KARL JASPERS FORUM

SYMPOSIUM PANEL DISCUSSION PART 1

COMMENTARY 4 (to C3 by Dimitrije Pivnički)

 

THE WORD RULES
by Herbert FJ Müller
6 May 2002, posted 28 May 2002

 

<1>
I want to thank Dr. Pivnički for his erudite commentary. At the start he presents several striking quotations from philosophy, religion, and poetry. In answering I will begin with one of the poems which illustrates particularly well some points concerning verbal thinking. These are further discussed in some extracts from my recent paper, which I take the liberty of re-quoting.

" Logos

Das Wort ist mein Schwert

Und das Wort beschwert mich

Das Wort ist mein Schild

Und das Wort schilt mich

Das Wort ist fest

Und das Wort ist lose

Das Wort ist mein Fest

Und das ist mein Los "

Erich Fried (1921-1988)

A translation into English amplifies (at the expense of the poetry) some ambiguities of meaning which are the gist of the poem.


Logos


The word is my sword

And the word burdens me

The word is my shield

And the word scolds me


The word is fast (firm)

And the word is loose

The word is my feast (and my hold)

And that is my lot (fate)

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<2>
Words are made by us but (like numbers and many other human inventions) they acquire a sort of life, rules, laws, a dynamic, of their own, and this is so mainly not because others use them too, but because of built-in properties of the words themselves. As Fried says, they are our creations, structures, strength, stability, and tools, but they are also our limitations, responsibilities, and faults, and indeed our fate - if we are too wrapped up in them. Meaning is reason, and vice versa (C3<6> : Heidegger, Jaeger, Gadamer). Still, since we are the ones who produce words, meaning, and reason, we can try to do something about this fate. For this "the logos" does need clarification, it is not enough that the term is often used (C3<7>). In current use, some important aspects may be neglected, even become atrophic and besides, the meanings of "logos" are manifold. But I agree that the word "consciousness" is better replaced by more specific terms (C3<4>).

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<3>
(TA45[4a]) " The human creation and use of words within SE [i.e., inside ongoing primarily unstructured subjective experience, the source, apeiron, the world-spirit, the all, etc. - which, as DP point outs (C3<4>), can NOT be conceived in its entirety with the help of words, nor by any other means] results in an emphasis on word-concept dynamics (and on the language, rhetoric, and discourse which are based on it). A prominent feature of these dynamics is that words and experience are asymptotic to each other, as manifested in transcendence and encompassment.

Word-meanings transcend (i.e., they go beyond, and are therefore under-determined by) any ongoing subjective experience. For instance the word STONE :

- I can use now to conceptualize and communicate an ongoing experience of seeing or handling a stone,

- but it also can imply an infinite (asymptotic) process of me getting to know one stone,

- can mean all possible stones anywhere and at any time, and which are either

- known by someone (human or animal), or also those

- never known by anyone - and this last is an important aspect, because :


<4>
The transcendence of present experience by words may prompt a leap of faith that word-concepts ('ideas') either are, or refer to, mind-independently pre-assembled real (MIR) and true entities. This statement amounts to a description of belief in static metaphysics or ontology : the belief in a mind-independent world with externally pre-fabricated structures, and with an external built-in constancy of entities. Strictly speaking, it means a view without an observer, a "view from nowhere" (Nagel), which is in wide use despite being self-contradictory. It also implies belief in an ontological (primary) subject-object split.

But as mental tools, words and concepts do not have to imply static-ontological beliefs (cf. Vico, Wittgenstein). That they refer to never-experienced entities is the effect of a highly efficient fiction : an extrapolation from presently happening structured experience, which works in many although not all situations - but a fiction nevertheless.


<5>
The desire to believe in MIR tends to be very strong and keeps coming back even when it had
been accepted to be impossible. This conflict has been expressed in many views, not only in empiricism or positivism. For instance, in spite of their commitment to a phenomenological-existential orientation, both Husserl and Heidegger paradoxically tried to provide an ontological foundation of their views. The following quotation from Merleau-Ponty is a further example of MIR re-surfacing in the course of a phenomenological effort.


<6>
" Même si finalement je ne sais pas cette pierre absolument, même si la connaissance en ce qui la concerne va de proche en proche à l'infini et ne s'achève jamais, encore est-il que la pierre perçue est là, que je la reconnais, que je l'ai nommée et que nous nous entendons sur un certain nombre d'énonciations a son sujet. Ainsi il semble que nous soyons conduits à une contradiction : la croyance à la chose et au monde ne peut signifier que la présomption d'une synthese achevée, - et cependant cet achèvement est rendu impossible par la nature même des perspectives à relier, puisque chacune d'elles renvoie infiniment par ces horizons à d'autres perspectives. Il y a, en effet, contradiction, tant que nous opérons dans l'être, mais la contradiction cesse ou plutôt elle se généralise, elle se relie aux conditions dernières de notre expérience, elle se confond avec la possibilité de vivre et de penser, si nous opérons dans le temps, et si nous réussissons à comprendre le temps comme la mesure de l'être. "


<7>
In my present understanding this illustrates the conflict between (i) a phenomenological description of an asymptotic approach of ongoing experience to a transcendent word-concept meaning on the one hand ("la connaissance en ce qui la concerne va de proche en proche à l'infini et ne s'achève jamais") - which could perhaps alternatively be viewed as a process of active construction plus problems in the use of concepts due to the asymptotic relation between experience and concepts - and (ii) MIR-belief on the other ("la croyance à la chose"). This contradiction then prompts (iii) an attempt to reconcile the two. "

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<8>
What should we do about the logos as positive content = MIR = static metaphysics ? Gumilev said in his poem (C3<1.5>) that only the whole, the all, the apeiron, is valid ("glows and shines"), and he found it in Godís positive word in the Bible. When it is walled off, there are only "dead words that rot and stink", he wrote.

But we should also remember that others - like the Buddha - found it in non-theistic ways, without the positive MI-truths presented by the Bible or the Koran. Is it not possible that his zero-belief (nirvana) is at least as close to the apeiron, which itself is not positive ? The word is secondary to - a tool inside - experience. (By the way, my Russian dictionary tells me that MIR is both "peace" and "the world").

The rules (laws, dynamics) that evolve during the use of our word-concepts eventually tend to rule us and determine our thinking habits, as Fried suggested in his poem. The result is often a strong propensity to relapse into MIR-thinking. Examples include not only scientists but also philosophers with very different views, such as Popper (who changed from anti-ontology to cautious pro-ontology) and Heidegger (from meaning of existence or Dasein to an (unsuccessful) attempt to write what he called a fundamental ontology). We find ourselves in the role of the sorcererís apprentice, overpowered by the effects of the things we create, then want outside stability and help.

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<9>
(TA45[7]) " PROPOSAL : WORKING METAPHYSICS

This addresses the objectivity-dilemma as the central problem. The concept is generalized from "working hypothesis". It accepts metaphysics (ontology) as a necessary and useful working tool but not as representing, or otherwise relating to, something outside SE [i.e., outside the apeiron].

Its main characteristic is that it starts before the S-O split : the subject is always included, and all mental mind-nature qualities and structures are understood to be working tools within SE; they are not static given or manifest entities. Mental tools, including all pre-verbal qualities, pre-verbal concepts, and word-concept structures, for dealing with the (subject-inclusive) mind-nature experience, are viewed only as if they were mind-independent ("as-if-MIR"). This is compatible with a 0-D view. (Vaihinger made an incomplete proposal to that effect).


<10>
Awareness then persists that

- mind-nature tools are our products, including socially constructed ones, but that

- they are viable only within the constraints (feedback) of ongoing experience,

- which is structured with their help; that

- working metaphysics is thinking without static ontology; and that

- the subject-object split is strictly pragmatic (operational). "

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<11>
Stat rosa pristina nomine

Nomina nuda tenemus

 

Umberto Eco writes that this is from "De contempto mundi" by Bernard of Morlay, a twelfth-century Benedictine Monk Ö "Abelard used the example of "Nulla rosa est" to demonstrate how language can speak of both the non-existent and the destroyed".

"The Name of the Rose", postscript - Harvest Book, Harcourt Brace, 1984.


<12>
While the pristine rose can be fleetingly "captured" by the word, the word goes beyond it and persists, we keep it, but also it (the naked word, which is what we really "have") can never BE the rose. The full experience of the rose is only hinted at, evoked by the word, in the context of present - or in memory of past - experience :

<13>
(TA45[4b]) " Conversely, the unitary ongoing experience encompasses (i.e., it is wider than) any possible word-concept or combination of concepts used to deal with it, and can never be completely grasped by them (cf. Jaspers).

This second asymptotic relation may (and often does) prompt attempts to structure the not-yet-structured part of experience. But this structuring cannot be completed, because something quite central always remains unstructured in SE. [For instance, trying to capture - not only evoke - the apeiron itself by means of any sort or combination of logoi is impossible; DP might agree with that, see his C3<1,1> and <4>] - Other attempts to deal with this incompleteness of mental structures may involve postulating a world spirit, use of mysticism, meditation, and related techniques. (See for instance TA41 by Nair; his description of a return to something close to a non-structured state is of interest in connection with my discussion of 0-D). All these can be helpful steps so long as they do not result in obfuscation and the solution is not sought outside SE. "

I would welcome comments to my remarks on concept-dynamics. - One may also formulate the situation in pre-Socratic terminology, if you wish : should we base ourselves on Anaximander's notion that the apeiron is first ("the things" originate in it and perish back into it) and Heraclitus' that everything flows ? Or else on Parmenides' idea of aletheia, that "the being" is already out there, pre-structured, to be unveiled or discovered by us (the basis for objectivity) ? His student Zeno followed this up by suggesting that such a static MIR-world did not even allow movement (and besides, the subject vanishes).

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<14>
On " Mind - Construction - Brain " : DP says that this is unanswerable. For my part I have an answer : mind constructs brain. (This is a proposal for discussion - it does not mean that others have to agree with it.) Our mind (SE) makes concepts which structure experience, one of them is brain [stat cerebrum pristinum nomine], a word-concept structure, or rather a whole conglomerate of word-concepts which we use to deal with some aspects of experience. But firstly the word-structures cannot BE the experience, nor can secondly the segregated or attended experience (brain) be the whole (apeiron, SE).

The main advantage of this view (that mind constructs brain), as I see it, is that one can avoid certain dead-ends (apories). For instance the one of trying to make what some call "consciousness", SE, the mind, mind-independently objective, or using non-functional ideas like the one that the brain either is the mind ("the mind-brain"), or somehow produces the mind, or that the mind is something which happens in micro-tubules, etc, etc.

But from those who disagree I would appreciate a note that would help me to understand why they do.

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Herbert FJ Müller

e-mail <hmller@po-box-mcgill.ca>