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Monday, November 29, 2021

Key Question

If you've read my blog much, you know me; I'm concerned about words. Words are the symbols we use to transmit ideas from one brain to another. As such, we need to have shared symbols. If you say "bleevil" and I say "bleevil" and we mean something different by the term, we will not be communicating because we're thinking of something completely different. (I know, I know, some of you don't believe in "bleevil." That's not the point.) So we need to share symbols, whatever they may be, so we can exchange ideas and information. In the last year or more I've been aware of a prime example of this concept thanks to COVID. You would think that we'd all be clear and in agreement on this, but, as it turns out, we aren't. The question is "immunity." What does it mean? Turns out we are not in agreement.

Immunity refers to being protected from something. It might be disease or legal action or even emotional response. (Think, "Sticks and stones ...") So in terms of COVID immunity it means you can't get COVID ... right? And the correct answer to that is "Not right." In fact, science can't even figure out how to measure immunity, let alone just what they mean by it. In the U.S. the prevalent definition currently is "the presence of COVID antibodies." Mind you, if you, like most of us, are immune to, say, measles or polio after all these years, it is not because you have antibodies for those diseases. That immunity is elsewhere. And it is measured primarily by you not getting measles or polio. But for COVID they check to see if you have antibodies, declare you immune if you do, then warn that you can surely still get, spread, and even die from this antigen to which you are "immune."

Perhaps this wasn't the best example. I'm sure both sides will have an emotional response to that last paragraph, one way or another. But your strong emotional response illustrates the problem I'm talking about. We're not communicating. We all use "immunity" and we all assume we agree on what it means and we all draw conclusions and make decisions from that "agreement," all the while barely noticing that we don't agree. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." That's us ... from both sides.

My point, then, is our failure to communicate. (Has anyone been keeping track of movie quotes I've used? I haven't.) I use "marriage" and you use "marriage" and it may not mean the same thing. I use "love" and you use "love" and we sound alike, but we might mean something totally different. I use "Christian" and you use "Christian" and we may mean radically different things. Hey, I use "Jesus" and you use "Jesus" and we may not even be talking about the same person ... even if we're talking about the same historical person. We aren't communicating. And we end up in disagreements. And we end up in fights. And we end up in hate. ("I wonder what he means by that word?" Very good question.)

All this to say we're missing the key question. All this to urge us all, including me, to start asking it. "What do you mean by that?" We think we're using the same terms in the same way and we think we're understanding each other and ... we're not. But, like the COVID "immunity" question, our emotional reaction to what is actually misunderstood terms is already kicking in before we ever find out that we simply don't understand each other. So this will not end well.

I've been trying to learn this myself in recent years. "They said something I think I understood, but what do they mean by it?" And I'm finding large gaps in our mutual understanding based largely on gaps in our mutual symbols for ideas. Don't misunderstand. I know that once we dig down and find out what I meant by "bleevil" and what you meant by "bleevil" actually means, we're still possibly going to have a disagreement over the whole "bleevil" concept, but wouldn't it be better if we were discussing our actual disagreements rather than our red herrings and rabbit trails that ... oh, wait, perhaps I'd better better define those terms. Oh, well, you get what I mean, right? Sadly, I can't be sure you do. Not because you're stupid, but because none of us are really accomplished at figuring it out, at asking the key question, "What do you mean?".


David said...

And, sin has rotted all our brains.

Craig said...

If a "vaccine" doesn't (as per the definition of the word vaccine) provide immunity, then is it really a vaccine?

Stan said...

Depends on what you mean by immunity, doesn't it? :)