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October 2000

Rigid Definitions Restrict the Evolution of Understanding

Arch Dermatol. 2000;136(10):1271. doi:

Dr A. Bernard Ackerman,1 in an article opening a series of Special Millennium Articles for the ARCHIVES, forwarded a thesis that dermatology, in order to become "an authentic branch of knowledge," needs a complete dictionary in which all of its terms will be "defined in a lucid fashion." However, even in most rigorous, "authentic" sciences such as mathematics and physics, many important concepts escape precise and unequivocal definition. "Point" is still best defined as Euclid defined it centuries ago as "that of which there is no part," which is not really a definition but just a description of a property. The definition of such fundamental terms as "information," "infinity," "chaos," "energy," "mass," and "space" are not much more lucid than the definitions of "inflammatory diseases" and "eczema" in dermatology. How is it possible that these terms are universally understood and it is possible to talk about them in a meaningful way?