Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's in a name?

This one is one of my favorite Richard Feynman anecdotes. [Quoted from]

Feynman's father Melville Feynman encouraged his son's fascination with science in all possible ways. While not pushing in any particular direction his father would explain things about the way the world worked. Melville taught his son at a very early age 'the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something'. To quote one of Richard's oft-quoted anecdotes about his father: "See that bird?" he says. "It's a Spencer's warbler (I knew he didn't know the real name)". "Well, in Italian, it's a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it's a Bom da Peida. In Chinese it's a Chung-Iong-tah, and in Japanese it's a Katano Takeda. You can know the name of the bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You'll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let's look at the birds and see what it's doing - that's what counts!" 

I've seen so many people - when they realize they haven't understood something correctly - trying to push their way through arguments and discussions using some high-sounding technical jargon. That's what we can call the Spencer's-warbler-syndrome. When reason fails, vocabulary takes over! My only suggestion, admit your mistake and move on.