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I’ve decided to update my bios on various venues on the web at some point, since most of them are simplistic.

Too simplistic. Convenient, but still too simplistic.


Because people are not nouns. We are not collections of simple one-or-two syllable terms. Human beings can never be adequately defined and described by simple static descriptors.

We are what we are, but nothing about us can be fully captured in the space of a few brief words. We do things, we perform actions.

We are verbs, not nouns.

We are not just artists, nor writers, nor believers, nor nonbelievers, nor followers, nor leaders, nor students, nor teachers, nor are we just collections of the countless other descriptive labels, though these are a useful shorthand when we are in a hurry, or constrained by space limitations on a blogpost or a brief biographical description on a personal website.

The problem is that over-reliance on these leads to stereotyping, because language is not neutral, and the meaning that the writer of the blogpost or bio-page puts into them very often isn’t the same as the meaning that the reader supplies to them.

Ask a religious nonbeliever what ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic’ or ‘humanist’ or ‘secularist’ or ‘rationalist’ or ‘freethinker’ or ‘antitheist’ means and ask the same of any randomly selected self-described religious or spiritual practitioner, and very, very often you will get two very different answers.

The content and meaning of these answers will diverge greatly, depending on the differences in culture, worldview, education, and personal background.

Ask someone who practices analytical thinking skills, has a fair level of scientific literacy, a healthy level of suspicion for questionable claims, and who values the use of reason in argument what a ‘skeptic’ is, and you will very likely get a completely different answer from that of, say, a New Age practitioner of crystal healing and Reiki.

The point is, again, that few people, save those with compatible perspectives, are likely to attribute the same meaning to the same nouns, so labels can cause difficulties.

They lead, for one thing, to stereotyping, though as long as one keeps in mind that the stereotype is just a schematic and not a literal representation of reality, all is well.

The problems result from the fact that few of us do this. We tend to be lazy thinkers, even the smartest of us, using cognitive shortcuts to reach closure on a matter quickly, and while this is efficient and usually works in ordinary usage, it is hardly adequate for scenarios we are not prepared for, that may require deeper levels of problem solving skills.

When we see a stereotype and confuse it for the literal reality of what or who it seems to apply to, not just a schematic or an abstraction, we commit a hasty generalization — reaching closure on something from an insufficient number of instances (or too low a sample size in statistical lingo) — and this can lead to bigoted thinking.

I am not a skeptic, nor a fractal artist, nor a blogger, nor a cat person, nor any other collection of nouns, though I’ve used these as a convenient shorthand, not that it hasn’t caused confusion in a number of instances…

Better still, from a verbal perspective…

I practice and seek to develop clearer thinking skills, to hone the edges of my reasoning and argumentation ability, improve my level of education and science savviness, to protect myself and others from scammery and flim-flam artists, to look into the claims of cranks and quacks, and generally help support good science education.

I make fractal artwork as a pastime with the intent to develop it to professional levels. I think that cats are some of the most awesome animals on the planet, and not just in internet memes (though I confess some bias there).

I post on a number of blogs and internet social media like Facebook and Twitter, and through these I’ve come in contact with and interact with some of the coolest people my species has ever produced.

Like anyone else, there are countless things I do daily, weekly, monthly and over spans of years, even the most ordinary tasks, that cannot possibly be adequately captured in just a few words on a Twitter bio or Facebook page.

People are far too nuanced than that, and that includes anyone reading this post.

So consider thinking of people in terms of verbs, not static nouns, as intelligent causal agents who do things, rather than just simple clusters of tags and labels. The world may seem a lot more complex if you do, but it will also be a lot more interesting as well.

Try it.

One Comment

    • abutcherswife
    • Posted Friday, 0:23, April 19, 2013 at 0:23
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    I will look forward to hunting around for your bios now. I hate labels, it’s so hard to describe ourselves without them, but they are so limiting. I like your idea that we are verbs, not nouns. Thanks for this great post.


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