April 13, 2018

What happened and what will you add?

Is it outside of the canon?

The internet, with instant access to all known history and science, was supposed to help us all get in sync, to understand what we knew for sure.

But of course, when everyone has a keyboard and a camera, it’s up for grabs.

Some people get frustrated when others use the word “enormity” to mean, “very very enormous.” That’s because they know that enormity means “unspeakably horrible,” and they’re worried that if enough people use it the wrong way, they’ll no longer be able to use it the right way, and a nuanced word will disappear.

Language is plastic, it changes over time. Who knows what ‘dap’ used to mean, or what it will mean tomorrow? What happens to the serial comma or the other refined elements of punctuation? Language is a reflection of who we are and how we speak and it’s foolish to insist that it stay the same as it always was.

Work that alters the canon, that begins outside of it but then is incorporated into it, is how our culture grows.

Facts and history, though, fade away if we let them become plastic.

It probably took Descartes 50 years to reach half a million people with his ideas about philosophy and the mind-body problem. The School of Life, with millions of viewers on its YouTube channel, was able to reach half a million people with its video on the mind body problem in just a year. The issue, as dozens of folks have pointed out, is that the video has nothing at all to do with the actual mind body problem, and simply makes up new stuff.

Descartes isn’t here to defend himself, and I’m not sure he should count on me to stand up for him, but it points to a bigger problem: Everyone has the authority to have a media channel, but responsibility is in short supply.

We need new ideas, but if it’s not in the canon, it’s worth labeling properly–a new idea to consider, not an accurate version of what came before.

If you want to earn trust, it helps to either get it right or to fix it once you’ve discovered that you’ve gotten it wrong.

“Your mileage may vary” is a useful way to think about our experiences, but sometimes we don’t want our mileage to vary. Sometimes we want to know what actually happened, how to compute acceleration or decode a cultural artifact. Sometimes we want to know about the work that came before.

PS friggatriskaidekaphobia, or the more popular term, Triskaidekaphobia, was first used in print by Isador Coriat about a hundred years ago. Be safe today.