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What’s in a word? From nowhere to software

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How careful should we be when borrowing words from the scientific world without paying proper attention to its meaning?

Its a common and good practice to borrow words in order to create meaningful metaphors which can better describe our point.

It is fine to take an already existing word or sentence and create a totally new meaning to it, as long as one doesn’t mention the previous consequences of the original meaning being consequences of the new one “just because”.

This wrong adoption of such words might create a false sensation of “meaningful logic” in a senseless phrase. In an abstract way, let’s say that there is a scientific proof of “A” and “B”, boolean symbols: “B is implied and only implied if A”. Now someone picks “A” and changes its meaning… one can not say that “B” is implied by “A” as now, “A” does not contain the same original meaning. It might be as much as true as much as it might be false.

In a practical way, the most common misuse of a word that I am aware of relates to “chaos” and/or the “edge of chaos”.

Chaos in mathematics is related to a specific sensation of random consequences while one still faces a deterministic situation. In other areas, chaos is related to darkness, nothing. Popular speaking its a matter of confusion. But only the first definition of chaos has a mathematical definition from which all chaos theory has evolved, therefore, right now, only if one uses this definition, it makes sense to talk about chaos exitence prooven consequences.

Bifurcation diagrams shows how the studied system works while applying diferent values for specific parameters. This leads to visuali-guessing when periodic orbitas leave the game and chaotic behaviour shows up. This time chaotic is being used in its mathematical definition.

Edge of chaos in wikipedia refers to the situation between chaos, randomness and order. But note that dynamical systems are deterministic in nature, therefore not random. At the same time, chaos is not defined as confusion (the opposite of order) in mathematical terms.

One can surely use “chaos” and “edge of chaos” as their popular definitions related to confusion, randomness and almost randomly, but this does not imply in any mathematical consequences studied by dynamical systems.

We commonly find ourselves talking about a lot of other words borrowed from biology or finances word, sometimes used to emphasize and sometimes to proof a point.

As Jurgens mentions, metaphors are good, we just need to be careful not to make funny statements, except if you define the way you will use the word prior to using it, even though its differente from the scientific meaning.


Written by guilhermesilveira

September 26, 2009 at 12:02 am

Posted in mathematics

Tagged with , ,