virus: Discoveries and Inventions

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 5 Feb 1997 13:17:50 -0500

>From: "Wade T. Smith" <>
>Date: Tue, 4 Feb 1997 20:34:26 -0500
>Subject: Re: virus: Discoveries and Inventions
>Although I have no difficulty with the word 'create', and don't at all have
>any sense of a god mixed up with it, but do think it tends towards the
>arts, since creation is a new thing, sometimes wonderfully so.

Agreed. The God quote was hyperbole...and attempt express the grandiose
impression that the word "create" creates in my mind. I intended it in the
literary sense, not the belief one, but perhaps I should have been more
careful considering the company. ;)

I also understand how "create" might seem more appropriate to the arts.
But the typewriter is more inspiring to me than most visual art...this
isn't a denigration, but if you really LOOK at an old Underwood...

>John Cage certainly 'invented' aleatory notation, but 'created' the music...

I wonder, which do you think was the more significant contribution? Lets
say I switched 'invented' and 'created' above. In what way do you percieve
that construction as less appropriate? Does it have mostly to do with the
definitions of the words or with the specific contributions of Cage
(rhetorical: obviously you compared the contributions to you mental
lexicon...both are equally important)?

>The fact we have used 'electron' to mean these forms of sub-atomic forces
>explained by the term in no way allows us to turn around and declare it
>irreal. We created (invented) the word 'electron' to explain the
>discoveries of the
>forces and behaviors of the little beastie....

There is no "little beastie". At least metaphorically you are speaking of
them as if they were tiny little greased ferrets, always slipping from our

And that, like all metaphors and analogies, is an invention. Most people
accept, with good reason, that there exists some facet of reality currently
best described by the model we signify with the word "electron". But,
shit, that was a wordy convoluted sentence, ne? (I thought I would try it

So we have a tendency to say "Electrons exist!" in verbal shorthand. What
I'm saying is that the "electron" of today might be the Greek element
"fire" of tomorrow. I'm not saying that the underlying "objective reality"
changes (it might, but that's an existential argument) but that no map or
model is ever "real", they are all human constucts of words and symbols.

So I agree: Reality (including the sub-set we are discussing) is not
irreal. I disagree: "electrons" are not irreal. Electrons are a very
useful invention allowing us to explain, manipulate and predict. The
signified is real, the signifier is a fabrication.

I know this all sounds like semantic double talk. When I teach chemistry I
certianly don't unpack all these levels of ambiguity but, instead, speak in
metaphor. I agree that the models and analogies we relate in science
classes and textbooks are useful. What they are not is: real, consistent,
abosulte, inviolate, unchanging and unchangable, and/or "true".

>And yes, there are basic meanings which _must be enforced_ before any
>reasoned discussion can take place. Language is too slippery, and the
>politics of meaning too varied.

How do you intend to _enforce_ definitions? There exists no word or symbol
which has the same meaning for all people. Language is ambigious; this is
a faculty, not a problem.

>Science is, in many ways, the supplier of these basic meanings.

We disagree about the definition of the word "science". Whose is more correct?

>And I do not feel that some arbitrary mathematical structure placed upon
>meaning is the answer. Communication through language requires a common

Is mathematics a less ambigious invention than poetry? How does one
mathematically decribe the feeling of the existential dilemma? How about
that cold, empty feeling in your chest when your lover is far away? X
squared plus Y squared, indeed!

>It's time to use one word in one way!

Fie! (Just kidding)


Reed Konsler