Thursday, December 31, 2020

Simantism, Part 2

We get more meaning from things than we put in. I think this is true of everything we encounter, but we really notice it with certain things that speak to us strongly and deeply. What we experience is that they speak to us, just as that they are meaningful. They tend to speak to us in a way that has something to do with who we are. Because they really are in accordance with who we are, they can speak to us. They are meaningful, and they use this platform to speak meaning to us.

For instance, suppose you hear that if you donate a kidney, it can save the life of somebody -- a stranger. This idea speaks to you. Because of who you are, the idea of donating a kidney is appealing, rather than disturbing or uninteresting. But the idea itself has vocal strength, it can speak to you strongly, beyond the energy you have already. So it can motivate you, in ways that you wouldn't have already been motivated.

Sometimes, having gained entry by meaning something in tune with who you are, such an idea (or other simantic word) can speak to you so strongly that you change. You are strongly tempted (or anti-tempted) to choose to see things its way. There is a lot of power in the things that can speak to us.

I think that all the time, this speech is the speech of a personal being to a personal being. Sometimes this is more clear than other times. We might see it more clearly when something speaks to us in a very personal way. How could an experiential word mean something so personal if it wasn't spoken by a person? We can take as an analogy for simantic meaning (a personal relating with something) the finding of semantic meaning (decoding of written or spoken symbolic language). I can imagine a book in the Library of Babel having wonderful poetry in my native language, but most of what is in the Library of Babel is meaningless. A typical book from the Library would be like reading pages and pages of mashed keys on the keyboard. If we tried to get semantic (rather than simantic) meaning, we would get nothing from it. The bits that made any sense might give us whiplash -- words could arise by chance, followed by other unrelated words. Somewhere in that Library there is a book that gives some kind of interpretive key to the nonsense that is before me, but it could take more than my whole life to find that key, and in the meantime I would have had to go through oceans of nonsense in all the books I search through, with no keys provided for them.

There are simantic words that are like books in the Library of Babel, things that give us a kind of whiplash, or that blank out our ability to assign a level of importance to them, to integrate them into the flows of our lives as ourselves, as personal beings. But most simantic words far more resemble novels or instruction books or phone books or newspapers. We find those writings meaningful because they were written by people. So simantically speaking, we find ourselves in something more akin to Wikipedia or the Internet as a whole, rather than a Library of Babel. It looks like we live in a world spoken by a person, as though the key to speaking to personal being is to understand it yourself, as a person.

If we were very lucky and found a book of lost greatness in the Library of Babel, some great poem, the poem wouldn't mean anything to us unless we understood the language it was written in. That language is where most of the meaning of the book is stored. We would have had to learn the language.

And in order for children to learn language, language must speak to them. They have to be drawn to the sounds and the gestures by which their parents try to teach them. There is a personal communication, a wordless dialogue which draws us to learning words.

The wordless dialogue might be identified as "deep calling to deep", that which underlies, for instance, the semantic words "I love you" spoken by someone like Boaz to someone like Ruth. "I love you" from the Library of Babel does not mean the same as "I love you" from Boaz to Ruth. The words "I love you" mean something coming from the dictionary, and they are useful in a general sense. But their real meaning comes from what "I" and "love" and "you" mean specifically between a given pair of people. Because they mean something specific, fleshed out by personal relation and intention between two discrete personal beings, there is a wordless dialogue between Boaz and Ruth, and it is actually spoken by God, is God's poem for each of them, the poem in which the two characters are them, saying "I love you" one to the other. They choose to say "I love you", but it is God who speaks the depths between them. Perhaps this expression of the wordless dialogue really originates with Boaz, but Ruth can hear it in many other contexts, the basic root or silent embodiment of other poems, unrelated to him. For our part, as liberal modern people, the word "democracy" speaks to us, or as humanists, the word "empathy". These semantic words do so because they are representatives of the underlying simantic words of democracy and empathy, the life realities in the world. How can democracy speak to us personally? How can empathy? The wordless dialogue is with a person, who speaks through our ideas to us.

We are spoken to by the things that are "deep calling to deep", but even with mundane simantic words like trash cans or bricks, or whatever is on your desk, the words being spoken have a personal origin, similar to how if you were married to someone named Sam, there would be something spousal and Sam-like when they say "I put the food in the refrigerator". We can tell when persons are speaking to us. Even before we know much about our spouse, before they become our spouse although not before they become who they are, we can hear their voice. So bricks and trash cans are not necessarily persons in their own right, but as words are extensions of the personality of the Speaker.

The set of all existing things is something to which we can relate. That simantic word refers to all things that exist. It can speak to us. How can it do that unless somehow it is a person? The set of all things can be a person if all things are conscious, parts of one person, who includes all experience into one complex of experiences, as is the case with the metaphysical organism.

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