Tag Archives: semantics

The Active Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch

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You’ve probably not met The Active Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch. Maybe she’s alive and well on a planet a constellation near Andromeda; we don’t know for sure and humility prompts us to realize that there are a few corners of the universe we’ve not yet visited. But she has such a charming name that, in a serendipitous mood, we might be half-convinced that she is quite real. In any case, a book for children was written about her, but unlike many related texts it does not purport to be anything other than fiction. Fiction often overlaps with fanciful abstractions and the real and unreal are intricately interwoven. We also know that many abstract words are only “shadows hiding a vacuum.” And what we know about the “The Active Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch,” is that she is a high-flying abstraction pieced together from things that we do have knowledge of.

The thing about the witchery of high-flying language is its emotional appeal. It is glamorous, and at the same time often touches on matters of real importance: God, love, death, humanity, finding the right path, our place in cosmos, our true nature… These are so important, so luminous in the depth of consciousness that we may find them compelling even when badly expressed and mixed with all manner of invented balderdash. So when we encounter a truth that is distorted, watered-down, and morphed with extraneous material of all sorts–even then–we may find this pseudo-truth attractive and absorbing. The words we hear and the associations they evoke work magic so that anything with some real truth in becomes a challenge. And like the Active Enzyme Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch, the name can be so charming that we may be half-convinced by the name alone. This particular witch is an abstraction, selected and composed from a wide array of things.

The root meaning of the word “abstract” is to “draw away,” in essence to draw away from the things physical, concrete, and specific. If one were aspiring to things spiritual, this would seem, at first thought, to be a good idea. But some mentally unhealthy conditions are also characterized by withdrawal. So what are the differences between the benign metaphysician and the neurotic?

One difference, semantically defined, is what we might call word/reality split. It is the disunion between the words and the things or realities that they stand for. Often, we listen to someone using high-level abstract words, and we don’t know what they’re talking about. In such cases, there are at least two possibilities: either our experience is too limited or uneducated for comprehension, or they actually don’t know what they’re talking about. In this latter case the person who has “lost touch” doesn’t know it and are quite sure that they know what they’re talking about. They may be proud of their language and love the associated emotions.

We live in a “New Age” of information and misinformation overload, and this poses special challenges for us. In the metaphysical and philosophical world, there are thousands of competing verbalizations with contradictory pronouncements. If we gulp down lots of metaphysics, unless we’re an exceptionally well-rounded and clever, we’re apt to wind up with fine case of muddle-de-physics.

Naturally, many of us think—prematurely–that we’re exceptionally well rounded and clever, and so are quick to get into trouble. Which brings up the next notable difference between a metaphysician and neurotic: ego. Knowledge of a special language makes us feel special. Familiarity with lofty terms seems to elevate us, and set us apart from the crowd. We may become part of a world saving in-group. We are trying to be less lonely and be recognized for our knowledge and high status. Salvation of the world is, of course, an essential and admirable pursuit. And it would benefit all of us if more of those enthusiastically engaged in this activity did know what they were talking about, and if they actually could fly as high as the witchery their words suggests.

“It is inherent in our intellectual activity that we seek to imprison reality in our description of it. Soon, long before we realize it, it is we who become prisoners of the description.” —Aneurin Bevan

“Great God, what a universe! And we discuss it over our teacups as though it were a thing we carried in our waistcoat pockets.” –L. P. Jacks

“Men suppose their reason has command over their words; still it happens that words in return exercise authority on reason.” –Bacon

“The world is satisfied with words. Few appreciate the things beneath.”—Pascal

Meditative Translating—Verbal and Conceptual Adaptation

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We do not know to what extent we agree or disagree with another until we understand each other’s thoughts, and to do that we must get behind each other’s words. Intellectually, it would seem that we all know this obvious truth, yet emotionally we often demonstrate we do not. So, if a person’s words are foreign to us, we may assume the thoughts behind them are foreign as well though this may not be true. Frequently, we will argue, so to speak, with the words of another and never connect with the ideas, never realize that we failed to understand what was is in the other’s mind and heart.

It’s useful to understand the special language used by another, especially when that language contrasts with our preferred usage. It helps to be able to put on different verbal hats. Indeed, the externalization of thoughts is so intimately bound up with language that often we must be able to put on a different verbal hat in order to think toward something new. Adopting another’s terms and meditatively translating them into our own language can often advance understanding of the new.

Through this discipline, we gradually approach the realization that words are not the same as meaning, that essence is not the same as form. It would seem that this is obvious and that we understand this, yet the frequency of arguments based on unexamined definitions shows that our understanding of word/meaning relationships is weak. In the abstract we may know that words are not the same as the things they refer to, and that words mean different things to different people, yet to often in our conversations we betray “the better angels of our nature” and foolishly fail to act from our understanding. Here then is a practical aspect of semantics that can promote essential understanding and avert many arguments. About arguments, fools may rush in, but angels can tread most anywhere without ill effect. And where we prove more the fool than angel, well there’s the lesson also.

Transpersonal Semantics

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Semantics is the study of meaning in language, thought, and communication. Our thoughts are embodied in language and images. We give our thoughts bodies; we create these bodies in the act of forming words and pictures. We incarnate in our thoughts and words and become identified with them. This identification is apt to create an illusion in that we feel we have hold of reality whereas in fact, we often only have hold of the words, some mental pictures and associated intellectual constructions.

The soul of words is the meaning, the experience that our words point to, or should point to. It is this living experience, the consciousness behind the forms that ensouls words. By this understanding of the nature of our verbal and conceptual incarnations we arrive at the possibility of Transpersonal Semantics. The word “transpersonal” points to that which is beyond the personal. “Semantics” refers to the meaning of words.

Let us define Transpersonal Semantics as spiritual-perspective-semantics. It is a way of thinking about body and soul with special reference to the way we humans use language in thinking and communication. So, a certain approach to semantics becomes an art of spiritual interpretation–a way of thinking and talking about spiritual and material problems and their solutions. In this sense, a key to better thinking is found by constant awareness of the difference between form and essence, between word and reality, between thought and the silent reality behind thought.

Ellipsis and Etcetera

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Everything is gateway and symbol. See these dots:

. . .

They’re an “ellipsis,” a form of punctuation indicating an omission. The word “ellipsis” is from Latin and means, “to fall short.” When we speak, write, or think, we always fall short and the ellipsis reminds us of it. Therefore, for honesty, we must add an implicit ellipsis to each thought and expression.

The ellipsis is the most important form of punctuation. It should be burned into our memory like bright dots of fire. These little dots are not dots at all: they are points of light opening into the larger cosmos. The ellipsis has a powerful gateway attribute. It’s one of the most useful symbols in an open-minded person’s equipment. It reminds us that there’s always more to everything than is said or expressed. This means that no book, group, idea, teacher, philosophy, religion or science, ever tells us all we need to know about anything. There is always more beyond what is given…

Also useful for our understanding is the word “etcetera,” from the Latin, “the rest.” It is an antidote to our human tendency of period-and-stop thinking. The word should remind us of the bad habit we sometimes have of picking up a piece of the truth and straying with it. This is simple and obvious yet rarely understood and applied.

And God said: "Relativity, degrees, strata, spectrum, etc."

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The words you see here—and the thoughts I hope you see—are an illusion, but also relatively real. Words are real to the extent that some true spirit or knowledge imbues them, and they are also more or less real or unreal according to the consciousness of the reader.

Think of the words “real” and “illusion.” I propose that the world is not illusion on the one-hand and reality on the other. Is this obvious? Yet we often use the word “real” as white and absolute and “illusion” as black and unqualified. Sure, some accommodate some grays in their vocabulary, but usually human emotions are friendlier with the enthusiasm of an absolute and unqualified ego affirming judgment.

Are you with me or against me on this?

Or is the question: “To what degree?”

Like the Best Morning of Life

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We would like perpetual renewal of life and vitality. We would like to feel that dawn is coming with a rush of new benevolent energy. We would like to be in spirit like the best morning of our life, to find in the light of new day the best actions and words.

About words, today, I reiterate a bit of transpersonal semantics conducive to renewal: a word is, or might be, sacred. I do not fancy myself religious in any conventional sense, but there is a good idea in the religious of the world, that of “sacred word.” I do not say it is in bibles or churches. But it might be in you. And if we were to meet, I would listen for it. You might not even know you spoke it, but I fancy that I would hear and know.

Save

Dead Words

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People tend to listen and respond as if words have more or less fixed meanings. But words don’t have fixed ordained meanings. They mean what we, the community of word users, agree they mean–and we often disagree and change our minds. Word meanings are in motion like the fluid consciousness that gives them birth, and dictionaries are the fluent history of our collective verbal habits. Dictionaries are not meaning bibles but an ephemeral record of how we have used words. Words are a catalyst for consciousness–there is no meaning in the words themselves. Or we might say words have shadow meanings that follow the actual meaning that exists in the life of consciousness. Words are symbols, forms, obscure mysteries—they are in the world of dead things and only take on meaning in a moment of illumination in the mind and heart of the reader or speaker.