Nov 10, 2013

# On Scaggling and Jaggling

On the issue of language, I might
say to a friend down in California where some of my books are stored, "send me
up some non-fiction books", to which my friend will ask "which ones" to which me
not knowing specific titles will request a list. I might say something
seemingly absurd, like:

"Look, you scaggle up a list, and I'll
jaggle out the ones I'm thinking about."

What does this mean?
Not to go all Wittgenstein on it, but it seems like a silly language game, and
it's hard to see what the shared context is, so it seems like a risky
imprecision, or in other words a _bad_ language game. Not only are there no
real referents for the actions of "scaggling" and "jaggling", but only a
excitable poet or someone seemingly insensitive to a host of issues in the use
of language would express things this way.
Wrong-o. For, a scaggling is a compact and precise wording for my friend. It
tells him to get a list together, but not to worry about it too much (in a
philosophically imprecise but practically effective way), and this because on
the other side of things, he knows I'm only jaggling. To put things slightly
differently, the intended meaning of scaggling is at least partially given by
the meaning of jaggling. One is tempted to say, "if I be only jaggling, you
dear Sir, be only scaggling." In this sense then we've got a classic
Wittgensteinian language game, or to eschew the name dropping, we've got a
couple of verbs that are bi-relational in the sense that both intension and
extension or appropriately defined, seemingly _ex nihilo_ . This all, from two
verbs which as near as I can tell, don't mean anything at all , in the context
of producing a list of book titles for purposes of selecting a subset of them.
There aren't any necessary and sufficient conditions, and _a fortiori_ , it
doesn't serve to explain, but seemingly makes even more mysterious and obscure,
that one meaningless verb is related to another in such a way that the pair is
somehow mutually explicated.

What are we to make of this? On the
charge of imprecision, the rejoinder (as I've just outlined) is that however
mysterious the success, nonetheless there it is. And hence from the grossest of
imprecision, we get virtual precision—just that which I wished to say, I
in fact _have said_ , and no better proof is that I'll get the list, then the
titles from the list, then the books, all with no one performing unnecessary
work in the intended context.

So language is curious. I'm tempted to
add here that, if language is this powerful, and in such a way that seems
perverse to formal language analysis, then we should be hopeful that something
like the analytic tradition in philosophy can be turned on its head, and made to
succeed by not getting rid of a bunch of artificial problems in language, but
rather by getting rid of itself, using its own methods (so to speak).

Now I'll turn to another issue, which is
the issue of scientific statements. If I start scaggling and jaggling about,
say, a chaotic system, I'll get myself into trouble. A chaotic system is just
that system which has properties like dense periodic orbits, and something about
properties of a topology (here I forget), and sensitive dependence on initial
conditions. Every word means exactly what it has to mean in order that a set of
mathematical statements can be produced to describe it. A nondeterministic
partial differential equation like the Navier-Stokes equation will need to be
summoned up out of a bag of differential equation techniques describing dynamic
systems, for instance, in order to get somewhere with chaos description. You
can point to a turbulent system, sure, but to describe and partial-predict a
chaos system you need to get reference right, which means you need "dense" not
to mean "stupid" but rather a specific propagation through a phase-space with
periodic orbits.

Hence, one is tempted to say in respect
to language about physical systems, that there is no corresponding statement to
the effect that "If you be a scagglin', then I be a jagglin'." One can't, for
instance, simply say "If we be scagglin' a Navier-Stokes equation to a problem
in fluid dynamics, then we be a jagglin' some chaos", or rather, one could do
this, but unlike in the book scenario no _additional_ theoretical or practical
work is performed by my linguistic act. (Potentially, I'm not taken seriously
by my colleagues as well. One could imagine getting escorted out of a building,
too.)

I'll make one final point here, which is
that the notions of "precision" and "non-vagueness" are themselves seemingly
imprecise and vague, or at least contextual in the Wittgenstein sense. (I'm
tempted to add here, too, that this is _a very big deal_ .) On my first
example, with apparently vague locutions ("scaggling", "jaggling") we get
exactly the intended result, and this too with a conservation of language (how
simple and elegant that two verbs should be bi-definitional, while neither
really __ has _a_ definition in the context (which would, alas, simply be more
words), and that each is adequately defined by the other by simple assertion).
In contrast, from the most specific language we can formulate (namely, that of
modern mathematics), the vaguest and most impossibly non-predictive results seem
to flow, as in with the description of a chaotic system, where most of the
"meaning" of the system is given precisely by its inability to be so rendered
comprehensible or predictable or precise. It should be obvious then that
there's no necessary connection between precise language and precise _results_
; or, that the goal of making our language "more precise" by making it more
mathematical or specific does not entail much about its referents (if by
"entail" we mean that the precision from the expression transfers
to the referent somehow, "cleaning it up." This is a simple and very
silly notion).

What I'm saying is that, to nature, the
chaotic system may simply be scaggling and jaggling along.