Language, Logic & Paradox: How Language Shapes Our Perceivable Reality
In order to think about or talk about reality we must use a framework of some form. The English language is one such framework. Language is a model which we are using to communicate another model.
A word is a symbol that represents a meaning. When you say a word you are providing only a symbol, but along with it passes an intended meaning, a meaning that has been agreed upon between the giver and the receiver of that word-symbol.
A symbol is something that symbolizes something else in an easier to use form, a form that can be cheaply and easily replicated, such as words. For example the word ‘apple’ is a symbol. When I say “apple” you do not receive an actual apple, you receive a sound. Yet you know that the sound “apple” symbolizes a real apple and it does so without me having to show you an actual apple. This works only because we’ve both agreed to use the same framework/model; the same language. You’ve already associated your experience of physical apple with the sound “apple”, as have I. It’s a cheap and easy method of communication. Without it I’d have to push an apple into your face every time I wanted you to understand what I was talking about.
The sound “apple” does have its own non-symbolic existence as a sound. All symbols are themselves things too. What we are doing is choosing a cheaper, easier thing, defining it as representing something else, and then using the former cheap-thing as a substitute for the latter expensive-thing. This allows us to simulate and communicate complex structures (ideas and experiences) using cheap building materials. It’s analogous to making a miniature of a house out of cardboard before building the real house. You may find a problem with your miniature that would have been present in the real house, and so by building the miniature first you can find and fix this without having lost all the time and resources of building the flawed house. However, there is a problem with this. Your symbols are not the things they represent and they have their own flaws. If your cardboard miniature gets rained on it will probably fall down, whereas your brick house would not do so. And you can’t actually live in your cardboard miniature, it’s only a symbol. You must understand that the symbol is not the same thing as what it represents. It’s advised to not mistake the map for the territory or eat the menu instead of the dinner.
All forms are themselves made of smaller component forms. Houses can be made from planks of wood or bricks. Words are made from letters and can be strung together into sentences, with more sophisticated and even conditional meanings. When you do this you are building a new form (a sentence), using components (words) that are themselves forms. Each individual word has a meaning, but the sentence itself has a very different, a much more sophisticated meaning which has only come into existence on your creation of it. The properties of a house are different to the properties of a brick; the meaning of a sentence is different to the meanings of the individual words that make it. You could even say that a sentence is a union of words, with the words working together to create a new greater meaning, just as a union of people can work together to make a company with its own goals. This process is called spelling, which is closely related to the word spell as in ‘magic spell’.
You could think of it that the word is the form and the meaning is the spirit. Spirits are contained within forms, and without spirit a form is nothing but an empty shell, powerless, such as a word that has no meaning. For example ‘gloke’ has a form but no meaning. It has a form because it’s made of letter components which themselves already exist within our language framework and have basic established and accepted form. The new word ‘gloke’ created from these letter components has a stable form yet no meaning. It would take energy (I could work to promote its acceptance) to imbibe it with meaning, at which point it would come alive. At first it would be a baby and require ongoing energy to sustain it, without which it would die an early death. As more and more people accept it it would grow up and become self-sufficient, continuing its own life without me, its parent. Eventually it will be overthrown by a more useful word, pass out of use and die.
Logic is the tool that is used to manipulate symbols within the framework of language, in the same way that a saw is used to manipulate wood. The word ‘and’ is like glue; the word ‘but’ is like lubricant. Logic allows us to separate reality into components and then glue these components back together in a novel form, which we can then imagine as if that were reality. In effect logic is a kind of simulation.
The problem with tools is that if you have a knife then everything is made of slices, and if you have a hammer then everything is made of chunks. Hence the reality that you observe is a description of the tool you’re using moreso than what you are looking at. Reality described with the English language tells us more about the English language than it does about reality. What’s being described could be considered to the relationship between the tool (i.e. English language) and the object (i.e. reality.)
Since you can’t not use a model to look at reality it would be valid to say that there isn’t a reality outside of models, and so you’re only ever seeing a reflection of you and your chosen tool. You were the one who chose which tool to use, which means the tool is also a reflection of you. Some people prefer hammers, and other people prefer knives. So their opinions really tell you more about them, not so much about what they are attempting to communicate.
Using logic we can manipulate symbols to imagine simulations of things we haven’t experienced, by separating things we have experienced back into their component qualities, such as: color, quantity, shape, class, utility, etc., and then recombine these in novel ways. For example, maybe I’ve seen a blue car but I’ve never seen a green car, but I have seen green grass. From this I can take the green from the grass and project that onto the shape from the car, thereby simulating a green car without ever having seen one. This allows me to hypothesize that a green car could exist, communicate it and draw up a plan of action to bring the green car into existence. Maybe I’ve only ever seen 2 chickens at once, but I have seen 7 cucumbers. From this I can simulate what 7 chickens would look like and talk about them even though I’ve never actually experienced it.
‘Blue’ is also a symbol, representing the color blue unattached to any object. Likewise ‘5’ is a symbol that represents 5 of something, unattached to what those 5 objects might be.
But ‘blue’ isn’t a thing. You’ve never experienced blue without a blue shape or blue object to go along with it. You’ve seen blue circles and blue skies and blue flowers, but you’ve never seen just blue. Even if you imagine blue, what you’re imagining is a blue screen as wide as your vision. It still has to have some form.
Likewise you can’t imagine 5 of nothing. It has to be 5 dots or 5 cups or 5 cars. It has to be 5 of something. ‘5’ itself is an abstract, you can think of it as spirit, it has meaning but no form. 5 nothings is not useful for anything, the spirit of 5 must be given a form to come into existence. Likewise the form ‘chicken’ is useless unless there is at least 1 of it. Language allows us to speak of spirit and form separately, but to manifest in reality all spirits must have forms and vice-versa.
There are pitfalls. The biggest mistake is to mistake logic, the framework for the manipulation of symbols, or the symbols themselves, for reality. If you make this mistake you might start thinking that 5 and blue actually exist independently. They don’t. It would be like trying to have a wife without a husband, the existence of the husband is required for the existence of the wife, because each word implies the existence of the other. A husband can’t be without a wife, you’re describing one side of a two-sided coin. In the same way ‘blue’ implies the existence of some object that is actually blue. But if you forget this you can confuse yourself and then you’ll quickly get lost in what appears to be endless paradoxes.
There are no paradoxes in reality. Whenever you reach a paradox it doesn’t mean that you’ve found a paradox within reality. There are no paradoxes within reality; reality is what is and so a paradox within reality is an oxymoron. If you reach a paradox it means it the framework or model that you’re using to interpret reality, or your logic, is flawed. If this happens you need to take a different approach to it, try a different tool.
For example, in Buddhism it is said that one achieves Buddhahood by ridding oneself of all desire. Yet to desire to not desire is itself a desire, making the task seemingly impossible. The answer? The answer is that there is no answer because the question itself follows the rules of language which are analogous yet not identical to the rules of the physical world. In language we can make a sentence “Bob’s name is Fred” and then we can argue forever about whether Bob does or does not exist, but it’s nonsense — the original statement was deliberately illogical and so you can’t use logic to solve it. The question is nonsense and therefore the answer is too.
Paradoxes are nothing more than the limitation of language to adequately explain the true nature of reality. Attempting to answer a paradox is akin to trying to dig yourself out of a hole. Reality itself is fairly straightforward: if you’re blue then you’re blue; if you’re red then you’re red. If you’re hungry then eat; if you’re tired then sleep. If you bang your head against the wall then it hurts, and if you don’t like pain then stop banging your head!
Paradoxes and self-defeating definitions such as “Bob’s name is Fred”, “round square” or “desire to not desire” are fun quirks of language, not actually existent problems in reality. Don’t confuse grammatical rules with the laws of nature — just because you can do something in a sentence doesn’t mean you can do it in reality! To do so would be to mistake the map for the territory, or the menu for the dinner.
Take for example the sentence “this sentence is false”. If it’s true then it’s false and if it’s false then it’s true. So it’s a paradox? What you have is a little game in which the meaning redefines itself each time its read. You keep track of its current status and you invert that status each time you read the sentence — you choose to do that. The information contained in the sentence only refers to itself, there is no actual information here other than the experience of playing the game. It’s a mildly interesting game, and if you get bored you can stop reading it and do something else.
An alternative perspective on a paradox is that if there is a situation which cannot be escaped from, then what you’ve found is something that has always been with you and always will be with you. It should be obvious that if you find something from which you can never escape, i.e. never separate from, then this thing must be part of you. You are the paradox. This is the opposite perspective to the aforementioned ‘paradoxes do not exist’ perspective. This can also be expanded to: you can’t get away from everything, therefore you are everything. Or even: paradoxes don’t exist, you are a paradox, therefore you don’t exist — which explains why you can never catch yourself. These are all valid perspectives, although you can also consider them all meaningless since if you are everything (you = everything) and you were then to make the statement “I am everything” this would be synonymous with saying “I am I” or “everything is everything”, which is not to be saying anything at all.
Most of what we consider information is in fact just labeling. When a child asks what something is, they are asking for its symbol — yet one doesn’t need the symbol to know the thing, likewise learning the name does not mean you know the thing.
I was walking in a garden some time ago with a friend and saw a fruit that I didn’t recognize. I pointed to the fruit and asked my friend what it was and they told me the name of the fruit. I said that I didn’t know that fruit. They said “it’s that” and pointed back to the fruit. Lol.
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