Syvak’s Museum of Heresies

An eclectic integral blog of my personal studies

Lyras Lecture on Logic

Posted by Jamil Syvak on March 15, 2008

( Lyras’at C’thia ang Kh’sprkeyralatha )

Robert L. Zook presents a translation of a lecture given by Lyras in ShiKahr, shortly after the death of Surak. The contents later formed the basis for his monumental volume ” Logic and Definition “.

Definition and Meaning

Consider the word ” staff “, and what this word means to:

a farmer

a priest

a warrior

The farmer may use the word to refer to prop oneself up when lame or hurt. To a priest ” staff ” may refer to an object used to represent his divine authority. A warrior would doubtless think a ” staff ” referred to an object used as a weapon against ones enemies.

When we consider how this word refers to different existential experiences for each person, to say that ” staff ” or any other word has one definite or ” true ” meaning shows a certain lack of understanding about the purposes of words.

A word does not have any inherent meaning in itself, but rather finds definition in its use. One makes clear what one means when using a word by indicating the experiences associated with it. How does one do this?
By using other words of course. Does it seem we have encountered a recursive system? Perhaps, but this one will endeavor to show a way out.

When someone asks the question ” what do you mean? “, the questioner shows that they did not understand your use of the word and asks for definition. We shall examine several ways of defining words, and evaluate their usefulness in relating experiences accurately.

One can define a word in a most basic way by providing a synonym. By saying in effect, ” it is like this other experience set “. Our dictionaries contain many such definitions. For example: ” a staff resembles a rod “.

Classification of experience can provide another way of defining a word. One says that, ” this word represents an instance of this category “. The word ” leh’matya ” refers to a type of animal ( one with poisonous claws ); for example.

One can define a word by enumerating a group of words to which it refers to collectively. For example: ” animal ” includes leh’matya, selaht, and teresh-kah.

A fourth way would involve defining by example. For instance, one calls that animal over there a ” selaht “.

Lastly, you may define a word by describing how one would go about experiencing for oneself that event which the word refers to. I could say: ” when you combine these ingredients in these proportions and cook them in this manner, you will have cooked plomeek soup”.

This one will refer to these five types of definition as:

Definition by synonym

Definition by classification

Definition by enumeration

Definition by example

Definition by operation

Now lets us examine the actual usefulness of these methods of defining words.

Firstly; a definition by synonym has usefulness only if the synonym seems closer to our experiences than the word defined. Those who can only regard the words “sodium chloride ” as a noise, may certainly understand what ” salt ” refers to. The reverse is rarely true. [ Translators Note: I substituted my own analogy here. The one Lyras used did not translate into English very well ].

Definitions by classification usually have more use than definitions by synonym. I can make it more clear to someone who has never seen a leh’matya, by saying: ” A leh’matya refers to an omnivorous animal having poisonous claws and diamond shaped markings “, than by saying: ” A leh’matya seems like a big cat “
( definition by synonym ).

However, definitions by classification do not necessarily bring us closer to experience.
One can define a ” rhikbat ” as an animal with jaws that bite and claws that slice. However, that definition does not bring us closer to the experience of a rhikbat.
[ Translators Note: rhikbat refers to a nonexistent animal from ancient Vulcan legend, used by Vulcan mothers to frighten their children into obeying ]. One can string any words together in this manner and make it seem one has clarified ones meaning.
For example: ” The Good is what all things aim for “. That phrase definitely does not bring us closer to any particular experience.

Definitions by enumeration have usefulness if the members of a class seem closer to experience than the class itself. For example: One may have familiarity with a leh’matya but not know that a biologist refers to it and others like it as felines. [ Translators Note: ” felines ” = my best guess. The word on the original manuscript had blurred into obscurity ].

Definitions by enumeration of course have their drawbacks as well. Some words do not refer to classes like ” the sun ” and others may refer to classes whose members one could not practically enumerate; like ” Vulcan “. To define ” Vulcan ” by enumeration one would have to refer to some several billion beings now in existence. Fortunately however, usually only a few cases would make ones meaning clear.

A great advantage to definitions by example lies in that one cannot define fictional entities in this manner. As we all know, Surak’s presence no longer resides among us. So, no event can we point to defines the word ” Surak “. The greatest value one can gain from defining by example lies in that such definitions do bridge the gap between words and experience. The only difficulty lies in words which do exist, but one cannot point to them as such, For example: ” electric current, or atoms “.

An operational definition succeeds quite well in cases involving such abstract words. One can define an atom by describing the experiments one would have to make in order to experience or detect an atom. In a similar manner one can describe an experiment which would demonstrate the existence of the phenomenon we call electric current.

Operational definitions also have the advantage that one cannot describe the steps to be taken to demonstrate some event which does not exist. They also bridge the gap from words to experience. Some Velarian definitions [ Translators Note: by which Lyras means the work of the ancient Vulcan philosopher Velar, who coincidentally has a direct Earth corollary in Aristotle ], ( like definition by synonym and definition by
( classification ); seemed formed very closely to operational definition and one can translate these to the operational equivalent without changing the meaning.

For example: ” The followers of Surak believe in non-violence “, which on the surface seems like a Velarian definition. However, one can also call this an operational definition since it implies the procedure to follow to experience which the definition refers to. One can go and ask a great number of those called the followers of Surak and indeed, they will acknowledge that they follow the path of non-violence.

In modern Vulcan, one calls Velarian definitions ” Intentional Definitions “, and definitions by enumeration, example, and operation ” Extensional Definitions “. For the purpose of sharing experience, of bridging the gap between words and experience, one prefers Extensional definitions. One will find that when one bridges the gap between language and experience, the bridge has formed itself of an enumerative, example, or operational definition.
Definition and Classification

1. Abstraction

Long ago Proto-Vulcan beings learned to form sounds and associate these sounds with specific kinds of experiences. Thus, language formed; and we came to communicate in a more complex manner. I can say the word ” leh’matya ” and have the reasonable assurance that the one I speak with will understand, approximately; what I mean. With language, I can provide directions to some one so they may experience what I have experienced.


I see a rod before me. I can measure it, and say that the rod has a length of 1m.
[ Translators Note: Substituted metrics for the Vulcan measure to make the meaning more clear to an English reader ]. Yet the length of the rod does not lie in the rod itself, but in my act of measuring. For if I measure it again I will get a slightly different result. I can never position my instrument in exactly the same place, nor read it exactly the same way. Surely the rod would not change in each measurement? No. This particular abstraction of the rod changes, not the rod itself.

All solaced properties of events in space-time exist only as our specific abstractions of these events. Length, width, color, mass… no event ” possesses ” these abstractions, they exist merely as features of language, to enable us to communicate our experiences to each other. Many people ignorant of science, still speak of heat as a substance rather than a process. As if something exists that they could point to and call heat.

This sehlat here, I call Ni’rch. Those of you who were here for my previous lecture will note I just committed a definition by example. Yet, surely; you would all agree that the word Ni’rch does not equal this beast? However if I should talk to you later when you cannot see Ni’rch and I tell you he has died, you will react as if you had seen Ni’rch die ( doubtless some of you would disagree ) and offer your condolences. What did you react to? Words as if they equaled the event they denote.
Ladder of Abstraction

The word Ni’rch the way I just defined it, does not even denote a space-time event but the abstraction ” my pet sehlat “. That concept itself consists of an abstraction of some other concept. We can ” abstract ” this process of abstracting by comparing it to a ladder.

On the bottom rung of the ladder one would have the actual space-time event, the
” selaht “; and all the infinite number of things one could say about this particular sehlat. Next rung up the ladder would hold the ” abstraction ” sehlat. This would consist of all the similarities one has observed between individual sehlats, and none of the differences. Further up the ladder we have ” animal ” which denotes a certain kind of creature. ” Creature ” of course would have the next higher rung.

The highest rung might be the word ” exist “, or ” substance “. At this level of abstraction, the words most often have lost any reference to an existent that one could point to or give directions to experience. They may still have some use if one speaks or writes them in some meaningful context.

This represents the process of abstracting. One generalizes, groups the similarities and ignores the differences. Naturally, one would not wish to discard this process; since speaking in the abstract has allowed us to break free from the here and now of experience and think about things that could exist or future possibilities.

Distrust of Abstractions

Yet in spite of the benefits, one should have the awareness of the pitfalls of generalized abstraction or classification. One should not think only at a certain level of abstraction. If one remains stuck at a low level of abstraction, one cannot draw general conclusions. To see the ” whole picture ” as it were. [ Translators Note: Substituted my own analogy here. Lyras’ seemed a bit obscure for English speakers ].

On the other hand, thinking only at a high level of abstraction appears to never let one leave the realm of vagueness, ambiguity, and perhaps even utter meaninglessness. On one hand we have various utterances with no connections to each other, and on the other we have words cut loose from experience.

One can show how statements as well as words appear at a higher or lower level of abstraction. In this way we can see explicitly the problems of getting stuck in one of these levels.

An example of language at a low level of abstraction:

I hold an object. The object I hold possesses a length of 1 meter, and a diameter of 0.02 meters. The object possesses a cylindrical surface area of 0.0003 meters squared. the object appears gray in color. The object has a smooth surface texture. The object has a specific gravity of approximately 7. [ Translators Note: Used measurements familiar to English speakers].

As you can see, the writer gives very accurate reports about various measurements of said object, but never says ” I hold the strut used in the shock absorbing devices of ground vehicles” “; to pull all those facts together into a coherent idea representative of the experience as a whole.

An example of language stuck at a high level of abstraction:

In order to understand justice, one must devote oneself to the defense of truth. In defense of truth, one follows what one knows as truth; ones morals.

Surely this seems clear? After all; justice involves truth and morals. Correct? Yet what does the writer mean by ” Justice. and Truth and Morals “? These very abstract words never get defined and insufficient context exists for one to do anything but guess at what the speaker means. Meaning does not exist in such abstract words until the author defines them, because these words exist on the very top of that ladder of abstraction.

Thus that passage, which doubtless has some meaning to the speaker, seems unclear to the rest of us, unless; we make some assumptions about what the speaker means by those abstract words. This leads to misunderstandings, which may seem trivial; but such misunderstandings lie at the root of all the wars we Vulcans have ever had.

Invalid Classifications

Of course no Vulcan gets stuck continuously at one level all the time for every subject. One fluctuates between levels depending on what one wishes to communicate. One simply must have awareness of the levels and not get confused between them. I call the process of equating a concept at one level of abstraction to a concept at a totally different ( higher or lower ) level of abstraction an invalid classification.

If one compares all animals to one leh’matya, one would have made an invalid comparison, due to the difference in levels of abstraction. Likewise one can only compare one existent leh’matya to all animals in a very limited way.

As a more everyday example, in your clan during ‘ankh ( war ) some groups
( or clans ) of Vulcans got classed as enemies, and others as friends. or; at least
not – enemies. This situation represents a perfect example of invalid classification. A clan leader or one with great influence with the clan could say ” that group, or; that Vulcan = enemy “. Let us examine this situation to see how this exemplifies a classification error. One can determine the level of abstraction of a concept by determining which concepts it includes. In this case, ” clan ” includes ” group of Vulcans ” and ” Group of Vulcans ” includes ” a Vulcan “. The concept of enemies can include any of these objects, and thus occupies the highest level of abstraction of any of the terms in this example.

You can see these relationships in this diagram: [ Translators Note: Lyras used a display in this lecture ].

* 1. enemies = * 2. clan = * 3. group of Vulcans = * 4. a Vulcan

Looking at this table one may ask oneself, but a classification by its very nature states that set ” X ” contains thing ” X1 ” … ” X “. Where does the error lie?

The error lies in judging the existent of a word, some individual Vulcan or group of Vulcans as having the same relationship to the word ” enemy ” as the words ” clan “,
” group of Vulcans “, and ” Vulcan ” do.

One can classify a words validity, in some situations but not in a limited way. If you classify Vulcan 1 as belonging to the set of all enemies, you acknowledge the similarities between Vulcan 1 and all other Vulcans you call enemies and forget the differences. You stop seeing these ” enemy ” Vulcans as individuals.

Vulcan 1 Not = Vulcan 2

Existential events do not equal one another, so any statement which tries to make some existent event equal some other equal event, constitutes a classification error. Likewise a statement in which one tries to make some existent equal to an abstract word, also constitutes a classification error.

When you classify a Vulcan as an abstraction, that Vulcan no longer seems real. You have let the conceptual Vulcan in your head overlay the existent Vulcan you can experience. It seems much easier then to kill a concept rather than an existent being like yourself. In a war, this allows one to commit any sort of atrocity to this Vulcan on the pretext that ” this Vulcan comes from clan X and clan X = enemy. Therefore, I must
hate, attack or oppose him / her “.

Remember a word represents a concept, an abstraction of something real. When you wish to discuss an existent event using words, beware you do not confuse the two. One cannot know C’thia if one cannot assemble facts into knowledge. Just because you can speak some word does not mean the word refers to an existent event.

[ Translators Final Note: As you all no doubt have noted, the above work has only a fictional existence. It consists of my extrapolation of what Lyras may have had to say about definitions. However the meat of this essay has its basis in the writings of Anatol Rapoport and S. I. Hayakawa. So while the character of Lyras has no real basis, the information content does. Diane Carey first wrote the name Lyras as the author of the book ” Logic and Definition ” which all Vulcans supposedly study in adulthood ].

Translated by:
Robert L. Zook II
Vulcan by Choice
Vulcan Science Academy, Shikahr, Vulcan

[ Copyright 1996 Robert L. Zook II. All rights reserved, but you may distribute this documentation freely so long as the entire document is used along with this notice ].

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