What do you mean, what do I mean?

Karl Popper may feel that any reference to the meanings of words is meaningless. He would say that if you present an argument in a number of different ways, what you mean is automatically made clear. Popper came to feel that worries or quarrels about words and their meanings, were an intellectual trap or the road to intellectual perdition. Problems about words and their meanings he felt, could usurp the function of real problem solving. Now while this site agrees with this, the study of semantics is useful for that very reason. It seems that words and the muddling of their meanings, can indeed lead down intellectual blind alleys which fuels a confusion of values. Some meanings of words are presented here to help clarify how they are used in this site not to argue about what the words actually mean.

The meanings of words are created by and reside in people not dictionaries. People who write dictionaries find out the meanings of words by sampling conversations and sampling literature. They look at the context in which words are actually used, and from those derive their meanings. Dictionaries are not the final definitive authorities on words. They simply describe as best they can the current consensus about the meanings of words. People who write and people who speak change the meanings of words all the time. If we wish to create a new concept, we have three choices in providing a word to be its symbol. One, we can create a new word such as "po". Two we can use an old word or words (for example "icon") and change its (or their) meaning. Or three we can use a word from another language such as "cafe".

  1. Learning. Webster's Dictionary informs us that learning is:
    1. a : to gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or experience (learn a trade), b : Memorize (learn the lines of a play), c : to come to be able (learn to dance), d : to come to realize (learned that honesty paid)
    2. To be informed of something
    3. To come to know to acquire knowledge or skill or a behavioral tendency
  2. Educating. Webster's Dictionary informs us that educating is:
    1. a : to provide schooling for, b : to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession
    2. a : to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction, b : to provide with information : (inform)
    3. a : to persuade or condition to feel, believe, or act in a desired way (educate the public to support our position) intransitive senses, b : to educate a person or thing

    Educating is something that you do to somebody else but learning is something you do to yourself. If we are to understand what learning actually is and how it is actualized, it requires a contextual shift in our public and private perception. We have mistakenly come to see it as something that is done to people (educating?) but we must come to see it as something that each person does to him or herself (learning!). This is what this site means by learning.

  3. Discipline. Discipline is a strange word. Webster's Dictionary defines it as having several meanings:
    1. Punishment
    2. (obsolete) Instruction
    3. a field of study
    4. training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
    5. a : control gained by enforcing obedience or order, b : orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior, c : Self-Control
    6. a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.
    7. self-discipline : correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement

    [Indeed when used as a verb, discipline is invariably interchangeably with punishment although with the implication that it is for the person's own good. When a teacher says I am going to discipline Smith he means he is going to punish Smith.]

    Confusion is caused by the fusion of several of these meanings of "discipline" as if they mean the same thing. Two of these are completely opposite in meaning. One is the ability to control and direct our own life (self discipline) and the other is the ability of others to control and direct our behavior (especially using punishment). It is the muddling of these two meanings and the implication that perhaps one rubs off on the other, that causes students so much trouble at school. The fourth meaning "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character" could be a form of self discipline or it could be control gained by enforcing obedience. It is the contention of this website that only self-discipline has worth and that the other is merely a fancy and misleading way of describing coercion.

  4. Theory. Webster's Dictionary informs us that theory is:
    1. the analysis of a set of facts in their relation to one another
    2. abstract thought: speculation
    3. the general or abstract principles of a body of fact, a science, or an art (music theory)
    4. a : a belief, policy, or procedure proposed or followed as the basis of action (her method is based on the theory that all children want to learn), b : an ideal or hypothetical set of facts, principles, or circumstances -- often used in the phrase in theory (in theory, we have always advocated freedom for all)
    5. a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena (wave theory of light)
    6. a : a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation, b : an unproved assumption: conjecture, c : a body of theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject synonym see Hypothesis

    Another dictionary definition of theory is as follows: "A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena." In other words theories are solutions to problems. They allow us to anticipate what will happen if we do nothing and what we may make happen by doing something. This is how the word theory is used in this website.

  5. Conjecture. Webster's Dictionary informs us that conjecture is:
    1. (obsolete) a : interpretation of omens, b : supposition
    2. a : inference from defective or presumptive evidence, b : a conclusion deduced by surmise or guesswork, c : a proposition (as in mathematics) before it has been proved or disproved

    Another dictionary definition of conjecture is as follows: "To infer on slight evidence to surmise or guess." So conjecture also allows us to anticipate and thus solve problems. For this site the main difference between theory and conjecture is that theory has been repeatedly tested without being invalidated or is widely accepted while a conjecture has not been repeatedly tested nor is it widely accepted as far as we know. This is how the word conjecture is used in this website. That and the fact that conjecture is usually assumed to be a single principle, not a set of principles.

  6. Hypothesis. Webster's Dictionary informs us that hypothesis is:
    1. a : an assumption or concession made for the sake of argument, b : an interpretation of a practical situation or condition taken as the ground for action
    2. a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences
    3. the antecedent clause of a conditional statement

    Another dictionary definition of hypothesis is as follows: "A tentative explanation taken to be true for the purpose of investigation. A tentative theory or supposition provisionally adopted to explain certain facts and to guide in investigation." In other words an hypothesis is a theory or a conjecture that has been put in a form that is testable. While both theory and conjecture need not be testable, an hypothesis must be testable. This is how this website regards hypothesis.

  7. Dogma. Webster's Dictionary informs us that dogma is:
    1. a : something held as an established opinion; especially: a definite authoritative tenet, b : a code of such tenets (pedagogical dogma), c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds
    2. a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

    Another dictionary definition of dogma is as follows: "A code of beliefs accepted as authoritative. A doctrine proclaimed to be true without proof. An idea resistant to change." These are the accepted meanings of dogma used herein.

  8. Synergy. Webster's Dictionary informs us that synergy is:
    1. : Synergism; broadly : combined action or operation
    2. : a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (as resources or efforts)
    3. : The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
    4. : Cooperative interaction among groups, especially among the acquired subsidiaries or merged parts of a corporation, that creates an enhanced combined effect.

    In fact synergy as used in this website means mostly an action or attitude which is mutually advantageous to all parties involved. If synergy exists between you and me, what is in my best interest, is also in your best interest. If synergy exists between me and the world, what is in my best interest is in the world's best interest.

  9. Gestalt. Webster's Dictionary informs us that a gestalt is:
    1. : A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts.
    2. : An organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.
    3. : A structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts.

    In fact a gestalt as used in this website means exactly any one of the above.

  10. Analogy. Webster's Dictionary informs us that an analogy is:
    1. inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects they will probably agree in others.
    2. a: resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike b: comparison based on such resemblance.
    3. correspondence between the members of pairs or sets of linguistic forms that serves as a basis for the creation of another form.
    4. correspondence in function between anatomical parts of different structure and origin.
    5. is both the cognitive process of transferring information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target), and a linguistic expression corresponding to such a process.
    6. In a narrower sense, analogy is an inference or an argument from a particular to another particular, as opposed to deduction, induction, and abduction, where at least one of the premises or the conclusion is general.
    7. The word analogy can also refer to the relation between the source and the target themselves, which is often, though not necessarily, a similarity, as in the biological notion of analogy.

    In fact an analogy as used in this website means mostly first of the above but to some extent all.

  11. Metaphor. Webster's Dictionary informs us that a metaphor is:
    1. a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money); broadly figurative language.
    2. an object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor.

    In fact a metaphor as used in this website means exactly any one of the above.

  12. Simile. Webster's Dictionary informs us that a simile is:
    1. a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses).

    The word 'simile' as used in this website means exactly the above.

  13. Achievement. Webster's Dictionary and other dictionaries inform us that achievement is:
    1. the act of achieving: accomplishment
    2. a: a result gained by effort b: a great or heroic deed
    3. the quality and quantity of a student's work
    4. the achievement of one's object

    In fact this site has used the word achievement to mean the accomplishment of goals that we have set for ourselves. We were surprised to find this was a little off most of the dictionary definitions presented here. The fourth dictionary meaning could mean the accomplishment of a goal set by ourselves or a goal set by others. It could also mean the attainment of some standard of excellence set by others. It could mean the attainment of some physical object such as a degree, money, a prize, or in the case of children and candy.

    I did not realize  that there was a problem with this word until I started reading Alfie Kohn and at first found it strange that he was being critical of achievement which up till that point I had always considered to be a good thing. It took me a while to realize that the meaning Mr. Kohn was giving to 'achievement' was that of obtaining externally set rewards. This meaning it seems is these days, unfortunately the more usual meaning given achievement.

  14. Salient. Webster's Dictionary inform us that salient is:
    1. moving by leaps or springs, jumping
    2. jetting upward a salient fountain
    3. a: projecting beyond a line, surface, or level b: standing out conspicuously prominent; especially of notable significance e.g. there are a couple of salient differences

    Salient is used in this site to mean the 3 b dictionary meaning of being very prominent or noticeable.

  15. Falsify. Webster's Dictionary inform us that falsify is:

    1. to make false or incorrect, to alter fraudulently, esp. so as to deceive, to make false as by mutilation or addition: to falsify income-tax reports.

    2. to represent falsely misrepresent: He falsified the history of his family to conceal his humble origins.

    3. to show, prove or declare to be false; disprove: to falsify a theory.

    As can be seen above the first two meaning of the word falsify are very different to the last and are the more usual way in which the word is used. The first two meanings about hiding that something is false while the last is about showing that something is false. They are almost opposite in meaning. Popper used the word 'falsify' to mean, to show that something is false, and where it has been used in this site, it should be understood to have that meaning. However, this ste has tried to avoid using the word much, because of the confusion with it.

  16. Confidence. Webster's Dictionary inform us that confidence is:

    1. a: a feeling or consciousness of one's powers or of reliance on one's circumstances, had perfect confidence in her ability to succeed, met the risk with brash confidence b: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way, have confidence in a leader.

    2. : the quality or state of being certain,  certitude, they had every confidence of success.

    3. a: a relation of trust or intimacy, took his friend into his confidence. b: reliance on another's discretion, their story was told in strictest confidence c: support especially in a legislative body, vote of confidence.

    4. : a communication made in confidence, secret, accused him of betraying a confidence.

    It is only the first two meanings with which this site is concerned. Indeed this site has tried to restrict the meaning of the word confidence to mean, the belief that you have the capacity to learn how to do something well, and the tenacity to apply sufficient effort to do it.

  17. Concept. Webster's Dictionary inform us that a concept is:

    1. something conceived in the mind: thought, notion.

    2. an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances.

    3. a general notion or idea; conception.

    4. an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct.

    5. a directly conceived or intuited object of thought.

    6. informal verb. to develop a concept of; conceive: Experts pooled their talents to concept the new car.

    It is only the first two meanings with which this site is concerned. Indeed this site tends to restrict the meaning of the word confidence to mean, the belief that you have the capacity to learn how to do something well, and the tenacity to apply sufficient effort to do it.

  18. Construct. Webster's Dictionary inform us that a construct is:

    1. to make or form by combining or arranging parts or elements : build; also : contrive, devise.

    2. to draw (a geometrical figure) with suitable instruments and under specified conditions.

    3. to set in logical order.

    4. something constructed.

    5. an image, idea, or theory, esp. a complex one formed from a number of simpler elements.

    It is only the first two meanings with which this site is concerned. Indeed this site tends to restrict the meaning of the word confidence to mean, the belief that you have the capacity to learn how to do something well, and the tenacity to apply sufficient effort to do it.

  19. Story Webster's Dictionary inform us that a story is:

    1. a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.

    2. a fictitious tale, shorter and less elaborate than a novel.

    3. the plot or succession of incidents of a novel, poem, drama, etc.: The characterizations were good, but the story was weak.

    4. a narration of an incident or a series of events or an example of these that is or may be narrated, as an anecdote, joke, etc.

    5. a narration of the events in the life of a person or the existence of a thing, or such events as a subject for narration: the story of medicine; the story of his life.

    6. a report or account of a matter; statement or allegation: The story goes that he rejected the offer.

    7. such narratives or tales as a branch of literature: song and story.

    8. a widely circulated rumor, a lie, a falsehood.

    9. a news article or broadcast.

    10. a : an account of incidents or events b : a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question c : anecdote; especially : an amusing one

    It is only the first two meanings with which this site is concerned. Indeed this site tends to restrict the meaning of the word confidence to mean, the belief that you have the capacity to learn how to do something well, and the tenacity to apply sufficient effort to do it.

  20. Skill. Webster's Dictionary inform us that a skill is:

    1. the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well: Carpentry was one of his many skills.

    2. competent excellence in performance; expertness; dexterity: The dancers performed with skill.

    3. a craft, trade, or job requiring manual dexterity or special training in which a person has competence and experience: the skill of cabinetmaking.

    It is only the first two meanings with which this site is concerned. Indeed this site tends to restrict the meaning of the word confidence to mean, the belief that you have the capacity to learn how to do something well, and the tenacity to apply sufficient effort to do it.