Thursday, February 26, 2009

Language, Categories, Naming, Symbols

I'm gonna keep putting up some of these thoughts. I have been letting this stuff marinate for years, so it's nice to write it out. And writing is actually part of what this post is about.

I understand that throwing concepts around while using common language can be trying, as we all bring different things to the table when we exchange words and concepts.

This ambivalence I am writing about is made possible, in part, by this fluidity of language. Language is symbol and common currency. Nothing more. We call something a chair only because we have chosen communally (and somewhat arbitrarily) to call it so. There are other names for seated things, for things made of wood or steel, etc. But we all surrender to the name chair for the sake of commonality.

What use is it to be able to name something if everyone else refuses to call it so? (There might be value to that, actually, but that's not what I'm getting at.)

We submit our individual perceptions to communal language, ideas, customs, and categories. And words are merely symbols pointing at something. This is important to remember.

Categories can be even more trying when trying to break your eye open (Six Feet Under reference, anyone?!?). Categories are so helpful, and categorization is what we do as humanity. This is what helps us to understand and know. I (and you) categorize daily, knowingly and unknowingly. It helps us to write rules for how to deal with different things in a more efficient way. But categories are not real, just as language is not static. Categories are constructs to limit us, so we can focus and find similarities and differences.

Are you picking up what I'm putting down?

So, when we get locked into language (one of our few means of common currency) or categories, we can begin to think they're reality. But they're not. They only point at reality, right?

Symbols are powerful, but if we let the symbols become reality, they will become false idols, so to speak.

Naming things is important, as long as we realize it is unique to our experience and the communal experience we surrender to.

I'm going to stop there even though I've more to say on this. It's only 8pm, but we're all dead tired and going to sleep. 8 hours of driving tomorrow.

1 comment:

elan said...

This is really compelling. It got me thinking about some of the work I've been doing with pattern recognition in language and how I might be able to create patterns from different types of symbols or categories.