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June 30th, 2020
It’s one thing to know the definition of a word, it’s quite another to understand the full breadth of the concept we use. And beyond this, we each individually use these words and concepts in nuanced ways that differ from others. The troubling trend around this is how seldom people examine the concepts and the language they use, and as a result they become victims to drift in meaning as the words they use become unanchored from their history and function.
Each word in a sentence is appropriated, not because of a deep investigation of it’s meaning and use, but often just because the word approximates a detail of an emotional push that has provoked the uttering of the sentence. We’re all aware of those who can rattle off a great number of words without ever saying anything, and the quacking of these sorts of ducks is the best example to hint at the emotional root of talking and communicating. What such people are doing has little if anything to do with meaning and information, and everything to do with the satisfaction of a particular emotional impulse. An orator, if dressed correctly and in the right setting and equipped with the right force of voice can sway are great many people to their side of the story, even if that story has practically no substance to it. We are creatures that communicate primarily through emotion.
Introspection, as we seem to understand it and think of the word is some sort of practice of looking within our own being to see and know what is there. But what exactly is the experience of our inner being? We feel a spectrum of emotion glittering throughout the body. There are of course other physical sensations that don’t really accord to an emotion, and then there is the hazy realm of thought which occasionally gels into expressible forms: that is, words.
Introspection, as a practical effort may boil down to simply investigating the way you use words and what you think they mean. Words, in this regard, are the substrate upon which the unique orientation of our person resides. To think of it another way, we only need ask:
How would you understand who you are without language?
It otherwise stands to reason that understanding how we work is really a matter of understanding the concepts we use, the way we use them, and how they do or don’t work together in ways that create meaningful results.
In some sense, Tinkered Thinking is just a daily meditation on the effort to investigate, explore and test the function of the words and concepts that make up the practical mechanics of a mind. If one thing is clear, it’s how fruitfully surprising this practice has been. Many of the words we use, the concepts upon which we rely, have details and nuances of meaning and function rooted in their history and etymology that result in a clarifying lens through which to see their warped use in the present.
A simple and current example is the word truth. The phrases “my truth” and “your truth” completely undermine the definition of the word ‘truth’. This is not a concept that is separated by perspective and individuality. It’s the exact opposite:
Truth is what can be verified across perspectives. It is the understanding of reality that can be shared and relied upon without previous testing.
To bifurcate it’s meaning into mine and yours, and then to further ramify the meaning into many puts at risk the ability for language to carry a common thread between perspectives. What’s been done seems to be that words like ‘opinion’ and ‘perspective’ failed to have enough emotional force in recent public discourse, so the foundational sounding ‘truth’ has been appropriated so as to give more intestinal fortitude to statements regarding opinion and perspective.
Of course, there’s no mechanism in language to protect against this. It’s fundamental feature of language that words can lose their meanings and gain new ones.
But there is a human mechanism to protect against the morass of unintelligibility that such drift in the case of the word truth may cause. That mechanism is simple, albeit perhaps rare, it’s introspection. It is the practice of looking at words and concepts -each in turn- plainly for what they have meant, and more importantly, to incisively capture the function of that word which is at the heart of it’s original need to be created.
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