FORM AND LANGUAGE
By Roland Watson
I want to move on to the more abstract subject of behavioral form and language. Then, in the next article, I will consider the similarly abstract notion of form and objective reality.
Language and its limits
For the first, a language is a set of symbols that we apply to the world. And, we do this to make sense of the world, and to position ourselves relative to it. However, in using language in these ways it is important to recognize its limitations, and also the problems that it causes.
As a set of symbols, or parts, language is necessarily deficient in attempting to describe the world, which has as a basic characteristic the fact that it is a seamless totality. Any movement from that totality requires a break: a starting point. But such a break, the words that are used to describe it, introduces a separate perspective and, in effect, a distortion. Language can never fully grasp, or mirror, the universe. Like love, the world is simply indescribable. At the most fundamental, or true level, it can only be experienced.
For instance, consider a person who has been deaf since birth. Through the power of observation he or she will come to understand that there is such a thing as sound, yet have no real knowledge of it. But, at least in a few cases, with the use of modern, good technology, the physical damage can be reversed, and the sound magnified, and this person will hear, including for the very first time. Such an experience is indescribable. No words exist which can even approximate it.
This actually holds for any "feeling," including all emotions. Love, happiness, anger, fear, and hate, the states themselves, are inexpressible. Now, it is of course possible to express them, using language, but in a very real sense they are indefinable. They cannot be understood with words, again, only through experience.
More generally, this holds for anything, anything at all, including even reason. When two people use the same words, they believe they are describing the same thing, but for everything, in an epistemological sense, and for many, many specific things, it is impossible to be sure. This limitation of language magnifies the tendency towards subjectivism, towards having a self-focus and personal selfishness.
The problems of language
Then there are the problems of language. The limitation of not being able to describe feelings is also a problem. For example, considering the guidelines that I outlined in the last article, how can we be patient and tolerant if we disagree on what the terms mean?
We never really know how the things that we say to other people are actually received. In other words, they could "understand" something different from what we meant. Moreover, language regularly introduces an inflexibility. The limitations of our words in turn limit the extent of our ideas.
For example, this is particularly evident in science, where rigid world views, and the language - and mathematics - that accompany them, come to dominate, until someone invents a new view, and the language and math necessary to accommodate it.
This is why it is extremely valuable to learn multiple languages, since it expands your potential realm of thought. Also, in doing this, it is worth noting that learning two or three languages at an early age is far easier than learning one when you are young and a second years later. Such later learning has been shown to involve a different area of the brain. It is deemed by the brain itself to be less important, and it probably involves a less-efficient neural programming process as well.
Finally, language can convey fantasy, things which in a material sense do not exist, but which some people do take for objective reality. And, this leads us to form. Indeed, much of the language that we use is riddled with form. If etymology is the study of the origins of words, we need another linguistic field to cover their form content: the beliefs and the patterns of behavior that they suggest.
I will now list some examples and categories of form words. The general guideline relative to all of them is that you should discipline yourself not to use them, unless you can do so with such precision that their form content is either clearly evident, or eliminated.
- The best place to begin is with the phrase "I want." You should catch yourself anytime you say this. Similarly, other than in cases of real danger, you should avoid using "imperative" phrases, where you exhort the listener to do something, right now!
- Leading questions, which persuade the recipient to give you the answer that you desire. As an example: "You want to do it, don't you?" Or: "You're not a coward, are you?"
- Slang and obscenities. Almost all slang incorporates form. What is ironic is that slang often starts as an escape from form. However, it quickly becomes it.
- Verbal tics, such as "you know." (I must admit that I am guilty of this as well, through my use of such phrases as "of course.")
- Words that incorporate religious form, including "god"; "god knows"; "god willing"; "heaven forbid"; "go to hell"; "sin"; "evil"; and "soul." The problem with these words is that they imply something with certainty, but for which their existence is really only speculation.
- Personal names with a religious derivation. If you have children, give them "individual" names, rare ones, even unique ones.
- Us versus them words. There are many pejorative labels that people use to denigrate other groups, and also nationalism words, including "patriotism," "citizen," and "civilian."
- Terms with political connotations: "liberal," "conservative," "leftist," "extremist," and "feminist."
- The phrase "corporate governance," which in its broader usage reflects the form that corporations are the government now. This phrase is frightening. Corporations, which are organized internally as dictatorships, and which exist only to earn profits, cannot be trusted to govern.
- "Development," and "progress."
- "Natural resources," which holds the implicit belief that nature exists only to be used by people.
- "Primitive," "native," "savage." These words project an underlying belief of cultural superiority.
- "Educational influence," which is an oxymoron.
- "Cool," the real underlying idea of which is "good" or even "excellent," as when such terms are used to describe something of such cultural originality that in the future it will likely be in a museum. One can contrast this to the common use of the word, to describe a fleeting sentiment about something of no lasting value.
- "Good luck" and "bad luck," which carry the view that something is responsible for the luck. A much better phrasing is "good chance" and "bad chance." Indeed, by being opportunistic with chance, you make good luck.
- And finally, the question asked of children: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This phrasing shifts the child's focus from life to career. The real question is: "Who do you want to be?," meaning, what are your goals - what do you intend to experience and accomplish?
In conclusion, our language is full of form. Therefore, we will never be free of it until we change the words that we use.
© Roland Watson 2015