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Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

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Joe Martin

Words don't mean: they evoke. The telementation model of language has been thoroughly debunked by Roy Harris. When we hear (or see) a word it evokes a mental image--more technically activates a stored neural pattern--and those stored patterns are the results of cumulative personal experiences. Crucially, they are different for every person.

Evoked images may or may not match some external object, and may or may not prompt a hearer to direct their attention to such an object in the environment. The evoking and the directing are two different things, and perceiving a word only accomplishes the former.

What you mean by "directs attention" is not clear, but seems inadequate to account for both these two things. Words could be said to "direct our attention to" a mental image of a referent, but we still have free will and can ignore it and direct our attention elsewhere.
BLOGGER: I'm standing by my post.

Raymond Weitzman

It is not sufficient to say just that "e", "m:, and "c" exist in Einstein's equation. They must also be measurable quantities. Otherwise, the equation is vacuous. The "=" sign is stipulating that the two quantities e and mc^2 are equivalent.It should be emphasized, however, that the equation is not an equation relating an dependent variable to one or more independent variables. Einstein's equation is an equation of equivalence or conversion, like 2.54inches = 1 meter. One should be aware that not all "=" signs are equal. A word is not equivalent to whatever it is suppose to refer to. A word is a dependent variable whose likelihood of expression, either in thought, speech, writing, etc. depends on a multitude of independent variables.

In any case, Chomsky's argument against the referential theory of meaning seems moot, since most scholars of language abandoned the theory a long time ago.

Raymond Weitzman

Sorry. Big mistake in last message. 2.54 centimeters=1 inch.


I welcome your support for my contention that Einstein's equation is a dimensional equivalence, and as an equation is 'vacuous'. There are no values for e or m, and c^2 is not even a measurable physical quantity. Yet it has validity as expressing the rate of expansion of a wave as the ratio between a certain e and a certain m, all of them variable. The meaning of the words is heavily dependent on their interpretation in physical terms. Otherwise it is pure theory.

Dan Manthey

It seems entirely wrong to say that "=" has less of a referent than does "m", let alone "e" or "c**2".

In what sense does "m" mean a real thing? In the sense that the concept "mass" picks out a subset of the aspects of the tangible world, and that those aspects have some coherence over a wide body of possible experiences we have with the world. That is to say, mass is operationally defined. You can't very well take the mass out of something in the same way that you can take the tiger out of the jungle.

But "=" has exactly the same correspondence to the world; it picks out a set of aspects that are useful to think about together. It is real in the same way that mass is, though the set of operations that you need to consider to tell whether you've found an instance of equality are rather more complicated than those needed to detect an instance of mass.

But if "m" has a referent "mass", and mass is deemed real because things in the world can be observed to behave in the set of ways we call "having mass", then "=", which has a referent "equality", must also be deemed real because we can find things that behave in ways that fit what we call "being equal".

(We can of course decide that fitting a highly abstract set of operations doesn't count as "real" or that the set of operations don't constitute a referent, but then "m" is just as much to a reference as is "=".)

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