Posts Tagged ‘existence’

For those who argue over the existence of language, God, or atheism

April 5, 2012
Photo of Jonathan G. Meath portraying Santa Cl...

Photo of Jonathan G. Meath portraying Santa Claus. Date approximate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who argue over the existence of language
Does language exist? Sure, we can perceive patterns, so we know that perceiving exists and we also know patterns of perceiving exist, but what about language? Does it exist or not?
For those of us who can not only hear but also are fluent in a particular language being spoken, we can perceive patterns of sounds and interpret them in to words and then in to sequence of words that produce stimulation of things like neurons that trigger memories. We can label all of that process as language.
For those of us who can not only see but also can read, we can perceive patterns of shapes and interpret them in to letters and make words out of them and then we can label that literacy, which is also language. However, literacy is a huge technological advance over spoken language.
We can count all numeric symbols as literacy and we can name all written symbols to also be part of literacy. We can even include in our definition of language things like physical gestures, such as waving or nodding or even complex things like the signals that officials in sporting events use.

So, for sake of argument, let’s presume for at least a moment that there is such a thing as language or at least there could be. Now, what would be some of it’s attributes?
Is language an individuality as in a person or isolated organism? Language clearly is not exclusive to any specific individual or organism. We can call language transpersonal (or just non-personal or impersonal).
Is language temporary? Language is the source of all units of time, so we could even say that language is beyond time, is the source of time, and was prior to time. We could say that language is eternal, that language is both the beginning and the end, that before any particular identifying in language existed, such as “Abraham,” language is already present.
We could say that language is the root of all identifying and of all identities. We could say that language is the source of all linguistic events or processes, such as communication or interpretation or translation.
We could make lots of comments about language. All of the comments would be instances of language already. We might even say that “if you are clear about the foundation of what language is, then all of the rest is mere commentary.”

Bible (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Now, if you happen to be familiar with certain linguistic constructions that are popular within a branch of language called Christianity, then you may recognize many of the above references to the ancient spiritual texts of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and so on. So, with that in mind, consider the following scenario.
Along time ago, there once lived a man named Santa Claus who talked a lot about a great secret. Certain people understood some of what he said and a few people understood a lot of what he said, but he was basically considered to be very weird and unusual and odd and abnormal. He occasionally said really bizarre things like “Knowing the great secret is the most important thing that you can do. Here are some of the infinite qualities of the great secret, but these are only a few of them. First, the great secret is eternal. When the first distinctions were made between heaven and earth, the great secret was already there and the great secret was the process by which the first distinctions in language were made, for the distinctions of language are language and of course language is in them and those distinctions are in language. By the way, language is the great secret and it is not really all that secret and possibly not all that great, but I had to say something to get your attention and if I have your attention now, then whatever I said worked to get you here, right? Anyway, the great secret is not just an individual, but it is within every individual just as within every branch is the life of the tree which gives life to the branches. Further, when you recognize the fundamental authority of the great secret of language, then any secondary authorities or instructions will instantly be recognized as merely formations of language, which is the great secret. Any formations in language are not themselves the great secret. Anything that can be spoken is not the great secret, which I like to call Tao.”
Now, all of that was very strange and intriguing to some folks. So, they talked about what Santa Claus had said and then, perhaps only a few decades later, they wrote down their best recollections of what he had said, plus some of their own commentaries and their letters to each other. They called themselves titles like Apostles and Prophets and Christians and they collected their various written records in to scrolls and books and called them things like the Bible and Torah and Talmud and Gitas and Sutras and Taoist Classics.
Then, along came a four year-old who was assigned by some king the task of making a single authorized translation of those ancient writings in to the English language from Greek. The four year-old was not Greek, by the way, but she insisted that she was a very big girl now that she was “this many” years old and she asserted that she was very smart and of course she could make an excellent and complete translation of these books. It is not like they were about something obscure and subtle like algebra or biochemistry or mythical archetypes of psychological astro-theology, right?
So, anyway, she wrote about a category in language called Logos and she translated that word as “Word” instead of as language or linguistics or “the great secret.” Then for hundreds or even thousands of years, lots of people worshiped the words that she wrote and completely missed the “spirit” of the original revelations. Ironically, a lot of what she wrote about was warnings about people worshiping specific words and neglecting the spirit or value of the communication carried through the words.
Logo of the Aston Language Centre

One of the least famous "Logos" in the world, the logo of the Aston Language Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with 

 The Lord says, “These people worship me with their mouths and honor me with
their lips. But their hearts are far from me, and their  
// – 17k

Matthew 15:8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their 

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me These
people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me
// – 16k

Mark 7:6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about 

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is
written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from 
// – 17k

Matthew 15:9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but 

 but it is in vain they worship Me, while they lay down
precepts which are mere human rules.'” 
// – 16k

Mark 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules 

 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ … 
// – 15k

Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him 

 they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as  Because that, when they knew God,
they glorified him not  God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their 
// – 17k

Psalm 127:1 A song of ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds 

 [A song by Solomon for going up to worship.] If the LORD does not build  Except the
LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the 
// – 16k

Hosea 12:11 Is Gilead wicked? Its people are worthless! Do they 

 But the people of Gilead are worthless because of their idol worship If Galaad be
an idol, then in vain were they in Galgal offering sacrifices with 
// – 16k

Isaiah 44:9 All who make idols are nothing, and the things they 

 The people who worship idols don’t know this, so they are all put  Everyone who makes
an engraved image is vain. The things that they delight in will not profit 
// – 16k

Jonah 2:8 “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace 

 Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies.  They
that are vain observe vanities, forsake their own mercy. 
// – 14k

Colossians 2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility 

 denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had  making little of himself and
giving worship to angels  the things which he hath not seen, in vain puffed up 
// – 18k

Isaiah 1:13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is 

 and your special days for fasting–they are all  Bring no more vain offerings; incense
is an abomination to me  New Moon Festivals, your days of worship, and the 
// – 16k

Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with 

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor
me with their lips, but their hearts are far from meTheir 
// – 17k

Matthew 15:8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Matthew 15:9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”

Mark 7:6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Mark 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

Colossians 2:22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

Ezekiel 33:31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.

Jeremiah 12:2 You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts.

Psalm 50:16
But to the wicked, God says: “What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips.

Secret Santa (The Office)

Secret Santa (The Office) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

why I do not believe in the existence of atheists

March 29, 2012

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

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:

…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:
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 (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  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:

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