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fuzzy births, deaths & marriage
lojbab cusku di'e
>Language cannot overcome psychology. If we wanted to make some
>objective criteria to distinguish hills from mountains, we could do so
>(though I note that Lojban uses the same gismu for both %^). Obviously,
>at boundary conditions, definitions break down, as you cited with your
This is an important issue. There is a great book by Samuel Delaney called
Babel-17 which suggests that language can overcome psychology. The
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is one reason Loglan was allegedly created; if the
hypothesis is true, couldn't it be said that language does overcome
There is a psychiatrist named Aaron Beck, who discovered that depression is
invariably accompanied by cognitive distortions. Some of these are:
Disqualifying the Positive
Dr. Beck decided to teach his patients to recognize and rationally respond
to their distortions. Surprise! His patients experienced alleviation of
their depression. This approach is called cognitive psychotherapy or
rational-emotive psychotherapy or other various names. Cognitive
psychotherapy works about as well as drug therapy for patients with
moderate depression; drugs + cognitive therapy work better than either
It is my belief that all of these distortions are due to a greater or
lesser extent to a flawed use of language. Many of them are specifically
due to Aristotlean-generated false dichotomies. I am curious as to whether
language itself is responsible for setting traps which ensnare the
vulnerable and lead to depression.
A technical note here. Depression is *not* the same as sadness. Sadness is
an appropriate response to something tragic. The best definition I have
heard for depression came from a suicidal patient who defined depression as
"a dishonest sadness." I am certainly not suggesting that linguistics can
end all forms of human misery. I am suggesting that the limitations of
human natlangs contributes in part to human mental illness.
>The most important events in our lives are binary - birth, death,
>marriage. There exists some plausible fuzziness even for these
>(especially where it concerns medical ethics), but for everyday people
>who are the ones who make the language work, fuzziness just makes it
>harder to make decisions, even if it would make the decisions more
I think many people would agree with lojbab that birth is binary. Having
observed a fair number of births, I would see things another way. The
actual birthing might be said to begin when cervical dilation starts, and
end when the placenta is delivered. This may last for 12 hours!
lo mamta na tugni la lojbab le vlina le jbena
I would suggest that birth is not the crucial step of
<new-human-production>, rather, gastrulation is! There is still a raging
controversy about the ethics of abortion. The strident "right-to-lifers"
say that termination of pregnancy is absolutely wrong, the
"woman's-right-to-choosers" say that termination of pregnancy is a woman's
choice, and is not wrong, or at least should not be illegal. Both sides
would generally agree that infantacide is clearly "wrong" (but then there
is the troubling Chinese situation...).
Perhaps fuzzy logic can give a new perspective. Lets assign a value of o.k.
to termination of pregnancy immediately before gastrulation, and a value of
not-o.k. to abortion of an independent-from-the-mother viable fetus, with
all intermediate stages being a fuzzy blend of o.k. & not-o.k. Fuzzy or
not, the best course of action would be to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
But fuzzy logic suggests another possible course: for those inevitable
situations where unwanted pregnancies still occur we could institute
measures to perform abortions earlier in fetal development. Note that this
option, although it seems to make a certain kind of intuitive sense, is not
one being raised by either side.
(The point here is not really the issue of abortion, but the new types of
thinking which fuzzy logic might encourage, so lets not get tangled up in
the irrelevancies of my illustative example, please!)
On to death. I have a patient in the hospital who has been dying for 3
months. When will death occur? At the time of cardiac cessation? What if he
is an organ donor and the heart beats in someone else's chest for another
twenty years? Did death occur when he had his massive stroke 3 months ago,
and entered a vegetative state? Will it occur when we decide to remove the
respirator and he stops breathing? Sorry, lojbab. I deal with death every
day and I don't think it is binary.
Finally, marriage. I know a happily-married couple of some 30 years with
many children who never obtained a marriage certificate, but are legally
married. Did this occur when the common-law marriage statute kicked in 10
years after they began cohabitating? Is it really the signing of a piece of
paper or the filing of said piece of paper with a governmental body which
indicates a marriage has begun? Or does marriage begin with a meaningful
look across a crowded room?
"Some enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger..."
I don't consider any of lojbab's examples to be binary events, but I
respect his cultural and personal reasons for holding these views, and so
should lojban. When lojbab asserts that fuzziness makes decisions more
difficult, well, sometimes decisions *should* be difficult. But speaking as
the guy who has to make some of these life/death decisions, fuzzy logic
allows my decision-making to be closer to my intuitive sense of how the
universe works. I sleep better at night now that I've "gone fuzzy" and in
that sense it makes decisionmaking easier. lojban may prove to be much more
than a toy.
co'o mi'e. stivn.
Steven M. Belknap, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacology and Medicine
University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria