Follow up to: The “Why Do We Care?” Test
One time, I encountered one of my friends. Let’s call him Larry. Larry insists to me the following: “History is a science.”
Another one of my friends, Iggy, insists something quite different: “Political science is not a science.”
What could they be talking about? I think what’s going on here is a debate over definitions; what the word “science” should refer to, rather than facts about the quality of either field. I have to say that both Iggy and Larry are correct in part and wrong in part. But how could this be so?
For the answer, let’s dive into how I resolve definition debates.
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On 18 Feb 2013 in All, Words.
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As we know, the way dates and times are written varies around the world, and not just by language. To refer to the second day of this year as “January 2, 2013″ is unambiguous. But to refer to it as “1/2/13″ invites confusion. In most of the world, this notation actually refers to February 1st. Only in the United States and Belize is “1/2/13″ consistently used to refer to January. And it’s not just a battle of day-first versus month-first — in most of Asia and some of Europe, people put the year first, referring to January 2nd as “13/2/1″.
While it shouldn’t be the highest priority by any means, it certainly would be easier if we all used one standard of date notation. It seems to make sense to go from day to year because (1) the majority of people in the world already do and (2) it stacks in a logical order from small to large. However, being in America, personally switching from month/day/year to day/month/year would accomplish nothing, and actually just add confusion. What should I do?
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On 23 Jan 2013 in All, Words.
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This one is a quick one, but I’ve long felt the need to get it up on the blog because I can’t find the concept anywhere else on the internet, and I’m fairly certain I invented the concept all by myself…
We need to start out with the idea that the word “free”, in the English language, is ambiguous — there is a distinction between free as in “for zero price” (gratis) and free as in “with little or no restriction” (libre). This distinction matters most when it comes to software and open source — freeware might cost nothing, but come with all sorts of licenses that there is much restriction with how you use it. Likewise, you might have to pay for software that you can use completely however you want.
Richard Stallman summarizes this difference by distinguishing between “free as in free speech” (libre) and free as in “free beer” (gratis).
However, it seems like some people have been trying to add a third entry to this distinction. You know how you often hear about things like the free breakfast you can get in the morning at hotels, which is actually fully paid for by your room fee? Or the fact that joining clubs at Denison is free, despite being covered by a $300+ activity fee paid by each student? All of these are free as in prepaid — they’re technically not free, having already been covered by fees you’ve previously paid.
I don’t think these things should actually be considered “free”. We should recognize these ploys as cheap tricks and make notes to not think that this group is being generous, and so we can know what my money is really paying for. As long as they keep getting marketed as “free”, I will know they meant “free” as in pre-paid.
Updated 11/Jan/2013: Edited for clarity.
On 9 Jan 2013 in All, Words.
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What is an atheist, and how is it distinct from an agnostic?
Many different dichotomies have been proposed. Some suggest that atheists say “There are definitely no gods” while agnostics say “There might be gods, but I don’t believe in them”. Another a group of people revise that to make the agnostic say “There may or may not be gods, I’m not sure yet”.
Others suggest that agnostics say “It is impossible to know if there are gods or not”, while atheists say “I know there is no god”.
Then we get to the fourth group, probably the majority, say that atheism and agnosticism are not on a spectrum, but rather description of different things — atheists lack a belief in God, and agnostics lack absolute certainty in this belief, thus leading people to describe themselves as agnostic atheists.
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On 28 Jun 2012 in All, Atheism, Words.
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Direct Continuation of Identity Confusion as Definition Confusion, Part I
Earlier, I started with the following quote and asked the following questions:
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss
Who am I, that is the “you” in this quote? In what sense am I me, and in what sense are others not me? Can someone really be sort of me, but not me-er than me?
Specifically, what is the “I” that I experience? Who am I, distinct from all other objects? Do I have a self? Am I the same person I was yesterday? Am I the same person I was a decade ago? Who was I a millennia ago? Would I be the same person if I got brain damage and my personality radically changed? Would I be the same person if my legs were amputated and I got a new hairstyle?
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On 18 Nov 2011 in All, Naturalism, Words.
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