A thought that often floats around in the distant corners of my mind is the concept of definition (a subject that I would argue every human being, on at least a subconscious level, thinks about). Almost all of what we do, how we understand, how we perceive the world and such, hinges on being able to define things…everything. And definition isn’t just the meaning of a word as we may be used to thinking of it. It is also, and more importantly so, “The degree of distinctness in outline of an object, image, or sound…” according to them good ol’ Googles. So when we are defining anything we are understanding it (or at least attempting to do so) by setting distinct bounds around it from the rest of the world, and furthermore, inputing it into our “mental encyclopedia” by analogizing it to things that we already feel that we comprehend. For example, when referencing say a car, in defining it as a car I have segregated it from its surroundings. What happens when we identify something we cannot define? And what happens when by shearly trying to define something we paradoxically misrepresent it?

To explain what I mean we can consider the mathematical phenomenon of infinity. This symbol is used quite frequently in mathematical representation and formulation but to what degree do we actually understand it? When, in formulation, a limit approaches infinity we simply understand it “to go on forever”. So we are simply addressing it through analogy. But what is infinity as a standalone concept? Actually, infinity is not something that can be defined–topology and abstract analysis are the only fields even in mathematics that attempts to do so. In proof, infinity can only by attempted to be defined by negation. So we can only identify what it is not. And by the very virtue that infinity encompasses and infinite amount of…things…the only way we can define infinity is in opposition to other infinities. One such instance is comparison of the infinity of the set of all real integer numbers and the set of infinities between those integer numbers (every decimal approaches infinity as there can be an infinite amount of numbers in decimals). If on a number line the infinity of all real integer numbers goes on indefinitely towards negative and positive from zero, we can assume that the infinity made by adding the set of infinities of the numbers between decimals is greater than the infinity of the numbers of the integers. As you can see infinity only blows up here. And if you continue to follow this trail of logic you find that the rabbit hole goes deeper than you can imagine and you can always find a larger infinity than the last. Simply put, you can only utilize the bounds of analogy when trying to define infinity, which in turn, inhibits you from understanding it in the first place.

Another topic that can be used to better relay the point is the UFO phenomenon–I know, a drastic shift from the previous example. A UFO is simply an unidentified flying object. Hundreds of outlandish sightings of objects seen flying or hovering through the sky are reported daily. These could be meteorites, a stellar phenomenon, or perhaps even an extraterrestrial lifeform. Now the latter end of the last sentence may sound insane to some of you, but how often do we stop to ask ourselves why we consider such things absurd? Why is the possibility of an alleged craft maneuvering at trajectories unheard of by conventional aircraft containing intelligent, sentient life from another planet so hard to believe? Why is it seldom even considered plausible? Like in the Paradox of the infinities mentioned above, perhaps we are limiting ourselves from understanding this phenomenon by our approach to the problem. Here, If we completely rule out certain possibilities we may never truly comprehend the object of study (especially if the correct identification of sed object is outside of what we may believe to be possible). Perhaps there are little green humanoids operating a strange saucer-like object, or perhaps it’s an even greater absurdity.

So what can we take away from all of this? Definition and semantics, though powerful tools in the art of articulation most definitely have their limitations (hah!). We, as a highly cognitively evolved species, should understand the limits of our words. We should use these tools to the extent of perceiving and processing the world around us and not to the degree where this gift of limitation starts to limit us. Perhaps not everything can be programmed, categorized, and/or easily referenced.

-Hobbes