The Word and the World

Can language be separated from reality?

Is language limited? We might answer the question with reference to a tragi-comic empirical precept: everything is limited, in the end, in one sense or another. We are mortal; we exist in an unknowable and strange universe, of which we understand very little. Each one of us is limited, by finitude, by vantage point; our species is limited, and, we might reasonably assume, will one day become extinct.

Furthermore, these words I am deploying – ‘the universe,’ ‘time’ – are linguistic concepts, not perpetual realities. The word is not the thing. Moreover, the thing is most likely not the thing as we understand it; it is completely possible we have not grasped the meaning of it at all.

Despite this, we eagerly apply words to the formlessness around us, and our anointed experts deliver new taxonomies in language, which rise to prominence and then fade, to be replaced by other taxonomies in turn. Meanwhile, another species, with another language and another m

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Rob Marsh 28 November 2015

I would disagree on one point only, that we as human beings "cannot transcend subjective, predominantly linguistic consciousness."

While it is true that we are subjective creatures, and that we cannot get out of subjectivity and remain who and what we are; we certainly can transcend linguistic consciousness and in fact do it every single day.

Are you thinking every second of every minute of every hour? Or do you encounter pauses?

Furthermore, there is a wealth of techniques and behaviours designed primarily to accomplish just the transcendence of language you speak of in the Zen traditions, and more broadly the Yogic disciplines of India and Buddhism that are absolutely worth considering in relation to the problem of language and reality.

lenwk 27 November 2015

Wonderful article. Shades of Wittgenstein and his language games, with which we're eternally condemned to play.