why I do not believe in the existence of atheists

Below is a dialogue between myself and Mark Newbrook, “resident” Linguist of Skeptical Humanities (as of a few weeks ago): http://skepticalhumanities.com/

http://skepticalhumanities.com/2012/03/01/introducing-our-new-contributor-linguist-mark-newbrook/

http://skepticalhumanities.com/2012/03/01/im-very-pleased-to-be-a-new-contributor-to-skeptical-humanities

Major levels of linguistic structure

Major levels of linguistic structure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This dialogue emerged from my recent post linked below, with Mark’s original comment (not interspersed with my reply) posted at this link: https://jrfibonacci.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/language-can-form-anything-the-new-realm-of-possibility-or-kingdom-of-heaven/#comment-3176

…It is claimed here that language means nothing and never will mean anything.
It is claimed where? Let’s imagine that someone did claim exactly what you stated. Wouldn’t it be self-evident as nonsense and thus inspire no further comment?
Given my deep appreciation for parody, let’s imagine that I may have said “language does not mean anything.” If I were to say something so obviously absurd, such as “this sentence is not an instance of language,” that might only be for the “philosophical” point of playfully demonstrating the absurdity of the issue.
Of course language has meaning. For instance, one obvious definition would be that language means “symbolic codes for directing the attention and behavior of other humans.”
However, what I may have written (and I also reserve the right to make innocent typographical mistakes), is that no particular symbolic code has any particular meaning. The same word can denote a few very different things or a multitude of not very related things, and that is just denotation- not even connotation.
The mere fact that there is such a thing as connotation (as well as “secret codes”) points to the fundamental reality of language: the meaning is not in the words themselves. The meaning is in the social context in which the words arise- not just in the context of syntax, but of non-linguistic social “cues.”
From sounds, language arises. However, the mere fact that it is possible NOT to be fluent in a particular language is prima facie evidence that the language itself inherently means nothing. Only in a particular social context can language arise, and the social context DEFINES the meaning of the language.
What do these shapes on this screen “mean” to my cat or my infant? Nothing at all.
What do these shapes on this screen “mean” to you? Something very specific!
Language is amazing. In fact, it is so amazing that I titled this video that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoBIYEqiRDA
Now, is this supposed to be news to linguists or anyone else? Of course not. It is self-evident. Everyone knows from direct experience that language is amazing and that social contexts define the meaning of language, like “I love you” can be spoken with several different tones that all communicate different WAYS OF RELATING, such as the soothing “oh, sweetie, I love you” and the apologetic “Really, I love you” and the defensive “hey, I love you, alright?” and the longing, manipulative “but, but…. I love you!”
Actually, it is all manipulative. Language is manipulating. That is what it is for- at least in the broad sense of manipulating as influencing or re-organziing.
So, I state the obvious not to inform you of something new, but to establish a particular context or way of relating.  Now, let’s explore from here together, given that what we have been doing all along is self-evidently nothing more than that.
English Language and Linguistics

English Language and Linguistics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  Subject to the major issues regarding how the term nothing is being used here, this viewpoint is, of course, contrary to prevailing opinion both popular and academic (the latter including both linguists and philosophers), and thus needs to be justified at this point. Indeed, it might be suggested that if language ‘means nothing’ it cannot itself be used to say anything useful.  And, while – as is proclaimed here (albeit in somewhat strange wording) – language can be seen as ‘a sequence of codes for the directing of attention’, it is generally taken as obvious that language has other functions and aspects in addition to this.
Such as? I challenge you to name one instance of language that is not directing my attention to whatever alleged instance of language you might name.
You could say that language is the moving of attention or the motion of intelligence or the activity of consciousness, but all that would be a trivial variation on the other statement. You can say that “unconscious linguistic events” do not qualify as “directing attention,” but that is limiting the verb “directing” to its transitive case only, which is not the only possible meaning.
Within language, it is accepted here that different words and letters are distinct.  (The use of the term letters seems to betray a folk-linguistic starting-point; a writer with knowledge of linguistics would instead talk here primarily of phonemes.)
…perhaps unless writing for an audience that may lack a knowledge of the formal lexicon of non-folk linguistics. Whatever, though…. Or are you unplayfully applying the standards of a academic linguistics journal to a non-academic linguistics journal internet blog entry?
  But these words and letters are all seen as variations on ‘nothing’ (this raises the above-mentioned issues regarding this term); and, while they do possess meaning (this apparently contradicts what is said earlier), this supposedly arises only ‘through perception’. Concepts are identified as ‘linguistic formations’ arising ‘out of nothing’, which is ‘the capacity for linguistic formations to simply happen by themselves’.  Like individual words and ‘letters’, each specific language is distinct, being seen as ‘a specific set of distinct, isolated formations’ – and is ‘finite’, in contrast with ‘language itself’ which is ‘infinite’; it is not clear how the terms finite and especially infinite are to be understood here.  And boundaries between languages are, again, seen as different manifestations of ‘nothing’.  I find the conceptualising obscure at this point, and it is difficult to comment helpfully.
What if all concepts are inherently obscure and only so precise? What if the spectrum ranging between precision and obscurity is one which language can never escape?
Further, returning to the issue of language as a utilitarian (or “useful”) phenomenon, what if directing attention does not require any more precision than actually “required?” What if, upon the fulfillment of whatever amount of clarity is deemed subjectively “enough,” the activity of language simply ceases?
I add here brief comments on some specific points in later sections of the material.‘One language evolves into another, with perhaps an entire family of languages being similar to each other’While essentially ‘along the right lines’, this claim apparently mixes diachronic and synchronic points and needs to be clarified.  (The term evolve is also contentious here.)
I admit that in the case in point, I was just synchronicalizing mixtures of diachronology. Okay, I might have just made up those words, but apparently you made up synchronic and diachronic first before I did because, when I see those words, I instantly recognize that they are synonyms for harmeronomic diaxophosphate, by which I mean slightly unfamilair to me.
linguistics

linguistics (Photo credit: quinn.anya)

‘Languages mix and influence each other.  Languages may be called distinct, but the boundaries between them shift’Although the reference to shifting boundaries is obscurely expressed and perhaps mis-conceptualised, these general points are, of course, very familiar to linguists. 
This reminds me again of my clearly stated disclaimer at the beginning of the article: “this is written exclusively to professional full-time linguists, both of them.”
‘If the boundaries shift, then the boundaries are arbitrary. In fact, the alleged boundaries between various languages are alive, existing only through the declaration of language’This appears obscure.  There may be a good (if familiar) point in the former of these two sentences, though it needs to be much more clearly expressed; but the second sentence, as expressed, is very strange (what do alive and declaration mean here?).
Alive means changing or evolving. And that was a great question: what do these words actually MEAN?
My analogy is this: how many colors are there. Are there exactly 6 colors, as any 2 year old can tell you? Or, are there actually 24 different colors, as anyone 4 year old with the big yellow box can tell you? Or, are there any number of colors depending on however many distinct labels one chooses to categorize?
Language is categorizing. How many languages are there? 214? 32,915? That is a trivial question. Fundamentally, there is one language which is language itself.
The most famous poets of human history, such as Lao Tzu and Buddha and Abraham, have referenced the singularity of that universal meta-language by such labels as Logos, Tao, and even The Heavenly Father, through which “the world of subjective experience” is “created” by what method: speech!
Name one word that is not fundamentally just a word. Yahweh? YHWH? Jehovah?
No, those are all words, too- though those “words” are all references to something “subtler than all other concepts.” Linguists who do not comprehend “metaphysics” may be liars, insofar as metaphysics and linguistics could be two labels for the same- but wait, that simply could not be possible to have two labels or appellations or names or titles for the exact same pattern, right?
What if when ignorant translators translate some ancient Sanskrit phrase in to the English words “name and form” and then call it “Buddhist mystical metaphysics,” that is an ENTIRELY ARBITRARY way of relating to those Sanskrit terms, though of course an entirely valid way of interpreting them or labeling them or translating them or relating to them? Was the Buddha a linguist or not? Well, if the English word “linguist” had not been invented by the time of his life, then how could he have been a linguist? Maybe he is finally now a linguist, but only became a linguist within the last few sentences- not that I care, by the way- but that brings me back to the earlier question raised by our academic correspondent of what is meant by declaration: by declaration, I mean all instances of language, as in all instances of the directing of attention, including gestures or then again possibly not… ;)
Anyway, there was no such thing as a linguist until someone created the term “linguist” and then declared self-authoritatively themselves to be the apt target of such a label. “Linguist” is a totally arbitrary label like all labels of symbolic code, but many “academic” linguists may or may not pretend otherwise, even though they do not deny the self-evidence of any of it.
Before there was a linguist, there was language. Linguist is just an instance of language, as is “The Buddha” and “metaphysics” and “spiritual poetry” and “incurable diaxyphosphatitis.”
I am the author of language. Why? Because I said so.
Is it even true, though? Well, declarations in language are never exactly TRUE. They are just more or less USEFUL. Precision (aka “TRUTH”) is a spectrum invented in language and language never can get all the way to the end of a spectrum that only exists as a linguistic concept.
In other words, precision is just a relative term. In fact, because precision is just a relative term, all terms are just relative terms. Truth is just a relative term. Language is just a relative term. “Absolute” is, ironically, just a relative term.
In the ancient Hindu tradition of Advaita (“non-dualism”), the fundamental relativity of all terms of linguistic relating is relatively recognized as just one way of relating to the absolute relativity of all language, except of course for the word “joke,” which is actually not a word at all. ;)
‘Is Creole [= a particular creole language? (MN)] a language? Clearly it is entirely composed of other languages.  [Not necessarily the case. (MN)]  However, it is also not a dialect of any particular language. What is it? It is whatever it is called!’It is not clear that there is a genuine issue here regarding creoles as such.  There are relevant definitional-cum-philosophical issues at a more general level concerning the individuation of languages, the ‘language’-‘dialect’ distinction, etc.; but these are not rehearsed here.
Labelification is individuation. That was my point.
The fact is that “languages” is just a label and so is “dialects.” You can’t get away from the fact that all words are just symbolic categorical linguistic conceptualizations of individuation or division or duality. Beyond language is the non-duality called “nothing” by certain Buddhists, about which there is really not a lot that can be said, but then again, all language is an expression of that nothing and a labeling of that nothing and a directing of that nothing.
While quite contradictory, language is inherently contradictory. Or then again, maybe not. However, there either are or are not any instances of contra-diction except only in language. If language is not inherently contradictory, fine, then I take it back and contradict myself as if to demonstrate the point: language gives rise to the possibility of contradiction, not that it is at all important to point this out.
It may simply be a lot of fun. But that could be important, too, right?

‘Is there such a thing as “I” (“me”)? In many languages there is such a thing as “I” or similar concepts to the concept of “I.” However, “I” is fundamentally a concept, a construct of language, merely a thing. “I” is not itself fundamental (which is the ancient teaching called anatma).’

There, of course, are words meaning ‘I’ in all languages.  But it is not clear how significant linguistic facts of this kind might be for philosophical issues regarding the reality or otherwise of persons; as I have argued elsewhere, it is probably dangerous in a philosophical context to focus too heavily upon the ways in which ideas are expressed in specific languages – although this approach is common enough in mainstream ‘analytical’ philosophy.

What do you mean by the “reality or otherwise?” What are you talking about in reference to something besides reality?
“Person” is a real WORD. Isn’t that enough? Is it so dangerous for me to just come out and say what is self-evident? Next thing you know you are going to launch in to some obscure poetry about “nothing.” That would be very diaxyphoshate of you, sir!
 ‘Language is more fundamental than “I,” and nothing is more fundamental than language.’It is not clear what fundamental means here, or what this claim amounts to.

 

The same source presents http://jrfibonacci.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/maturing-beyond-sinfulness/.  This material again deals with some linguistic issues, this time in the context of an essentially religious discussion involving claims regarding souls, sin, etc.  Linguistics, as an empirical discipline, cannot be grounded in specific theological viewpoints; and as an atheist I would prefer not to engage in this context in discussion which assumes a religious stance that I do not share.

“Religion” is just a category of language. If you deny the existence of that particular category of language, that is entirely alright with me.
As a worshiper of Santa Claus, I would just like to state for the record, your honor, that there is no such thing as mythology or poetry or humor. Also, I do not believe in atheists. There is simply no such thing, by which I mean no such word.
 However: it is undoubtedly true, as is claimed here, that it is a conceptual error to mistake a piece of language, such as a word, for the item in the non-linguistic world to which it refers.  Like the well-known picture of a pipe by Magritte, the word pipe is not itself a pipe.  Some such conceptual errors are potentially damaging.  But the further claim that ‘belief in words is the root of all malice or ill will’ is not adequately defended and appears vastly overstated.
I completely agree. I furthermore assert that the hypocritical idiot who made such a ridiculously dramatic accusation was entirely precise in an “absolute truth” kind of way. Forthwith, the diachronic subjective experiential pattern of “malice” is completely unrelated to words, which are just ways of relating, and therefore do not exist, at least not in the absolute sense of the word. I arrest my case.
More credentials of Mark:
http://www.csicop.org/author/marknewbrook

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3 Responses to “why I do not believe in the existence of atheists”

  1. comment on a pingback « Skeptical Humanities Says:

    […] http://jrfibonacci.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/why-i-do-not-believe-in-the-existence-of-atheists/ […]

  2. J R Fibonacci Hunn Says:

    Mark replied:

    Thanks, JR! Well, there are many interesting things in your material; but I’m afraid I am too much of a modernist to try to grapple further with material of this general character, presented in this seriously confusing style, in the time available to me. Among many other issues, you appear in places to be denying having said what you did say (e.g. ‘language means nothing’); and you also appear to contradict yourself (at one point you agree with me that things are not words, but at another you say that there being no such thing [as an atheist] and there being no such word are equivalent). And if anyone denies that words exist or indeed that atheists like me exist (and is not clearly intending to say something else in a subtle way), it is hard for me to see how I can have any useful dialogue with them. Please don’t be offended if I unsubscribe (it’s simply a matter of priorities in a busy life). Thanks again! Mark

  3. J R Fibonacci Hunn Says:

    My reply is below Mark’s response:

    >>>>> Thanks, JR! Well, there are many interesting things in your material; but I’m afraid I am too much of a modernist to try to grapple further with material of this general character, presented in this seriously confusing style, in the time available to me. Among many other issues, you appear in places to be denying having said what you did say (e.g. ‘language means nothing’);

    JR:
    So, without regard to any past sequence of letters and words, I assert the proposition that either language CANNOT mean anything or language COULD mean something. Isn’t it a silly issue? Well, I raise it anyway!

    Why? To focus attention on the self-evident reality of what language is.

    Consider that one “interpretation” of what I have been saying is that language is another word for God and God is another word for language. Every quality that we might associate with the linguistic concept of “God” might apply to language itself.

    A famous reference is “both the Alpha and the Omega.” What are those two symbols? They are the “boundary” linguistic units. Name one thing (label) that is not a “creation” of language, if you can.

    When was the beginning of language? Where did it begin exactly? Well, there is no specific boundary between the aspect of reality known as language and all the rest of reality (AKA subjective perception). If language includes gestures, then animals and even bees have their own forms of language, right?

    Language is vast, bigger than the units of time and space, which of course are just linguistic concepts like colors. What divides the heavens from the earth? An imaginary boundary in language, right?

    Where exactly is the physical boundary between the earth and the earth’s atmosphere and “the heavens?” Is it at the lowest clouds? The highest clouds?

    Does the earth include trees that extend out of the ground or water vapor that steams off of the ocean? Where is the EXACT physical boundary between the earth and the sea? Is there even one at all?

    When the sun comes through my window and burns my skin, how many million miles away is it from me to my window? Space and time are just linguistic individuations, right? Hours and years and miles and inches are just linguistic units, right?

    and you also appear to contradict yourself (at one point you agree with me that things are not words, but at another you say that there being no such thing [as an atheist] and there being no such word are equivalent).

    Could I have been joking? There is no such organism as an atheist organism. Atheist (or more precisely ATHEISM) is just a word for a model of linguistic patterns. You can identify with that label if you like. However, there is no formal boundary between atheism and anything else. We could subdivide atheism in to 4 subcategories or 32 and all of those linguistic categorizations would be fundamentally arbitrary, including “atheism.”

    What do I mean by fundamentally arbitrary? Name one word that you can define without using another word, if you can.

    Words are all relative. There is no “correct” number of subdivisions of atheism. All systems of typology (categorization) are fundamentally relational or relative or arbitrary.

    So what? Well, that is freaking amazing, that’s what!

    So, even if someone ever said “language means absolutely nothing at all,” that would have been absurd, right? That statement would have meant… nothing at all, right? ;)

    However, to comprehend the possibility of absurdity that is inherent in language can be… quite a relief, even quite hilarious. The possibility of meaning gives rise to the contrasting possibility of a linguistic category called “absurdity.” There is meaning, but it is ENTIRELY social (as in what linguists might call the context of “pragmatics”).

    ONLY in language can there be absurdity. Why? Absurdity is like a shadow that evidences a source of light. Absurdity establishes that meaning is a SPECTRUM.

    Language, as a social phenomenon, provides a spectrum of precision relative to ambiguity, of coherence relative to absurdity, of intelligence relative to… no, everything is intelligent. There is no such thing as the absence of intelligence- just different forms of it.

    Language is intelligence- or at least one form of it. In fact, the only thing that exists are various formations of intelligence. In that regard, we might say intelligence is another word for God.

    There is one Intelligence which has many forms and phases and patternings. Intelligence can speak words like “there are numerous entirely distinct and isolated intelligences, as well as the absence of intelligence.” That however might just be a bunch of meaningless words.

    <<<>>>> And if anyone denies that words exist or indeed that atheists like me exist (and is not clearly intending to say something else in a subtle way), it is hard for me to see how I can have any useful dialogue with them. Please don’t be offended if I unsubscribe (it’s simply a matter of priorities in a busy life). Thanks again! Mark

    JR:
    You’re quite welcome. Most people may be terrified of the reality of language. That is the perfect context for the development of courage. You cannot go any further down “the rabbit hole” at any particular time than you actually go.

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