Thoughts on Language, Meaning, Existence

Lots of random thoughts.
Lately I’ve been having epiphanies regarding meaning and life and other such things.

I’ll write this out more later, but it revolves around language. The philosophy of language totally blew my mind about the way I was conceiving and approaching life’s questions.

“Language is the house of being, which is propriated by being and pervaded by being” -Heidegger

“The limits of my language are the limits of my world” – Wittgenstein

When asking questions and reflecting on life, I try my best not to over intellectualize, but remain in a realm of pragmatism that mediates between an empirical realism and a rationalism. What does this mean? What do I mean?

One will never know. Not even I. At every moment I possess an intention, a disposed state of being, an expression of my consciousness. Every gesture emanating from this state communicates the intention of my being; a direct reflection indicating the disposition of my state of consciousness. A gesture is a declaration of my being. Evidence of my living existence.This intention is lost upon translation. I rely on the standardization of linguistic conventions to communicate the message for me, but the message becomes something that is not my own. Instead it is high jacked by these conventions.

So Language….

Language is a game created to deal with demands. Language occurs on a social level. Without social interaction language would be useless. Why would be need to communicate with ourselves? What immediate purpose in our survival would that serve?

At the core of language is human activity; indeed, language is an activity and the formation of a language occurs as a result of activity. Central to this activity is a purpose or aim. Any activity without a purpose or aim is meaningless or, in other words, crazy. Each person possesses an intention. This intention is characterized by the purpose or aim of the task.

Without language, the very notion of truth and falsity would cease to exist. There would be no word for truth, no question for arriving at truth. There would only be the now which commands no verifiability from ourselves. Indeed, how could we ever conceive of a perspective outside our own?

Truth is a product of language that resulted from agreeing on what is. Language was created as a means for beings to share intentions; a way for converging on agreements regarding a purpose or aims. How do these purposes arise? As a means to satisfy external demands.

Just as any other form of life, people innately possess a necessity for self-preservation. This self-preservation fundamentally requires that a homeostatic equilibrium state is maintained between the inner organism and the outer environment. As the environment changes, so too do the demands on the organism.  Changes in the environment disrupt this equilibrium by shifting the demands placed on the organism. This requires the individual to take corrective action to restabilize the balance.

When demands are place on us, we address these demands. As social creatures, we share many of the same demands with other people. When demands are placed on two people, we bear the same taxing demands. Instead of dealing with the demands individually, we collaborate in order to address the demands mutually. In order to collaborate, there must be a charitable trust with the other. This charity must facilitate a rational accommodation on behalf of the other person so that a maximal agreement can be reached. This agreement, this convergence of intention, is the origin of meaning.

The rise of language is a result of our ability to form a passing theory or mutual agreement of terms.  Theoretically, this passing theory is ad hoc between two individuals. While a passing theory can develop and does develop between individuals all the time, there is most always a context that contains a prior theory of language .  The formation of a passing theory between two individuals is more of less a language game that allows for the convergence of multiple intentions.

A language is formed through a language game where individuals expresses their intention through gestures which are then repeated and performed back and forth until expectations are formed. These expectations are expressions of intention that become imbued with a symbolic power. In other words, the repeatability of our intentions gives a symbolic power to the expression.

What is a symbol? It represents something. What gives a symbol power or force? Its iterability as a function of utility and purpose. The repeatability ossifies into a dependable agreement.

Language comes loaded with a history of past intentions. These intentions reflect the greater web of ideologies and beliefs that characterized the struggles of our ancestors. By its nature it contains the residue of a peoples past purposes and aims.

Is my language my own? No. It is inherited. The more I develop personal and relevant purposes and aims for my life, the sooner I can possess a language that works for me.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

It’s curious to read these passages. Language possesses ideologies and beliefs. Religion solidifies beliefs by offering one language, one text. This creates a cohesiveness that extends beyond borders and time. Simultaneously, the texts rigidity as a sovereign text inhibits the progress and development of new language and new demands. A single text and the single ideology constrains the development of new language and new ideologies that would better suit changing social and environmental demands.

By rejecting the notion of God and religion, one destabilizes the unified perspective regarding the notion of a supreme universal meaning. This fragments the populous into a less cohesive whole. Nietzsche prophetically declared “God is dead.” to signify the end of the sovereign grip that religion maintained on the hearts and minds of men for so long.

With the limits of language no long constrained to the ideologies of a single authoritative text, an entirely new existential freedom is borne. Individuals no longer find ultimate meaning and truth by relying on historical texts and outdated ideologies.  Instead, they create their own meaning and search for truths that resonate with the whims of their will.  Existential freedom offers unlimited possibilities of being.

As you can imagine, the infinite possibility also reveals the arbitrary and trivial nature of being. The result is an existential angst that opens the door of nihilistic thought where nothing is meaningful.

Every language community  is distinctly unique according to the external demands placed on that community. These external demands socially and environmentally rooted according to past social norms as well as the variety of changes occurring in nature and the environment.

It is helpful to think of language existing on three central linguistic levels: language, dialect, and idiolect. A language is a macrocosmic representation of the norms and ideologies of a peoples unique social and environmental demands occurring over a widespread geography.Dialect represents the more regional nuances of these demands. Idiolect representsthe variety of language, norms and ideologies unique to an individual. Language formation occurs top down through the censorship of an individual’s habitus through ideological apparatuses such as family, school, work, and peers. The censorship occurs as these external ideological apparatuses condition the habitus through instruction. This censorship is slowly internalized by the individual and soon becomes self-censorship. Language formation also occurs bottom up through by developing an idiolect that represents the personal idiosyncrasies of an individual.

Any consolidation of language into a formal standardized system of definitions and standards is direct linguistic domination of authority by the authors. This linguistic domination dispossesses people of their language through censorship.

Because language arises from the convergence of passing theories, or the agreement of individuals at a local level, an individuals identity is tightly tied to their language and the language of the community. Demanding the standardization of a language encourages the censorship of humans by dispossesses people of a language that reflects their struggles, purposes, and aims. This robs humans of their identity. An attack on a language is an attack on person.

So I was thinking of journaling and writing. Journaling allows the human to develop their individual voice. Writing beckons the spirit of the inner will. It allows a person to exercise a language personal to them without the censorship of others.

Even in conversation our ability to speak and use language limited according to the understandings of our interlocutors. We mediate our words and language according to the interlocutor’s willingness to reach an agreement, that is, the willingness to exercise the principle of charity, or rational accommodation, and converge on an agreement of meaning. If they are not open, we must accommodate to them, which censors our ability to voice our intention and capture the meaning that arises.

Any creative and novel activity will develop the ability to declare your true being. Any subscription to customs, traditions, norms, conventions, or authoritative systems will constrain potential possibilities to be, for better or worse.

I am not against ideologies. What needs to be constantly considered is the limitations of that ideology. Does the ideology permit the possibility of a solution? The best solution? It may turn out that the ideology forces us into a type of thinking where there is no solution or answer. For example, when seeking escape from an unlocked room, forever toying with the various possibilities of pushing the door open, but never considering pulling as an option.

Anyway… I have a 10 page paper to write. I’ve been losing my mind a bit lately. Falling back into that existential angst that constantly smothers me nauseas with life’s arbitrary incentives.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Language, Meaning, Existence”

  1. Without social interaction language would be useless. Why would be need to communicate with ourselves? What immediate purpose in our survival would that serve?

    Ignoring the inherent social nature of man, language helps with memory. If I can associate memories with words, the words themselves become expressions of that memory. Of course, it’s easy to lose their original/intended meaning, but it’s also easy to remember, truly, a word or seven +/- 2.

    Language-enhanced memory has pretty obvious survival value, so I won’t delve here.

    Also, worldviews and language are inseparably locked in feedback: the language you use to describe the world becomes your image of the world, and what you see/hear from others craft your language. This “loop” can create a huge range of diversity, in both language and worldviews, and thus in actual human behavior and survival as well.

    You mentioned a New Testament verse. Also consider the Tower of Babel and Adam Naming the Animals, as talked about by Daniel Everett, an awesome anthropologist. Great presentation at the Long Now Foundation viewable here:

    Best wishes for your paper.

    1. I appreciate your insight. I like your thoughts.

      It’s funny you mention the Tower of Babel. I was going to use that story to illustrate how a unified purpose gives rise to the consolidation of language. In this way the bible accurately described the formation of language as a convergence of intentions and the threat this posed to its ideology. My post on ‘language as human activity and impression preservation’ might provide a loose response to some of the points in your comment.

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