chapter two
active family resemblance - AFR

Wittgenstein famously spoke "family resemblance" among concepts.

I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than "family resemblances"; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. — And I shall say: "games" form a family.

for instance the kinds of number form a family in the same way. Why do we call something a "number"? Well, perhaps because it has a direct relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this can be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things we call the same name. And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres.

— Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §67

Wittgenstein's exposition makes it sound like words are static but defined by overlapping similarities. A dense but enumerable set of criteria.
It may be more useful to think of our minds, using the power of its massive multiprocessing, makes sense of words by finding and sometimes inventing similarities in real time. It is more seeing | feeling the similarities more than identifying them. This is a process we often call "understanding."

To emphasize this aspect of our words, I will refer to it as active family resemblance, or AFR for short.

AFR is possible in the background because of our MMPMs whose processes are innumerable and beyond human abilities to imagine them.

This makes speaking | thinking | understanding, and abstract concepts,
including all our general concepts we use to "understand" the world,
somewhat problematic.

Most general words are fluid words, constantly shape-shifting [or criteria shifting] nonconsciously in the background of our conscious activities.

What follows if this plausible scenario is true?

  1. We need a new paradigm \ metaphor for how words, in particular abstract words, work. Words do not denote a thing but a network of association and contexts.
  2. It is, at the very least, very trick to describe the world as our words are fluid.
  3. Perhaps we cannot describe the world
  4. Statements are not to be thought of a simply true or false
  5. We should not think we can think in categories without dealing with the inherent fuzziness of our words and our understandings.

A few words on each of these.

We need a new paradigm | metaphor for how words, in particular abstract words, work,
although it applies to all words.
Words do not denote a thing but more like a network of associations and contexts.

We still have the metaphor that a word stands for some thing, like the word "cat" stands for a cat to which we can point. It is not obvious what a more apt metaphor would be.

Certain words can be pinned down, including definitions and proper nouns. But by their nature, words are fluid in their uses.

We the listeners job is to make sense of what is being said, even of we decide these are the utterances of a mad man.

It is tricky to describe the world as our words are fluid yet understandable along the way.

We need some humility in our attainment of truth.
Attainment of truth is always a lie.

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