ISF Logo   IS Forum
Forum Index Register Members List Events Mark Forums Read Help

Go Back   International Skeptics Forum » General Topics » General Skepticism and The Paranormal
 


Welcome to the International Skeptics Forum, where we discuss skepticism, critical thinking, the paranormal and science in a friendly but lively way. You are currently viewing the forum as a guest, which means you are missing out on discussing matters that are of interest to you. Please consider registering so you can gain full use of the forum features and interact with other Members. Registration is simple, fast and free! Click here to register today.
Tags ghosts

Reply
Old 2nd June 2014, 02:57 AM   #1
mike3
Master Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 2,466
Ghosts: The Definition Problem.

Hi.

I saw this thread:

http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=176126

where it was being discussed that a big problem with regards to any questions about "ghosts" is the lack of a good definition as to what that even means.

So this is where I'm having a little trouble. It seems that to get a definition of the caliber mentioned in these posts, one would need actual, solid evidence by which to answer the questions (e.g. "by what mechanism does it interact/is detectable..." and so forth). Yet if one had enough evidence to nail that down, then one would already have a strong case for the existence of ghosts, no? Yet to get the evidence, you need to have the definition so as to know what to look for!

This seems circular. What am I missing?

Also, one definition was floated and called a logical contradiction:

"something disembodied that has physical manifestations"

Because if it interacts with the physical world, then it is physical, with all the properties of physical matter and energy (someone (the same person?) mentioned there about having weight and so forth). So this makes me wonder: what is the real and precise definition of "physical"? Because what I usually think of when I hear the "definitions" of "ghost" and "non-physical" is mentioned, what they mean is something like "is not made out of protons, neutrons, electrons, photons and other physical particles and is not based within the space-time continuum". Yet if "made of protons, ..." is what "physical" means, then how is it that something interacting with those things must necessarily be made from them? I suppose that if additional things existed, then you could add them by causal closure, which may be what is meant by "physical" by the posters in that thread (and "ghosts" MUST interact however you define them -- if it is something that can produce an experience for someone, that is an interaction, since that means at the very least brain activity results from them, an actual process in the universe of protons, neutrons, ... and therefore the "ghosts" must be included in the causal closure), in which case you would have a contradiction as said ("an entity outside the causal closure which is causally connected to it and so part of that closure" -> "both is and is not a part" -> contradiction). However that may not be what "ghost proponents" mean by "physical". Wouldn't that be a problem though in discussions, if there is a mismatch of definitions of even seemingly-definable terms such as "physical" itself?
__________________
“Ego is subversive and devolutionary, truly destructive and terrible; ego is the generator of privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Ego is the fire that burns within the pit of hell, devouring and consuming everything that enters and leaving utterly nothing behind. Ego is horrible, cruel, and restraining, the darkness of the world, and the doom and bane of man.” – my reaction to that famous Bertrand Russell quote.

Last edited by mike3; 2nd June 2014 at 03:14 AM.
mike3 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 03:47 AM   #2
Aepervius
Non credunt, semper verificare
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: Sigil, the city of doors
Posts: 14,581
Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
This seems circular. What am I missing?
You are missing nothing. The problem with definition is because ghost do not exists, and other normal phenomenon are mistaken for being ghost. thus the inability to properly define ghost : they are a mishmash of misrepresentation.

The same problem happen with a lot of other woo, which misrepresent or mistake normal phenomenon and thus are difficult to "nail down" as definition.
Aepervius is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 06:54 AM   #3
John Nowak
Graduate Poster
 
Join Date: May 2014
Location: Tampa, FL
Posts: 1,806
I saw a ghost once.

I was unpacking after a move, and I was using a folding Gerber knife to cut boxes open. I put the knife down, moved a box, went to grab the knife and out of the corner of my eye I saw my hand moving towards an blade, ready and willing to slash my fingers open.

I jerked my hand back, blinked, and looked directly at the knife. The blade was safely folded away.

Obviously, what happened here is that Part 1 of my brain was telling me "Grabbing a knife without looking at it is a really stupid thing to do," and doing so by making me "see" the open blade. Since then I've tried to be more careful.

I'll bet everyone who has seen a ghost has looked at a garden hose, jumped, yelled "AAA SNAKE!" Why they think there needs to be more of an explanation is beyond me.
John Nowak is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 08:09 AM   #4
Cainkane1
Philosopher
 
Cainkane1's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: The great American southeast
Posts: 8,501
Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Hi.

I saw this thread:

http://www.internationalskeptics.com...d.php?t=176126

where it was being discussed that a big problem with regards to any questions about "ghosts" is the lack of a good definition as to what that even means.

So this is where I'm having a little trouble. It seems that to get a definition of the caliber mentioned in these posts, one would need actual, solid evidence by which to answer the questions (e.g. "by what mechanism does it interact/is detectable..." and so forth). Yet if one had enough evidence to nail that down, then one would already have a strong case for the existence of ghosts, no? Yet to get the evidence, you need to have the definition so as to know what to look for!

This seems circular. What am I missing?

Also, one definition was floated and called a logical contradiction:

"something disembodied that has physical manifestations"

Because if it interacts with the physical world, then it is physical, with all the properties of physical matter and energy (someone (the same person?) mentioned there about having weight and so forth). So this makes me wonder: what is the real and precise definition of "physical"? Because what I usually think of when I hear the "definitions" of "ghost" and "non-physical" is mentioned, what they mean is something like "is not made out of protons, neutrons, electrons, photons and other physical particles and is not based within the space-time continuum". Yet if "made of protons, ..." is what "physical" means, then how is it that something interacting with those things must necessarily be made from them? I suppose that if additional things existed, then you could add them by causal closure, which may be what is meant by "physical" by the posters in that thread (and "ghosts" MUST interact however you define them -- if it is something that can produce an experience for someone, that is an interaction, since that means at the very least brain activity results from them, an actual process in the universe of protons, neutrons, ... and therefore the "ghosts" must be included in the causal closure), in which case you would have a contradiction as said ("an entity outside the causal closure which is causally connected to it and so part of that closure" -> "both is and is not a part" -> contradiction). However that may not be what "ghost proponents" mean by "physical". Wouldn't that be a problem though in discussions, if there is a mismatch of definitions of even seemingly-definable terms such as "physical" itself?
My definition of a ghost is this. A person and their spirit comes back to haunt the living. Ghosts are the result of hallucination and in my case boredom. I once saw a ghost and my psychiatrist told me that when a brain lacks stimulation a suggestable person often sees things that aren't there to provide stimuli and entertainment.

Ghosts don't exist but that doesn't keep us from seeing them.
__________________
If at first you don't succeed try try again. Then if you fail to succeed to Hell with that. Try something else.
Cainkane1 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 08:26 AM   #5
JoeMorgue
Self Employed
Remittance Man
 
JoeMorgue's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Florida
Posts: 13,981
Practically all Woo plays a version of this "Argument through vague definition" game, intentionally refusing to clearly defining exactly what it is there are arguing for.
__________________
"Ernest Hemingway once wrote that the world is a fine place and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part." - Detective Sommerset, Se7en

"Stupidity does not cancel out stupidity to yield genius. It breeds like a bucket-full of coked out hamsters." - The Oatmeal
JoeMorgue is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 08:36 AM   #6
HighRiser
Graduate Poster
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: High above Indianapolis
Posts: 1,848
The problem is assuming that there are ghosts because ghost stories; without any physical evidence of ghosts.

Some folks think ghost stories are evidence of ghosts. This is, by definition, irrational. Calling it irrational is not pejorative.

Some folks think ghost stories are evidence of the fallability of our perception and thought- process. This is, by definition, rational. Calling it rational is not vanity.
__________________
Congratulations, you have successfully failed to model something that you assert "isn't noticeable". -The Man

Science is not hopelessly hobbled just because it knows the difference between fact and imagination. -JayUtah
HighRiser is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 06:52 PM   #7
xtifr
Graduate Poster
 
xtifr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,299
Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
So this is where I'm having a little trouble. It seems that to get a definition of the caliber mentioned in these posts, one would need actual, solid evidence by which to answer the questions (e.g. "by what mechanism does it interact/is detectable..." and so forth). Yet if one had enough evidence to nail that down, then one would already have a strong case for the existence of ghosts, no? Yet to get the evidence, you need to have the definition so as to know what to look for!

This seems circular. What am I missing?
You don't need it to be a ghost to win the million dollar challenge. Any paranormal phenomenon will do. If your apparent poltergeist turns out to really just be someone with telekinesis, that still wins the prize.

Yes, you can't prove you have a ghost until you find something with properties that are demonstrably, um, ghosty. Find that, and then we can start the process of determining whether it really is or isn't a ghost.

Without something measurable to study, there's little point in speculation. Stories and fabulations don't further the debate. Find us evidence of something! Then we can talk.

Think of it this way. If we decide to say that ghosts have properties X and Y, and then someone actually finds a real ghost, and it turns out to have property Z, rather than X and Y, what good did it do to come up with those properties X and Y in the first place? Aside from confusing matters, and possibly making people waste time looking for evidence of properties X and Y?

Find your ghost-candidate first, determine what properties it actually has, and we can go on from there.
__________________
"Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it."
-- Anonymous Slashdot poster
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore."
-- James Nicoll
xtifr is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 2nd June 2014, 08:00 PM   #8
ehcks
Illuminator
 
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 4,302
Ah, a thread discussing the ghost version of ignosticism.

I like it. Where's my popcorn?
__________________
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor
ehcks is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd June 2014, 07:29 AM   #9
IXP
Graduate Poster
 
IXP's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,390
I can't define a ghost, but I know one when I see it!

IXP
__________________
"When reason sleeps, monsters are produced" -- Goya, title of etching that is my avatar
IXP is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd June 2014, 08:19 AM   #10
Cuddles
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 18,538
Originally Posted by Aepervius View Post
You are missing nothing. The problem with definition is because ghost do not exists, and other normal phenomenon are mistaken for being ghost. thus the inability to properly define ghost : they are a mishmash of misrepresentation.

The same problem happen with a lot of other woo, which misrepresent or mistake normal phenomenon and thus are difficult to "nail down" as definition.
Exactly.

Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Wouldn't that be a problem though in discussions, if there is a mismatch of definitions of even seemingly-definable terms such as "physical" itself?
Yes, it would. And is. This is one of the main reasons there are rarely any sensible discussions between believers and skeptics on such matters. In order to have a discussion, you must always define your terms first, or at the very least do so when any disagreement on definitions becomes apparent. Have you not noticed how much believers love to throw around words like "energy", "frequencies", "non-physical", and so on, and how the discussion almost always stalls at the point where they're asked what they actually mean by that?

This is exactly why real scientific discussions are absolutely full of definitions, even for things which would appear trivial. For example, here is a paper I happen to have to hand. Notice how almost all the equations are followed by a paragraph explaining what all the symbols actually mean. It may not be obvious to the layperson, but many of these are absolutely standard and trivial. c for the speed of light, m0 for rest mass, I for current, E for energy. These are not terms that any physicist should fail to understand, yet in a paper less than three pages long, at least half a page is dedicated to defining exactly what is being talked about at every point, because it really is that important to make sure that everyone involved is on the same page.

Of course, internet forums are generally not quite as formal and it's a lot easier to ask questions, so I obviously don't expect quite the same dedication to defining every little thing. But making sure everyone involved in a discussion is on the same page is still just as important. Importantly, this sort of thing is covered by the same basic rules as burden of proof - if someone wants to claim that ghosts are non-physical energy, or whatever, it's up to them define what they actually mean by that. Yes, it's a problem when there's a mismatch of definitions, and that problem is entirely the fault of those who use non-standard definitions but refuse to actually tell us what definition they are using. Or more frequently, those who use non-standard definitions but can't tell us what definition they are using because they're simply repeating sciency-sounding buzzwords without any clear idea of what they might mean in any context.
Cuddles is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd June 2014, 08:35 AM   #11
sphenisc
Illuminator
 
sphenisc's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 4,725
If I want to know the definition of a word I use a dictionary.
__________________
"The cure for everything is salt water - tears, sweat or the sea." Isak Dinesen
sphenisc is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd June 2014, 06:58 PM   #12
mike3
Master Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 2,466
Originally Posted by Cuddles View Post
Exactly.



Yes, it would. And is. This is one of the main reasons there are rarely any sensible discussions between believers and skeptics on such matters. In order to have a discussion, you must always define your terms first, or at the very least do so when any disagreement on definitions becomes apparent. Have you not noticed how much believers love to throw around words like "energy", "frequencies", "non-physical", and so on, and how the discussion almost always stalls at the point where they're asked what they actually mean by that?

This is exactly why real scientific discussions are absolutely full of definitions, even for things which would appear trivial. For example, here is a paper I happen to have to hand. Notice how almost all the equations are followed by a paragraph explaining what all the symbols actually mean. It may not be obvious to the layperson, but many of these are absolutely standard and trivial. c for the speed of light, m0 for rest mass, I for current, E for energy. These are not terms that any physicist should fail to understand, yet in a paper less than three pages long, at least half a page is dedicated to defining exactly what is being talked about at every point, because it really is that important to make sure that everyone involved is on the same page.

Of course, internet forums are generally not quite as formal and it's a lot easier to ask questions, so I obviously don't expect quite the same dedication to defining every little thing. But making sure everyone involved in a discussion is on the same page is still just as important. Importantly, this sort of thing is covered by the same basic rules as burden of proof - if someone wants to claim that ghosts are non-physical energy, or whatever, it's up to them define what they actually mean by that. Yes, it's a problem when there's a mismatch of definitions, and that problem is entirely the fault of those who use non-standard definitions but refuse to actually tell us what definition they are using. Or more frequently, those who use non-standard definitions but can't tell us what definition they are using because they're simply repeating sciency-sounding buzzwords without any clear idea of what they might mean in any context.
So what, then, is the standard definition of "physical" as would be used here, and thus what would its negation "non-physical" be? What definition is being used by people here when they encounter a ghost claimant talking about "physical" and "non-physical" stuff, or make claims like the "logical contradiction" one I mentioned in my opening post (which requires a definition of "physical")?
__________________
“Ego is subversive and devolutionary, truly destructive and terrible; ego is the generator of privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Ego is the fire that burns within the pit of hell, devouring and consuming everything that enters and leaving utterly nothing behind. Ego is horrible, cruel, and restraining, the darkness of the world, and the doom and bane of man.” – my reaction to that famous Bertrand Russell quote.

Last edited by mike3; 3rd June 2014 at 06:59 PM.
mike3 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd June 2014, 07:13 PM   #13
mike3
Master Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 2,466
Originally Posted by JoeBentley View Post
Practically all Woo plays a version of this "Argument through vague definition" game, intentionally refusing to clearly defining exactly what it is there are arguing for.
Is that because on some level the "woo promoter" knows it's false and that providing a crisp definition would make its falsity obvious?
__________________
“Ego is subversive and devolutionary, truly destructive and terrible; ego is the generator of privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Ego is the fire that burns within the pit of hell, devouring and consuming everything that enters and leaving utterly nothing behind. Ego is horrible, cruel, and restraining, the darkness of the world, and the doom and bane of man.” – my reaction to that famous Bertrand Russell quote.
mike3 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 3rd June 2014, 11:23 PM   #14
xtifr
Graduate Poster
 
xtifr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,299
Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
So what, then, is the standard definition of "physical" as would be used here, and thus what would its negation "non-physical" be? What definition is being used by people here when they encounter a ghost claimant talking about "physical" and "non-physical" stuff, or make claims like the "logical contradiction" one I mentioned in my opening post (which requires a definition of "physical")?
Physical. Subject to the rules of physics. Baryons and leptons and the like. Electromagnetism and gravity. If we can see it, it must either reflect or emit photons somehow. If it makes noises, it must interact with baryonic matter in a way that ultimately results in vibrations of the air. And so on.

I have no idea about the claims of non-physical stuff. Show me some, and we'll see. For the moment, I consider it a meaningless noise (unless you're using it as a synonym for "imaginary"). Just because you can arrange words in a particular order doesn't mean those words make sense.

Basically, the burden of proof of all of this sort of nonsense falls on the claimant. We'll judge evidence, but until we have some evidence, rather than speculation (often ill-informed and downright ridiculous speculation), there's little to go on.
__________________
"Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it."
-- Anonymous Slashdot poster
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore."
-- James Nicoll
xtifr is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th June 2014, 12:04 AM   #15
Quinn
Breathtakingly blasphemous.
 
Quinn's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2002
Posts: 2,309
Originally Posted by xtifr View Post
If we can see it, it must either reflect or emit photons somehow. If it makes noises, it must interact with baryonic matter in a way that ultimately results in vibrations of the air. And so on.

One attempt at a work-around that I've heard from believers is that rather than interacting with the physical world, ghosts interact with our minds. So when we "see" a ghost, it's because the ghost is interacting with our brain the same way physical light does, via its undefinable ghostly energy or whatever, but without actually emitting or reflecting photons. Ditto with when we "hear" ghostly noises. Of course this completely contradicts the apparent ability of ghosts to be recorded on video and audio, not to mention the various EMF detectors and other "ghost hunting" gear, but I'm sure there's an equally plausible explanation for that too.

It's not unlike the explanation I've heard for Derren Brown's Ouija board expose, which clearly demonstrates that the participant's hands are pushing the planchette rather than being pulled along by it. The explanation? "So how can you prove that it's not the spirits pushing on people's hands and/or influencing their subconscious minds, huh Mr. Smartypants Skeptic?" Really once you open the door to undetectable non-physical magic, a little creativity can get you out of just about any logical bind.
__________________
It's not a matter of living life without mystery or wonder. It's a matter of living life without the approval of people who ignorantly assume that by rejecting the irrational, I experience no mystery or wonder. And frankly, I do just fine without that.
Quinn is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th June 2014, 12:37 AM   #16
Roger Ramjets
Illuminator
 
Roger Ramjets's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 3,719
Ghost
Quote:
"In traditional belief and fiction, a ghost (sometimes known as a spectre (British English) or specter (American English), phantom, apparition or spook) is the soul or spirit of a dead person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestation, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely from an invisible presence to translucent or barely visible wispy shapes, to realistic, lifelike visions."
Since we know that people and animals don't have a soul or spirit, we also know that ghosts cannot exist.

So why do people see ghosts? Same reason they see Elvis, or UFO's, or succubi, or have out of body experiences or don't see the gorilla in the room - tricks of the mind. That is why ghosts are so 'ethereal' and shy of cameras etc. they only 'exist' in the mind!

Originally Posted by xtifr
Physical. Subject to the rules of physics. Baryons and leptons and the like. Electromagnetism and gravity. If we can see it, it must either reflect or emit photons somehow. If it makes noises, it must interact with baryonic matter in a way that ultimately results in vibrations of the air. And so on.
By definition, something is only 'physical' if it can be incorporated into our knowledge of physics. However some people believe that there is another layer or dimension to the universe - a 'spirit world' - that only interacts with our minds. They are wrong of course, but it's not theoretically impossible for something to exist without any noticeable interaction with normal matter.

Originally Posted by Quinn
Of course this completely contradicts the apparent ability of ghosts to be recorded on video and audio, not to mention the various EMF detectors and other "ghost hunting" gear, but I'm sure there's an equally plausible explanation for that too.
Yeah, they're frauds! Real ghosts cannot be captured on film, and they certainly don't emanate radio waves!
__________________
We don't want good, sound arguments. We want arguments that sound good.
Roger Ramjets is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th June 2014, 12:42 AM   #17
xtifr
Graduate Poster
 
xtifr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,299
Originally Posted by Quinn View Post
One attempt at a work-around that I've heard from believers is that rather than interacting with the physical world, ghosts interact with our minds.
I almost mentioned that, but it doesn't help support the meaningless notion of "non-physical effects". The brain is a physical thing, so the ghost would have to cause electrons (physical particles) to fire in neurons (very much physical things), in very precise, and not-at-all understood ways. Frankly, I suspect just emitting or reflecting some photons would be a lot less work!

In any case, now we're talking about psychic powers, which also haven't been demonstrated to exist, and have no clear mechanism, and are poorly defined. And if you can demonstrate psychic powers (which you would need to do to prove that ghosts have psychic powers), you already win the million dollars, and don't need to go on and demonstrate ghosts.

Bottom line, until psychic powers are shown to exist, there's no reason to believe that ghosts have psychic powers, even if you were to assume that ghosts exist.

Otherwise, you might as well just say "ghosts are magic and work by magic", and leave it at that. It's going to convey just as much useful information.
__________________
"Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it."
-- Anonymous Slashdot poster
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore."
-- James Nicoll

Last edited by xtifr; 4th June 2014 at 12:43 AM. Reason: accidentally left out a word
xtifr is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th June 2014, 04:55 AM   #18
Cuddles
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 18,538
Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
So what, then, is the standard definition of "physical" as would be used here, and thus what would its negation "non-physical" be? What definition is being used by people here when they encounter a ghost claimant talking about "physical" and "non-physical" stuff, or make claims like the "logical contradiction" one I mentioned in my opening post (which requires a definition of "physical")?
Doesn't matter. See my previous post - it's up to the person making the claim to tell us what definition they are using. What other people might incorrectly assume they mean is irrelevant, especially since it's unlikely everyone will assume exactly the same thing.
Cuddles is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th June 2014, 05:36 PM   #19
Roger Ramjets
Illuminator
 
Roger Ramjets's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 3,719
Originally Posted by xtifr View Post
I almost mentioned that, but it doesn't help support the meaningless notion of "non-physical effects". The brain is a physical thing, so the ghost would have to cause electrons (physical particles) to fire in neurons (very much physical things), in very precise, and not-at-all understood ways.
And yet, despite your assertion that 'non-physical' effects are impossible, people still see ghosts.

Scientists tell us that the universe and everything in it follows certain strict physical laws, and therefore we only see things because they emit or reflect photons. But we know that this is not true, because we can 'see' things simply by thinking about them! Until we both know and understand the strictly physical nature of how the human mind works, people will always feel that if they see something that looks real then it is real - despite scientists telling them otherwise.

Quote:
until psychic powers are shown to exist, there's no reason to believe that ghosts have psychic powers, even if you were to assume that ghosts exist.
The only essential feature of ghosts that everybody agrees on is that they 'appear' to us. It is a fact that people see ghosts, no psychic powers required or implied. The only question is:- what are they? The way to answer that question is to show us how we 'see' things that don't actually exist. Just blindly asserting that they can't exist because SCIENCE! does not help those have seen them.
__________________
We don't want good, sound arguments. We want arguments that sound good.
Roger Ramjets is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 4th June 2014, 06:48 PM   #20
xtifr
Graduate Poster
 
xtifr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,299
Originally Posted by Roger Ramjets View Post
And yet, despite your assertion that 'non-physical' effects are impossible, people still see ghosts.
My point is that seeing a ghost is a physical effect whether it happens because photons strike your eyes or because something causes neurons in your brain to fire.

And I didn't say non-physical effects are impossible; I said it appears to be a meaningless phrase. Handwaving baffleglab.
__________________
"Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it."
-- Anonymous Slashdot poster
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore."
-- James Nicoll
xtifr is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 5th June 2014, 12:36 PM   #21
Dinwar
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 16,668
There are two scientifically valid definitions of "ghost" that I know of: ghost lineages in taxonomy, and ghost fossils. Ghost lineages are ones we know exist, but which leave no fossil evidence (many worms spring to mind). Ghost fossils are exceedingly rare, but occur when sedimentary rock is metamorphosed in such a way that traces of the fossils remain. It's rather depressing, because all you can say is generally "Fossils were here. They're not identifiable anymore."

Most other definitions are attempts to define the unobserved, which is always tricky (but not impossible). They run into the expected problems.
Dinwar is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 5th June 2014, 03:53 PM   #22
Soapy Sam
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Posts: 28,749
But...but... you are all ignoring the spiritual!
Soapy Sam is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 04:23 AM   #23
mike3
Master Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 2,466
Originally Posted by xtifr View Post
My point is that seeing a ghost is a physical effect whether it happens because photons strike your eyes or because something causes neurons in your brain to fire.

And I didn't say non-physical effects are impossible; I said it appears to be a meaningless phrase. Handwaving baffleglab.
And to top it all off, you can speak words or write postings about it. Physically-transmitted information. So there is no way to get around the idea that if these ghosts exist, they have a causal connection to physical events.
__________________
“Ego is subversive and devolutionary, truly destructive and terrible; ego is the generator of privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Ego is the fire that burns within the pit of hell, devouring and consuming everything that enters and leaving utterly nothing behind. Ego is horrible, cruel, and restraining, the darkness of the world, and the doom and bane of man.” – my reaction to that famous Bertrand Russell quote.

Last edited by mike3; 6th June 2014 at 04:28 AM.
mike3 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 04:38 AM   #24
Darat
Lackey
Administrator
 
Darat's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: South East, UK
Posts: 83,885
Originally Posted by Aepervius View Post
You are missing nothing. The problem with definition is because ghost do not exists, and other normal phenomenon are mistaken for being ghost. thus the inability to properly define ghost : they are a mishmash of misrepresentation.

The same problem happen with a lot of other woo, which misrepresent or mistake normal phenomenon and thus are difficult to "nail down" as definition.
I take a slightly different approach.

You see I via my immense skill at critical thinking and from the actual evidence have come to the conclusion that ghosts do exist, and I struggle to even understand people who don't think they exists. And yes I am being serious (well apart from my claims of immense skills).

But because I have followed the evidence what I label as a ghost is not something like "a spiritual entity manifesting" but rather an example of human perceptions and behaviours.

Thread here where I go into more detail:http://www.internationalskeptics.com...13#post2896613


In my view the contradiction found in the opening post is because people assume the conclusion of "a spiritual entity manifesting" and then look for the evidence to support this, which they do not in fact find.
__________________
I wish I knew how to quit you
Darat is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 04:56 AM   #25
Sherman Bay
Master Poster
 
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Wisconsin, USA
Posts: 2,171
Originally Posted by sphenisc View Post
If I want to know the definition of a word I use a dictionary.
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all. When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
Sherman Bay is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 05:10 AM   #26
Donn
Philosopher
 
Donn's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: In my head.
Posts: 7,758
Originally Posted by Roger Ramjets View Post
.. and therefore we only see things because they emit or reflect photons. But we know that this is not true, because we can 'see' things simply by thinking about them!
Equivocation of 'see'.

Quote:
The only essential feature of ghosts that everybody agrees on is that they 'appear' to us. It is a fact that people see ghosts, no psychic powers required or implied.
Maybe dogs and cats see ghosts all the time. Anything with a bit of a brain, a bit of memory, and some kind of visual system can probably see ghosts too.

Quote:
The only question is:- what are they? The way to answer that question is to show us how we 'see' things that don't actually exist. Just blindly asserting that they can't exist because SCIENCE! does not help those have seen them.
Illusions exist. Hallucinations, the state of hallucinating itself, exist.



Ghosts as the floating dead, not so much.
__________________
"If I hadn't believed it with my own mind, I would never have seen it." - thanks sackett
"If you stand on a piece of paper, you are indeed closer to the moon." - MRC_Hans
"I was a believer. Until I saw it." - Magrat
Donn is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 07:34 AM   #27
Dinwar
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 16,668
Originally Posted by Donn
Illusions exist. Hallucinations, the state of hallucinating itself, exist.
They're also far more common than people imagine. Most psychologically healthy people hallucinate from time to time. Ever do the "Bloody Mary" trick when you were a kid? Say "Bloody Mary" into a mirror three times and see something spooky? there's actually psychological evidence that this works. Staring into a reflective surface in low light causes your brain to go a bit haywire, and causes you to see all KINDS of weird things. Dead relatives aren't an uncommon sight. Live ones are also common (which helps dismiss the notion that these were ghosts; hard to be a ghost and alive at the same time!).

Just don't say "Biggy Smalls". You might get shot.

Originally Posted by sphenisc
If I want to know the definition of a word I use a dictionary.
Dictionaries suck at that. They compile what the editors believe to be long-lived definitions of the term among the audience of the dictionary. Look up "character" in a dictionary sometime--I'll bet my best rock hammer your definitions won't include "traits of an organism", which is what it means in cladistics. Dictionaries for the English language long ago abandoned the pretense at being definitive repositories of the true definitions of words; now they just record how the word is used (an important role, but a very different one).
Dinwar is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 08:37 AM   #28
Donn
Philosopher
 
Donn's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: In my head.
Posts: 7,758
I still can't bring myself to do the mirror thing. It's too creepy. Irrational fear, it wins.
__________________
"If I hadn't believed it with my own mind, I would never have seen it." - thanks sackett
"If you stand on a piece of paper, you are indeed closer to the moon." - MRC_Hans
"I was a believer. Until I saw it." - Magrat
Donn is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 09:04 AM   #29
sphenisc
Illuminator
 
sphenisc's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 4,725
Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Look up "character" in a dictionary sometime--I'll bet my best rock hammer your definitions won't include "traits of an organism", which is what it means in cladistics.
http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dic...kiePolicy=true

15.(genetics) any structure, function, attribute, etc, in an organism, which may or may not be determined by a gene or group of genes

Please PM for the address to send your best rock hammer.
__________________
"The cure for everything is salt water - tears, sweat or the sea." Isak Dinesen
sphenisc is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 09:10 AM   #30
Dinwar
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 16,668
Originally Posted by sphenisc View Post
http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dic...kiePolicy=true

15.(genetics) any structure, function, attribute, etc, in an organism, which may or may not be determined by a gene or group of genes

Please PM for the address to send your best rock hammer.
Huh. I've never seen it in a general use dictionary before.

Also, "I'll" is a contraction of "I WILL", not "I AM". As my wife pointed out when she said "I will" instead of "I do" at our wedding, that means she hasn't yet.
Dinwar is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 6th June 2014, 09:43 AM   #31
sphenisc
Illuminator
 
sphenisc's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 4,725
Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Huh. I've never seen it in a general use dictionary before.

Also, "I'll" is a contraction of "I WILL", not "I AM". As my wife pointed out when she said "I will" instead of "I do" at our wedding, that means she hasn't yet.
Palaeontologists are a bunch of chisellers.

__________________
"The cure for everything is salt water - tears, sweat or the sea." Isak Dinesen
sphenisc is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 7th June 2014, 07:38 PM   #32
dropzone
Master Poster
 
dropzone's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 2,014
Originally Posted by John Nowak View Post
I'll bet everyone who has seen a ghost has looked at a garden hose, jumped, yelled "AAA SNAKE!" Why they think there needs to be more of an explanation is beyond me.
I once reached for a long, black stick and it turned out to be a snake. Close enough?

The definition of ghosts is bad because, being noncorporeal, your camera's autofocus doesn't work on them.
dropzone is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 8th June 2014, 01:25 AM   #33
xtifr
Graduate Poster
 
xtifr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,299
Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Dictionaries suck at that. They compile what the editors believe to be long-lived definitions of the term among the audience of the dictionary. Look up "character" in a dictionary sometime--I'll bet my best rock hammer your definitions won't include "traits of an organism", which is what it means in cladistics. Dictionaries for the English language long ago abandoned the pretense at being definitive repositories of the true definitions of words; now they just record how the word is used (an important role, but a very different one).
"Editors"? You mean Lexicographers? And you think they decide what goes into the dictionary on a whim? You don't think they study this stuff for years, and get advanced degrees, and base their conclusions on solid research using advanced technology to analyze gigantic corpuses of writing and speech? In order to find out how the language actually works, rather than what some 18th century self-appointed expert might have guessed? And publish papers and argue with each other at conferences?

And yet you have the temerity to claim (justifiably, I admit) when people show complete ignorance about what paleontologists do?

And just what are these "true definitions" to which you allude? Are they handed down from on high by the Great Gods of Language? Revealed by blind monks who commune through the midnight hours to receive the voices from on high declaring the One True Meaning of a particular word? Does the definition become "true" when it's dipped in Holy Water?

If there is a "true definition" of a word other than what a native speaker might mean when saying or writing it, I will be fascinated to learn it. And while you're at it, why don't you produce the Holy Grail and maybe some real live fairies. I'll believe in those when I see them too.

To put this in terms you might understand, what you said was not only seriously insulting to professional linguists and lexicographers, but is basically the equivalent of saying, "Ok, where's the Missing Link? All this evolution stuff is false because you can't show me the Missing Link!"

</rant> </off-topic>

Sorry, you may have touched a nerve there. Back to defining the indefinable!
__________________
"Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it."
-- Anonymous Slashdot poster
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore."
-- James Nicoll
xtifr is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 8th June 2014, 01:51 PM   #34
dropzone
Master Poster
 
dropzone's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 2,014
Descriptivist swine!
dropzone is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 8th June 2014, 04:17 PM   #35
mike3
Master Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 2,466
"Bloody Mary" (was Re: Ghosts: The Definition Problem)

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
They're also far more common than people imagine. Most psychologically healthy people hallucinate from time to time. Ever do the "Bloody Mary" trick when you were a kid? Say "Bloody Mary" into a mirror three times and see something spooky? there's actually psychological evidence that this works. Staring into a reflective surface in low light causes your brain to go a bit haywire, and causes you to see all KINDS of weird things. Dead relatives aren't an uncommon sight. Live ones are also common (which helps dismiss the notion that these were ghosts; hard to be a ghost and alive at the same time!).

Just don't say "Biggy Smalls". You might get shot.
I read some stuff about this as I got my curiosity piqued by your post. Apparently, there are, as you say, experiments which suggest strange things can be seen in mirrors under low light conditions due to neurological processes. However, I didn't see anything about the specific use of the incantation "Bloody Mary" in the process. Has any research been done as to whether or not using "Bloody Mary" changes or affects the image somehow, or speeds the process (which it might, since you're making a prompting to your mind when you say it)?
__________________
“Ego is subversive and devolutionary, truly destructive and terrible; ego is the generator of privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Ego is the fire that burns within the pit of hell, devouring and consuming everything that enters and leaving utterly nothing behind. Ego is horrible, cruel, and restraining, the darkness of the world, and the doom and bane of man.” – my reaction to that famous Bertrand Russell quote.

Last edited by mike3; 8th June 2014 at 04:19 PM.
mike3 is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 8th June 2014, 07:35 PM   #36
FromBelgiumWithLove
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Antwerp
Posts: 885
Originally Posted by xtifr View Post
"Editors"? You mean Lexicographers? And you think they decide what goes into the dictionary on a whim? [...]
Sorry, you may have touched a nerve there. Back to defining the indefinable!
Over 25 years ago now, as a student of linguistics, I contributed a few items to the first properly corpus-based, and computer-managed, English-to-Dutch (and vice versa) translating dictionary. This was because a professor of mine was one of the editors, and he, sort-of, promised extra points to students who pointed out any errors or omissions in the brand-new first edition. I'm happy to say my contributions have been in there since the second revised edition, and they still are (I checked in a bookstore recently). Of course, I provided my contributions to him with the proper attestations required.

So as a long-time-ago part-time lexicographer of sorts, I heartily concur with your rant. It's amazing how many people don't seem to understand what lexicographers do, or what dictionaries are for.
FromBelgiumWithLove is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 9th June 2014, 07:06 AM   #37
Dinwar
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 16,668
Quote:
And you think they decide what goes into the dictionary on a whim?
I said nothing of the sort--YOU put "whim", "guess", etc into that statement, not me, and I'll thank you to limit your criticisms of my arguments to my actual arguments. I perhaps wasn't very clear, but I did point to what criteria they used: the use of the word by writers in English. I also pointed out the differnece between a definitive version of the language--such as Arabic has and French tries to have--and informing readers of how words are used--such as English has. I've no doubt that Lexicographers put a great deal of effort into ensuring that they have the most up-to-date versions of the words; I've some knowledge of the process, and it's quite involved and difficult, as well as mostly objective (no insult here; a certain amount of subjectivity is inevitable and frankly advisable). But that still leaves you with two undeniable and insurmountable problems:

1) Lexicographers don't generate the definitions, they report them. Therefore dictionaries cannot be the definitive version of the English language; use of the language is.

2) Anyone can change the definition of the words via altering their use (this is how slang arises), and therefore lexicographers are ALWAYS behind the times. Not a bad thing; every textbook is out of date when it's published. It's just something we must bear in mind.

These don't destroy the utility of dictionaries, but they do place limits on the usefullness of the books (again, not a bad thing--acknowledginig the limits of a tool is the first sign one understands that tool). And they certainly demonstrate that merely pointing to a dictionary is an insufficient argument, which is MY pet peeve.

Dictionaries are important. They help establish the uses of the words, and in general provide a common basis for understanding of what terms mean. If I use a word that you're not familiar with, a dictionary is a fantastic starting point for figuring out what the word means. However, the limitations of dictionaries should be acknowledged along with their utility. Because English is a living language, and because English dictionaries don't have the authority to dictate what the language is, and instead rely on reporting how words are used, one must always be prepared to discover that a word is being used in a discussion in a novel way (or at least a way that is novel to you). That's all I meant.

It's not just me saying this, by the way. I've had numerous discussions of this with my sister (a professor of British Literature, so she's not exactly a slouch when it comes to this topic) and she's the one that convinced me of this stance. Plus, there's the fact, rather inconvenient to your arguments, that the dictionaries themselves agree with me.
Originally Posted by Merriam-Webster
To decide which words to include in the dictionary and to determine what they mean, Merriam-Webster editors study the language as it's used. They carefully monitor which words people use most often and how they use them.
As I understand it, they focus on writing because diction is far too transient (often less than a single generation).

Quite obviously, different dictionaries have different criteria, both formally (ie, the written protocols) and informally (ie, a human being makes the final choice, and it won't be the same human being for every dictionary). However, I've yet to see an English dictionary that didn't follow some version of the above. Some dictionaries take a more agressive role in keeping the language sophisticated, but the history of English more or less demonstrates that to be a classist tactic more than anything else.

Quote:
And just what are these "true definitions" to which you allude? Are they handed down from on high by the Great Gods of Language?
Well.....pretty much, yeah. Here's one example. It's not handed down form the Great Gods of Language, but it's certainly handed down from an authority over the French language. The efficacy of this authority is of course subject to question; my point is that the existence of the body demonstrates an attempt to provide a definitive version of the language, in contrast to the role dictionaries play in the English language.

As I said earlier, Arabic is another example of this. The Qoran/Koran/however you spell it in these letters is viewed as the definitive version of Arabic by many Muslims. Since no holy book originated in the English Language, there is obviously no correlary in the English language.

There are other languages which have similar authorities, but I can't think of them off-hand. People have tried with English, often in attempts to make it more like Latin, but they've been met with resounding failures, particularly in the vernacular (a lot of the rules appear to be intended to re-enforce class distinctions). You yourself, in your ravings about finding the Holy Grail, admit that English has no such authority. That leaves dictionaries with the still-tremendous task of informing us on how the words are used, rather than the task of telling us definitively what words mean.

Originally Posted by mike3
However, I didn't see anything about the specific use of the incantation "Bloody Mary" in the process. Has any research been done as to whether or not using "Bloody Mary" changes or affects the image somehow, or speeds the process (which it might, since you're making a prompting to your mind when you say it)?
It's a children's game, not part of any psychological protocols. When I was a kid, we'd try to get each other to say it to a mirror in a dark room during sleep-overs.
Dinwar is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 9th June 2014, 02:25 PM   #38
xtifr
Graduate Poster
 
xtifr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 1,299
Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
I said nothing of the sort--YOU put "whim", "guess", etc into that statement, not me, and I'll thank you to limit your criticisms of my arguments to my actual arguments. I perhaps wasn't very clear, but I did point to what criteria they used: the use of the word by writers in English.
Ah, ok, fair enough. I see how I misread your original post now. I mistook an observation for a criticism, because when people say that sort of thing, they all-too-often do mean it as a criticism. Apologies, and consider my respect for you fully restored.

It's not limited to writers, though, now that sufficiently large corpuses of spoken English are available for analysis.

Quote:
I also pointed out the differnece between a definitive version of the language--such as Arabic has and French tries to have--and informing readers of how words are used--such as English has.
I'm glad you said, "as French tries to have". It's usually my go-to example for how this sort of thing doesn't really work even if you try. I'm a little surprised by your claim about Arabic, but I haven't really looked into it. Possibly a discussion for another day and another thread.

Quote:
2) Anyone can change the definition of the words via altering their use (this is how slang arises), and therefore lexicographers are ALWAYS behind the times.
Yeah, I was going to raise that point, but obviously I don't have to. Although it does start to get fuzzy when the usage base is small enough. For example, if I say, "I like to splooing", is that actually a word if nobody else in the world knows what I mean by that? And is it actually English, or just a word in the variant we might call Xtifrish?

(I'm not expecting an answer to any of that, so don't feel like I'm challenging you or anything.)

But yes, every lexicographer will admit that dictionaries are incomplete and constantly chasing a moving target.

But (to try to get this vaguely back on target), the word "ghost" is well established enough that a decent unabridged dictionary should be able to give you a pretty decent first approximation of the generally accepted meaning(s), if nothing else. Even a typical abridged dictionary is likely to get you close enough.
__________________
"Those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it."
-- Anonymous Slashdot poster
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore."
-- James Nicoll
xtifr is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 9th June 2014, 02:34 PM   #39
FromBelgiumWithLove
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Antwerp
Posts: 885
Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
But that still leaves you with two undeniable and insurmountable problems:

1) Lexicographers don't generate the definitions, they report them. Therefore dictionaries cannot be the definitive version of the English language; use of the language is.
Yes. And this is a problem, how exactly?

Quote:
2) Anyone can change the definition of the words via altering their use (this is how slang arises), and therefore lexicographers are ALWAYS behind the times.
Yes. Even more shockingly, people can make up entirely new words whenever they want to. If enough other people adopt it, it ends up in dictionaries. Someone, somewhere, first used the made-up word "blog". Now it's in many dictionaries.This is a problem, how exactly? (And BTW, slang has got nothing to do with altering the meaning of words).

Quote:
As I understand it, they focus on writing because diction is far too transient (often less than a single generation).
It's got nothing to do with 'transience'. Lexicographers used to rely on written language because they need attestations, and until fairly recently, writing was the only way in which language was recorded. You're also behind the times. These days, sound recordings and online communication are accepted as attestations as well.

Quote:
Well.....pretty much, yeah. Here's one example. It's not handed down form the Great Gods of Language, but it's certainly handed down from an authority over the French language.
From that article: " Its rulings, however, are only advisory, not binding on either the public or the government."

And pray tell, how does a French government organisation have any authority over the millions of people who speak French in Belgium, Switzerland, a bit of Italy IIRC, Luxembourg, Canada, and a whole series of countries in Africa (not even counting those who have French as a second language, such as myself)? Do you think the government of France somehow owns the French language? In practice, even in France nobody takes any notice of the absurd attempts of the Académie Française to fight certain words (primarily recent loanwords from English), except to make fun of them.

Quote:
As I said earlier, Arabic is another example of this. The Qoran/Koran/however you spell it in these letters is viewed as the definitive version of Arabic by many Muslims.
Oh, so now you've moved on to equating Muslims to speakers of Arabic. And not just any version of Arabic, but Quranic Arabic. A long-dead language that only a small minority of native speakers of Arabic are able to read, and an even tinier minority of Muslims worldwide, and which nobody has a their native language. Brilliant.

Quote:
There are other languages which have similar authorities, but I can't think of them off-hand.
That might be because they don't exist. Some countries have bodies that try to keep things like spelling standardized, or have rules about language use in education, or by government agencies. For Dutch, for instance, there is the Nederlandse Taalunie (Dutch Language Union), an international treaty organisation made up of the Netherlands, Flanders, and Suriname. But besides publishing a word list which lays down spelling rules, which nobody except perhaps school teachers are required to follow, they don't dictate the way anyone uses the Dutch language.

Last edited by FromBelgiumWithLove; 9th June 2014 at 02:41 PM.
FromBelgiumWithLove is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Old 9th June 2014, 02:42 PM   #40
Dinwar
Penultimate Amazing
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 16,668
Originally Posted by xtifr
Ah, ok, fair enough. I see how I misread your original post now. I mistook an observation for a criticism, because when people say that sort of thing, they all-too-often do mean it as a criticism. Apologies, and consider my respect for you fully restored.
No worries. I've done the same often enough to know how easy it is to do. And I'm the first to admit that I often don't express myself well.

When my sister and I first discussed this, she literally threw a dictionary at me. Both volumes. Those things HURT. So this actually ranks as one of the more polite exchanges on this topic I've had.

Quote:
It's not limited to writers, though, now that sufficiently large corpuses of spoken English are available for analysis.
What do you mean? Are things like TV, movies, etc. being used to define words? It'd be interesting if they were. TV certainly has a powerful influence on our culture, and certainly has generated new words (though that's not a new thing--Shakespeare's plays generated a fair number as well).

Quote:
I'm a little surprised by your claim about Arabic, but I haven't really looked into it. Possibly a discussion for another day and another thread.
Not much to discuss, really--I've read numerous times, from fairly reliable sources, that many Arabic speeking Muslims consider the Koran to be the definitive version of Arabic, but that's about it. I tried looking for references to this, but unsuccesfully. Given what A'isha has presented regarding Islamic religious practices, it's entirely likely that while they believe the book to be the definitive version of the language, each leader has their own interpretation of said definitive version.

Quote:
Yeah, I was going to raise that point, but obviously I don't have to. Although it does start to get fuzzy when the usage base is small enough. For example, if I say, "I like to splooing", is that actually a word if nobody else in the world knows what I mean by that? And is it actually English, or just a word in the variant we might call Xtifrish?
In college we coined the word "fooding", meaning "to go somewhere to get food/to go somewhere to eat food". If you said "What are you up to?" and I responded "Fooding", you'd know I was on my way to eat something. We probably weren't the first group to do it (I seem to vaguely recall a few people telling me, at different times, they thought THEY invented it, both in person and online), but the question you posed arises: does that make it a word? We all understood what it meant, but I doubt we could get it into a dictionary (though multiple independent originations suggests we should try! ).

Quote:
But (to try to get this vaguely back on target), the word "ghost" is well established enough that a decent unabridged dictionary should be able to give you a pretty decent first approximation of the generally accepted meaning(s), if nothing else. Even a typical abridged dictionary is likely to get you close enough.
I'll agree in terms of casual conversation--ie, if I said "You look like you've seen a ghost!" it'd be close enough. The problem arises when you try to formulate a testable hypothesis, however. Mostly because different cultures have such wildly different concepts of ghosts. Trying to find a unifying theme between, say, European and Japanese ghosts could be really tricky.

That said, the fact that there's regional/cultural variation indicates that you don't necessarily need to analyze ALL ghost definitions. If a person from the UK, France, or the USA says "ghost" you can generally assume they mean a European-style ghost, while if a Navahoe uses the term asking what they mean is probably warranted (or at least is for me, since I know nothing of Navahoe beliefs).
Dinwar is offline   Quote this post in a PM   Nominate this post for this month's language award Copy a direct link to this post Reply With Quote Back to Top
Reply

International Skeptics Forum » General Topics » General Skepticism and The Paranormal

Bookmarks

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump


All times are GMT -7. The time now is 10:55 PM.
Powered by vBulletin. Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

This forum began as part of the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF). However, the forum now exists as
an independent entity with no affiliation with or endorsement by the JREF, including the section in reference to "JREF" topics.

Disclaimer: Messages posted in the Forum are solely the opinion of their authors.