s what I’m talking about’. So if things other than dictionary-type definitions help me achieve that goal, clearly it is entirely fine for me to use them.

In fact, if I had a way to ‘define’ a word/concept that was *closer* to how I thought about it than a dictionary-type definition would be, then converting to a dictionary definition would be suboptimal even if I could do it, because it would end up farther from what I was actually trying to get at.

(Since my go-to example of things that are hard to define in dictionary ways are colors, I went and looked up “blue”. Google’s dictionary says “of a color intermediate between green and violet, as of the sky or sea on a sunny day”. And, while I am quite impressed with whoever wrote that, I promptly noticed that the words this definition uses (‘green’, ‘violet’, ‘sky’, ‘sea’) are not actually very useful as words. They’re useful as the images I have associated with them. If I didn’t have such images, those words would be entirely not useful in helping me understand what blue was. Conversely, the thing that would be most concisely useful in understanding what blue is would be images of blue).

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