I’ve decided to call them ‘pospers’. It’s a word that is a contraction of two other words, a bit like ‘blog’ is the shortening of ‘web log’, and ‘web’ is the contraction of ‘world wide web’, and ‘log’ is the contraction of ‘logbook’.
Now you’re probably wondering what these ‘pospers’ might be, because I haven’t said what they are yet. Nevertheless some of you may already have a few ideas what they might be. And most likely all sorts of different ideas.
This is the trouble with words. Until they are properly defined, nobody knows what they mean. And, in the absence of clear definition, people will imagine them to mean all sorts of things.
Take for example the word ‘tree’. It only means something once it’s been defined. And to show someone what a tree is, you have to take them to a tree, and point at it, and outline it (describe it) with your finger. You draw a picture with your finger, .and say, “A tree is one of those green things sticking out of the ground. Green at the top, and reddish-brown at the bottom. Although sometimes they’re grey-green at the bottom, or even silver. But they’re all called trees.” And you might have to elaborate a bit more and say that the birds sitting on the tree aren’t part of the tree. And neither are the squirrels.
Until you’ve stated clearly what you mean by a ‘tree’, nobody will know what you’re on about. Some people may have gathered that they’re things that stick out of the ground, and think that lamp posts and telephone poles are trees. Other people may have learned that trees are green, and think that green fields and water lilies are trees. And, once they’ve found that trees branch, some people may think rivers are trees. And some people may confess that they haven’t a clue what ‘trees’ are. And some might even say that a ‘tree’ is an entirely imaginary thing, and that ‘trees’ don’t really exist.
Take ‘materialism’. Rick S wrote earlier today:
As I understand it, what Di Pierri means by “materialism” is the reduction of all human activity to observable, physical phenomena – i.e. everything is focused on the body and only its physical health matters. Psychological health is of no interest, and neither are abstract concepts like happiness and pleasure.
Is it that ‘materialists’ only see material things, and discount everything else as imaginary? Or is it that ‘materialists’ simply discount things that are ill-defined?
A human ‘body’ is something that can be defined with a pointed finger, just like a tree. You trace the outline with a finger, and you say “That’s a body.” And you may add that the bit sticking out of the top is a ‘head’, and out of the sides are ‘arms’, and underneath are ‘legs’. And so everybody knows what people are talking about when they refer to the ‘body’ with its arms and legs and heads. And if you chop up bodies, you can also say that they’re filled with veins and blood and bones and muscles and hearts and lungs and kidneys, pointing to each one of them with a finger, just like you pointed at the tree. And so everybody knows what they are too (if they happen to have chopped up a few bodies, that is.).
But when it comes to words like ‘alive’ and ‘dead’, it’s a bit harder. You have to get lots of live bodies, and live trees, and live birds, and point at them and say, “All these things are alive, because they’re growing and walking and flying around.” And then you have to show them a bunch of dead bodies and dead trees, and say, “All these things are dead, because they’re no longer growing and walking and flying around.” The living things all share certain characteristics, and so do the dead things. But there isn’t something called ‘life’ or ‘death’ that you can point at.
It’s harder with words like ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. An ‘unhealthy’ body is as alive as an ‘healthy’ one. But maybe there are some characteristics that ‘healthy’ things share, and those are maybe that they run around, and jump up and down, and glow a bit, while ‘unhealthy’ things keep still and stay in bed, and have a general feebleness and pallor about them. And so after a while you get to be able spot which things are ‘healthy’ and which are ‘unhealthy’, particularly if you spend most of your time chopping up bodies in a place half full of seriously unhealthy and very often dead bodies.
And it’s even harder to put your finger on what’s meant by words like ‘happiness’ and ‘pleasure’. How do you tell if someone’s ‘happy’? How is anyone to know what ‘pleasure’ is? Maybe you could say that ‘happy’ people have ‘smiles’ on their faces. But then you have to define what a ‘smile’ is, by showing a bunch of faces, some with smiles on them, some not, and point out which is which. After which, you might confuse things by saying that happy people don’t always have smiles on their faces, and unhappy people are perfectly capable of smiling, particularly if they’ve just been handed $200,000. So it’s not obvious who is ‘happy’ and who is ‘unhappy’, and whether they’re smiling or not isn’t a perfect measure of someone’s happiness. And so, if you spend all your time in a hospital, you might be pretty good at telling who’s alive and who’s dead, and who’s healthy and who’s unhealthy, but you’re maybe not too sure who’s happy and who’s unhappy. But it doesn’t really matter, because your sole concern is to keep people alive and healthy. And if you’re a lunatic doctor you’ll think that the whole world is a hospital.
And it’s even harder still to describe what’s meant by ‘freedom’ or ‘justice’. We’ve just been having a spot of bother defining or identifying a ‘happy’ man, so what about a ‘free’ man? And a long time ago I read a book called “The Four Just Men”, and the whole time I was reading it I was wondering what a ‘just’ man was. Maybe it was that they were just men in the usual laddish sort of way men often are? They certainly behaved that way. They killed off rather a lot of people, if I remember rightly. What was ‘just’ about that? How do you tell if someone is ‘free’ or ‘just’? And is ‘freedom’ something different from ‘liberty‘?
And what about ‘God’?
The less well described or defined things are, the more people are likely to say that they either haven’t a clue what’s meant by them, or that they’re imaginary things which don’t really exist. And lots of people don’t believe there’s a God. And why should they, if the only description they have is of a bearded old man in a Roman toga sitting on a cloud? And so also ‘justice’, ‘freedom’, ‘happiness’, and so on. For some people these words are also so ill-defined as to be meaningless. And therefore non-existent. So they don’t think about them, and stick to things that are well-defined, like trees and bodies and kidneys.
So materialists maybe restrict themselves not so much to material things, but to things that are well-defined (as material objects usually are). A materialist maybe wouldn’t object to abstract concepts like the number 2, or the square root of 2, just so long as these are well defined, even though nobody ever tripped over the square root of 2.
If abstract words are to be used, then they must be carefully defined. It’s very important to define terms, because if you don’t, nobody will understand what you’re talking about, and will eventually conclude that you’re talking a lot of nonsense. It’s no good just hoping that your idea of ‘happiness’ or ‘freedom’ is the same as everybody else’s, because it probably isn’t.
Anyway, about my ‘pospers’. I had better describe them. And my ‘pospers’ are the ‘possible peppers’ that have erupted out of my seed tray today. They’re already quite big. When they first appeared today they were already bigger than any of the tobacco seedlings that emerged a few weeks back. They have pointed leaves, shaped like spears, curling over at the tip. They’re coming out of the pots that I planted pepper seeds in, but I’m far from sure that they actually are peppers. They might be seeds that came in the GrowBag. Hence the ‘possible’ bit, and my uncertainty about naming them. After all, they might be turnips.