The Puzzling Experience

We peoples of the English speaking world seem to be absolutely fascinated by language, not only English but also our mother tongues and dialects. One could fill a fairly large library with nothing but the dictionaries, thesauruses and grammar books which we have produced over the last two-and-a-half centuries. We write about talking more than we talk about writing, it seems.

The philosophy of language explores the relationship between ourselves and our language and our language and the world we live in. We give words, and sentences, certain meanings pragmatically and also make semantic relationships between the words and the things to which they refer. We are capable of deducing, or inferring, further facts about the world from a word, or sentence, and expressing this new information in even more words and, in a sense, this is precisely what we do when we solve a language based puzzle.

The science of Logic studies the nature of the inferences we make and one of the most common strands in the philosophy of language, for at least the last two millennia, has been the attempt to formalise the rules by which we make our deductions. This study, at its simplest level, is hampered by the fact that words can have different literal, emotional and cultural values at different times and in different places.

When we set out to solve a puzzle we are really undertaking an extremely complex task. Perhaps a mathematician would say that we are setting up an algorithm in our brain to plot the relationship between the clue (the specified domain) and the answer (the value of the function). If that is the case then the compiler of the puzzle must have set up a reverse algorithm in order to make the puzzle. To make matters even more confusing our algorithms will have an unknown element which we would call randomness, or even intuition. It could be that we get on with certain compilers better than others because some algorithms are easier to see.

Our puzzles are not just games. They are vastly complex mental operations the study of which occupies the foremost scientific minds. When you do a puzzle you don't just give yourself pleasure you also set another puzzle.

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