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The Tinkered Mind
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August 30th, 2018
A pedantic person pays an annoying amount of attention to details that may or may not be significant in the long-term.
Such a person may defend this aim with the noble desire for precision and accuracy. And certainly precision and accuracy have a time and a place where obsessive focus can be a good thing: with, say, the design and build of a rocket ship, or with brain surgery.
Strangely, we rarely hear about a rocket engineer or a surgeon being pedantic about their job.
The word is used in areas where attention to detail may have a self-defeating effect,
in conversation for example.
We must ask what is the point of conversation?
Is it a nit-picking battle to prove superiority? Does such an aim ever result in a net-positive? Or does it merely create more enemies?
If we can be more generous with our aim of conversation: we might say that the point is for both parties to advance themselves via interaction with the other. This is a non-zero sum game, and a much better game compared to the petty king-of-the-hill arguments that so often take place.
Certainly we should strive to be precise with our language and accurately represent our ideas, so we must ask, when does such precision and accuracy lapse into pedantry?
An honest examination of language cannot exist without the admission that it constantly changes. Words organically shift in their meanings, often slowly, and sometimes quickly.
Pedantry comes from a fear of these shifts and changes.
Such shifts and changes force a constant degree of uncertainty into our language, and it is this uncertainty that people can easily grow to fear.
The pedantic person seeks to arm themselves against this uncertainty with an intense attachment to the particular meanings. Another way of saying this is that the pedantic person seeks to arm themselves against uncertainty with an intense attachment to a particular way of thinking.
While the pedant seeks to have an accurate and precise understanding of reality, the error the pedant makes is thinking a certain snapshot of language and the concepts we abide by is somehow the ultimate reality, when really most of these concepts are merely pieces of the human imagination, built on a shifting, restless language that often defies the attempts to categorize things in some kind of ultimate way.
A pedant thinks of language like a mathematical formula that is solved in the same way over and over, when really most of the concepts we use to communicate and the language we use to communicate such concepts operate like a painting that we are constantly repainting on top of itself. Though the resemblance might always hold to some degree and shift slower than we can notice, we would be a fool to think we have the exact same painting.
Pedantic statements are borne from a fear, and an unwillingness to engage with the changing nature of our very human reality.
The pedantic person is someone who’s thinking is structurally stuck in a RUT, which makes such a person little better than a one-track mind.