[r-t] Definitions so far

Don Morrison dfm at ringing.org
Sat Jan 17 17:28:25 UTC 2015

On Sat, Jan 17, 2015 at 3:41 AM, Alexander Holroyd <holroyd at math.ubc.ca> wrote:
> As I tried to explain before, I think this one is absolutely nuts

I have a great deal of sympathy for Ander's position. And that despite
the language he is objecting to originating, I think, with me. This
whole "process" thing is horribly hand-wavy. When I first proposed it
I wrote

> "A process for generating a sequence of" may be troublingly vague,
> though at root, that's it's job! If there's value in going forward I'm
> sure someone will come up with a better way of phrasing this.

It appears at least some of us have thought it was pursuing, though,
sadly, no one seems to have come up with a better way of phrasing it.
Perhaps that deserves some more effort?

It is hard, perhaps impossible, to come up with some definition that
encompasses things we've not yet imagined. But our inability to do
so in the past has caused the current decisions to be the baroque
collection of patches and after thoughts that they are. Perhaps all
we can do is periodically clean things up to match the current
state of the art, with the knowledge that it's all going to have
to be done again in fifty years, forty-nine of them occupied with
interminable bickering at and around Council meetings. It would be nice
to come up with something more durable, but whether or not that really
is possible, I don't know.

Several observations, in no particular order:

a) If I've understood Ander's argument correctly, a central part of
it is that using so vague a word as "process" opens up a plethora of
different ways of describing the same method, each of which a
sufficient bloody-minded band might name differently. How is this,
other than in degree, different from the current state of affairs? Do
we have reason to believe the bloody-minded will be more tempted to
take advantage of the opportunities "process" provides than those
already available today?

b) How do we accommodate Dixonoids, which, while rare, are rung today?
While it's certainly fair to choose to set them aside for a time, how
do we reconcile that choice with the knowledge that when we come back
to them it is possible, perhaps likely, that whatever we've decided
about more normal things will fit so badly we'll have to tear it all
up and start over yet once again? Is it possible to have confidence we
will not have to start again if we don't think about more exotic
things, at least a little bit, now? I think this "a little bit now"
is part of what the whole "process" language is trying to accommodate.

c) What is our long term plan for coping with things we've not even
imagined yet? Is it the status quo, where we fight and bicker about
it, eventually adding warts onto the existing definitions to
accommodate each individual case? Or can we somehow make the process

d) While I don't think Ander voiced this, others have sometimes argued
that we should call the common things "methods" and call other things
we do or might ring something else. This is the direction the Council
took with its non-method blocks. (It is interesting to note that even
the Methods Committee appears to have recognized that this was a
horrible choice of name as, despite what is codified in the Council's
decisions, the committee now tends to call them just "blocks" and
largely avoid writing "non-method". Though how that is reconciled with
the traditional use of "block" when describing a composition I don't
understand.) This appropriation of "method" to describe just the best
behaved subset of things we might ring seems ill-advised. When ringing
Dixon's or even more esoteric things I believe most of us would still
think of ourselves as "method ringers". We should aim to keep "method"
a broadly applicable term, and simply qualify it when we wish to limit
what we are discussing. If an ordinary ringer, standing outside a
tower and listening to a well struck touch, would say "aye, that's
method ringing" then, whatever the underlying basis is of how the band
is generating the rows it's ringing should probably be called a

Don Morrison <dfm at ringing.org>
"If a philosopher advances a philosophical argument to show that
we do not in fact ever see trees and books and human bodies,
despite the fact that in a variety of familiar situations we
would ordinarily say that we do, then our philosopher is almost
certainly wrong."     -- Paul Grice, _Studies in the Way of Words_

More information about the ringing-theory mailing list