Definitions are having a party. maybe you’ll be invited.

March 27, 2007

As a prelude to systematic analysis or discussion it’s often useful to set up some agreed upon definitions. Otherwise people usually just end up speaking past one other. That being said, definitions are also quite slippery. This is especially true when you venture outside of the mathematico-scientific realm and into the socio-cultural domain as every definition becomes contentious since it’s much more difficult to cleanly separate definition from conclusion-commentary. In short, definitions are at once problematic and inevitable. Thus in an effort to stimulate some discussion I offer the following definitions I find interesting (but don’t necessarily subscribe to), so as to incite, excite and cajole you into commenting. Some serious, some not so serious, but all dottering along magnificently.

(1) Life (see here): a self-replicating system in homeostasis with its environment.

(2) Conclusion: What one does when tired of thinking.

(3) Culture: A complex system of symbols.

(4) Feudalism: A system of government in which your Count votes.

(5) Science: A particular cultural form (see 3 above) which is distinguished by the institutionalization of revolution, and where the revolution in thought (symbols) is made complete by experimental verification.

(6) Haecceity (see this): Thisness; the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other.

(7) Religion (Clifford Geertz’s five-part definition): “(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men (sic) by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” (Geertz 1985: 4).

(8) Gleek (from Building up saliva in the salivary glands using some stimulus, like sour food or yawning, and then pressing the tongue upon the glands, causing the saliva to shoot out, usually at an impressive distance.

(9) State: A group of thugs with an army and navy. Or equivalently Max Weber’s definition was something like an organization with a “monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force in a given territory.”

(10) Walnuts: 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain. See for example here and here.

(∞) Definition: … ?


2 Responses to “Definitions are having a party. maybe you’ll be invited.”

  1. josh said


    I’m digging your blog. You think so clearly homeboy…what gives? I’m jealous. This post is totally awesome and hilarious. Thanks for advertising it to me. roughly 111 hours now with 13 hours of sleep. I can’t believe this is working.

  2. […] This leads to what I’d offer as the natural definition of science (see the earlier post on definitions […]

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