Monday, January 7, 2019

A Word About Pragmatics

I renamed the blog from "Ajit Anytime" to "Pragmatics" because I wanted the site to better reflect a focus on practical advice. From the idea that the posts would be practical, or pragmatic, I figured the collected ideas would be "Pragmatics."

I had heard the term before in this pluralized form, but knew that it did not actually mean a set of practical ideas. Looking into it more, I like the (improper) usage even more. The proper meaning of pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that studies how the transmission of meaning depends not only on linguistic knowledge but also the context in which the speech occurs. This is opposed to semantics, which looks at how meaning is encoded in the words themselves and how they relate to each other, free of any external context or prior knowledge.

I'm no linguist, but I liked this notion. Meaning requires context.

As a practical matter, every concept we encounter and incorporate has to be incorporated into a larger set of knowledge, akin to Charlie Munger's lattice framework. Each piece of knowledge connects to every other piece.

The people who become outsize successes are the ones who can connect disparate pieces of knowledge together either where no one is looking or no one believes the connection will hold. Steve Jobs gives a great example of this in his Stanford commencement speech, when he describes how a calligraphy class earlier in life inspired him to advocate for variable width fonts in the nascent Macintosh OS.

Will this blog rechristened will live up to its new title? Time will tell but hopefully by at least defining the term, we have a clearer model for its goal.


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