Definitions

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Rigil Kent (April 03, 2009, 09:21:54 AM):
An interesting spin-off from the post started by Mentari on evolution happening by chance, is the question of definitions in science.

It seems that sometimes two separate and vastly different definitions may exist for the same thing, one aimed at the layman (lets call it the Collins Concise definition), and a more technical one for scientific purposes.

But is this really necessary? Doesn't such duplicity only serve to further widen the chasm between scientific understanding and Tom, Dick and Harry?

Mintaka
bluegray (April 03, 2009, 11:37:44 AM):
It seems that sometimes two separate and vastly different definitions may exist for the same thing, one aimed at the layman (lets call it the Collins Concise definition), and a more technical one for scientific purposes.
Do you have an example of such a case where the definitions are a lot different? Even if one definition is aimed at the layman and another at someone in the field, they should be the same. Although they might not all provide the same detail, which is unavoidable I think.
Rigil Kent (April 03, 2009, 13:24:13 PM):
Quote
Do you have an example of such a case where the definitions are a lot different?


You're kidding right? ;)

In geometry, a torus (pl. tori) is a surface of revolution generated by revolving a circle in three dimensional space about an axis coplanar with the circle, which does not touch the circle.

versus

A torus is a ring doughnut shape.

Mintaka

Mefiante (April 03, 2009, 14:36:53 PM):
Scientific definitions are usually functional ones. That is, they tell you (often implicitly rather than explicitly) what criteria need to be satisfied in order that one may properly recognise the thing that has been defined. In contrast, the normal way of talking leaves room for uncertainty because such definitions can be culturally dependent and they often rely on plain or direct recognition instead of a procedure for achieving that recognition. Your example makes that clear enough.

A further potential point of trouble is that certain words and terms often carry additional meaning that depends on the particular discipline or context in which they are used, and of which the layperson is usually unaware. Scientists prefer scientific definitions because they minimise the potential problem of misunderstanding or misinterpretation. In addition, some of them have arisen because of deeper understanding to describe which existing language was inadequate.

Less commendably, on occasion there is an element of professional jealousy where definitions are deliberately made so as to be impenetrable to the uninitiated. Curiously, there is an inverse relationship between the prevalence of this tendency and the exactness of the science from which it issues…

P.S. Your use of “duplicity” gave me a good chuckle.

'Luthon64
Rigil Kent (April 03, 2009, 14:57:40 PM):
Quote
P.S. Your use of “duplicity” gave me a good chuckle.

yeah, I meant "duplication". :-[

Cheers,
Mintaka

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