Vlorbik's Diner

son of owen's cooking show

why we fight

Posted by vlorbik on August 27, 2009

a well-developed mathematical theory
can typically be recognized by noticing
that the *definitions* are “hard”
and the *theorems* are “easy”.

this is pretty well-understood,
i think. i wish i knew where
i first read it, though.
there appears to be some depth here.

the point is that one–
one math subculture generally,
but… ontogeny recapitulates
phylogyny… one reader
at a time as well–

one has, well, for purposes
of argument–and there *will*
be arguments–let’s say that
one has *constructed*
definitions in such a way
*that* the theorems are easy.
to build a better mousetrap
one has taken very careful measure
of the particular kind of mouse
one aims to catch.

the style made everlastingly famous
by euclid… the very *symbol* of
academic mathematics for, anyway,
“western culture” (as dug by me;
admittedly not deeply but maybe
in some pretty rich veins at that)…

begin with definitions;
systematically develop a theory;
nothing else…

is one of the greatest tricks
since the written word itself
for making clear what *can* be
made clear by “symbol manipulation”.

but this “make sure you’ve got
the right defintions; everything
after that is just working out
details” bit. wow. heavy stuff.

because, *outside* mathematics,
this is the quasi-mystical
*power of naming*:
whoever controls the vocabulary
controls the discourse.

and i hate it.

when they want to psychologize you,
first thing they do? they make you
put *names* on your *feelings*.

the theory as presented to laity
is that this naming will help us
understand ourselves better and
allow us better to control our
own lives and so on. it’s a
darn good theory as far as it goes
of course… or feelings wouldn’t
even *have* names.

but this *formalizing* process.
in practice it appears to be
a powergrab by the psychologizer.
“now that i’ve gotten you to admit
that *this word* applies to
*your situation* let me just
beat you up for a while with
my prejudices about that word
in the form of a bunch of
“scripts” i’ve learned for
manipulating people like the
kind i’ve just decided you are
based on your showing me
this particular weakness.
thank you for playing.”

same thing in politics.
“which side are you on?”
–so i can dismiss you.
oh, that’s *socialism*
(the current jerking of
the knee on this is
beyond comical… it’s
like that frog i watched
al strickholm paralyze
with curare in about
fifth grade and then
stimulate its reflex arc
directly with an electric
current bypassing the brain
*and* the spinal cord…).

where was i?
the power of naming.
thou art that.
i’m not there, i’m gone.

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4 Responses to “why we fight”

  1. Madge said

    There is a movie by the same name “Why We Fight” It is a documentary about Americas policies in making war.
    I do agree that whoever controls the vocabulary controls the discourse. I couldn’t have said it better. Keep Blogging Baby!

  2. vlorbik said

    thanks!
    i’ve *heard* of _why_we_fight_
    but not (yet) seen it; looks pretty cool.

    i get the feeling that
    *others* get the feeling that
    *even in mathematics*
    the “power of naming” is JAWOPPA…
    just another way of pushing people around.

    actually, i’ve *had* this feeling for quite a while.

    what’s new is that i think they may be right.
    very briefly, sometimes.
    it’ll feel like a crisis of faith
    but really it’s just a bad moment.
    this too will pass.

  3. I think “the power of naming” is only open to abuse when the choice of what is named and how it is defined is fairly arbitrary. In math, the definitions tend to be constrained by the problems to such an extent that I don’t see it as an exercise of personal power to articulate them. Granted, mathematicians are allowed a certain amount of framing, but much less than in say…political contexts.

  4. kibrolv said

    this is why, when students of math “argue” about math,
    they might very well get carried away emotionally like
    people do in other contexts, but usually after a while,
    somebody says “oh, you’re right”. because certain things
    actually *do follow* once terms are clearly agreed on.

    this hardly ever happens in the “real” world.
    to what extent this is because people can’t or won’t
    bring themselves to use words less sneakily?
    doesn’t seem to have been a very fruitful
    line of investigation for me but somehow
    i just keep wanting to look *again*…

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