Nothing in this blog can be believed. If you think that anything in this blog is true or factual, you'll need to verify it from another source. Do you understand? No? Then read it again, and repeat this process, until you understand that you cannot sue me for anything you read here. Also, having been sucked into taking part in the mass-murder of more than 3 million Vietnamese people on behalf of U.S. Big Business "interests", I'm as mad as a cut snake (and broke) so it might be a bit silly to try to sue me anyway...

Monday, April 04, 2005

know what I mean...?

Meaning. It's such an interesting thing isn't it?

Back in the '80s, when I did a lot of mind-altering reading and was a seminar and workshop junkie, I got hit by the meaning of meaning...

What do I mean? Well, the unwary, those perambulating the planet in a blissful haze of ignorance, continuously continue to mistake meaning for Absolute Truth. Meaning is a lot like the concept of truth in that the lazy and the ignorant blindly accept the version dished up by their society, culture and/or religion. And to a great degree we tamper with those meanings at our own peril because they underpin the agreements we mistakenly call "reality" or "truth".

Some of you may still be reading this, so, for you, I'll continue. The ignorami have already gone and now there's only us, the intelligent ones, left. Cosy isn't it?

Now, where was I? Oh yes, meaning. Well, at the end of the day, something means what it means only because that's what we're having it mean. Huh? Ok, I'll say that bit again. I can see some of your eyes are starting to glaze over. So here we go, pay attention now - something means what it means only because that's what we're having it mean!

Are we getting this yet? Meaning is subjective. There is no absolute meaning. We are born into the meanings embedded in our society/culture/ethnicity/religion like a fish is born into water. But there is one important difference. The fish didn't invent the water. Meaning is invented. Meaning can be challenged debated and created. There is no absolute, pre-existing meaning which was not at some point invented by a human. There is the scam underpinning most religions which tries to peddle the idea that the religion's meanings are of divine or inspired origin. I assert that this is crap. Dangerous crap. The type of crap that keeps you stupid and under the thumb. It stops you questioning or thinking for yourself. But I digress. That's not really where I want to go with this little rant about meaning...

I want to deal with the fact that meaning whether we blindly borrow it from our society/culture/religion, etc, or whether we create our own, is a projection and we are good little meaning-projectors. We project meaning onto or into things, situations, events, and LANGUAGE.

In language there are two types of meanings:

(1) Each word in a language conveys an agreed-upon, predetermined meaning. This is the world of dictionaries, thesauruses and encyclopedias. That's why, if you're like me and you don't know the meanings of a lot of fancy words, you won't have a clue what the smarty-pants people are talking about and your eyes glaze over when they speak.

But it gets even worse...

(2) Many words have more than one meaning and one needs to decipher nuance and context to discover the meaning. And in blogging, as in dealing with any written text communication, this is where the excreta often hits the fan unnecessarily.

Know what I mean?

Not exactly? Look up the word "meaning" at Wikipedia. This will get you link-hopping for ages, at the end of which, you'll start to get an inkling about what I mean, and if you have even more time to kill and you haven't had enough yet, Google the term "the meaning of meaning". After that you'll never ever sing the song "I can't get no... satisfaction..." ever again, and you will definitely know what I mean...

14 Comments:

Blogger Deirdre said...

What's your theory on truth? If we can only question the world through accepted meanings (I think that's what you're saying?) and those meanings are arbitrary, are we able to detect truth?
(Btw, I don't know philosophy. If you get technical, my brain will explode.)

April 04, 2005 8:53 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Deirdre, I'm having trouble trying to understand the question. If I get it wrong, please persevere and ask a follow-up question.

Preamble: I'll use the word "thing" to mean an event, a situation, an object, or anything to which meaning can be attached.

One way I was linking meaning to truth was in the sense that many people seem unaware that meaning is subjective and not objective.

We endow a thing with meaning but we seem to be unaware that that's what we're doing, and so we immediately misinterpret what's happening in a way that it appears to us that this meaning is a property of the thing allegedly having this meaning.

Does this make sense?

Perhaps a better way of saying it is to say that a thing means what it means (to you) because that's the meaning you have assigned to it.

Or, alternatively, a thing means what it means (to you) because you accept the meaning assigned to it by someone else.

But either way, a thing only means what it means because that meaning is assigned to it by either you or someone else.

So, "searching for meaning" is a bit of a joke. A meaning is not an objective truth, it's something that's assigned, bestowed, projected onto a thing by someone.

A corollary is that therefore meaning can be challenged, queried, debated, altered, negated, or replaced with a different meaning. There is no absolute truth underpinning a meaning.

Should I be trying to give examples or are you getting this?

April 04, 2005 10:28 PM  
Blogger Deirdre said...

No, no, got you so far, I think... You're saying the meaning of a "thing" (event, situation, object) is not inherent in the thing itself, it's assigned to the "thing" by people. And the problem is, once that particular meaning is well known and accepted, it's passed from person to person as "knowledge" or as a "fact", rather than as an idea which could change.

The Loren Eiseley article I quoted from yesterday actually talks about this: "It is convenient for the thinker to classify an idea with a word. This can sometimes lead to a process called hypostatization or reification."
Reify = "to consider or make (an abstract idea or concept) real or concrete".
That's what you're talking about, isn't it?

April 04, 2005 11:54 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Exacty that, Deirdre. :-)

April 05, 2005 8:57 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Deirdre, I just read your commnent in more depth and I realise that meaning is a reification only if one thinks the meaning siobjective. i.e. If one is awar that the meaning is subjective (projected) then whilst it is stll a meaning it is not a reification.

For instance, I look at a painting and I feel sad. I realise that my sadness comes either from my own projection of sadness onto the painting, or the skill of the painter to successfully transmit his projection of sadness via the painting.

But here's something spooky. I know how you like spooky stuff. Prompted by your use of the word "reify", I went Google. And I found Georg Luk√°cs, a dude I'd never heard of before (look him up if you want to know more). Anyway, I now need to do a genealogical search because there is a distinct possibility that he and I could be hanging off adjacent twigs on the same branch of the family tree. Wouldn't that be a buzz? An intellectual giant in our family? Ooooeee!!! I could manufacture all sorts of meanings from that... :-)

April 05, 2005 9:26 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Oh shit! Deirdre. I made a bad typo which inverted the meaning of what I meant to say. so here's the corrected sentence:

Deirdre, I just read your commnent in more depth and I realise that meaning is a reification only if one doesn't think the meaning subjective. i.e. If one is aware that the meaning is subjective (projected) then whilst it is stll a meaning it is not a reification.

April 05, 2005 9:32 AM  
Blogger Deirdre said...

My understanding of reification is that a person isn't aware of "meaning" being involved at all - they're looking at something they believe to have an external reality of its own. It's about the only concept I can recall (fuzzily) from sociology: we create things like language and religion but as the years go by, these things appear to be independent of us. Or something. I've forgotten.
Eiseley was referring to the concept of "Man": "There are times when it is useful to categorize the creature briefly, his history, his embracing characteristics. From this, if we are not careful of our meanings, it becomes easy to speak of all men as though they were one person. [...] There is no Man; there are only men: good, evil, inconceivable mixtures marred by their genetic makeup, scarred or improved by their societal surroundings. [...] Men are great objects of study, but the moment we say "Man" we are in danger of wandering into a swamp of abstraction."
Go, Loren.

As for your spooky family tree... excellent. Look him up. It'd be interesting.

What I find interesting is how much your writing reminds me of someone else. The world is a strange place.

April 05, 2005 5:22 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Sorry for the delay, Deirdre, but I had my hands full trying to fend off a horde of Sophists trying to force me to drink hemlock. So far I'm still not dead... :-)

Reification: I think we're saying the same thing.

So, who does my writing remind you of? Or is this question too personal?

April 06, 2005 12:08 PM  
Blogger R H said...

"There's nothing neither good nor bad but thinking makes it so."

-W Shakespeare.
(Very concise chap)

April 06, 2005 12:44 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

RH, I think Marlowe understood a thing or two about meaning... ;-)

April 06, 2005 1:08 PM  
Blogger Deirdre said...

Hemlock, eh? That can't be good.

You remind me of Link. Don't know why, or really how. It's weird. I'm probably hallucinating.

April 06, 2005 9:49 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Hemlock - I was cracking a Socratic joke.

Link - I miss reading here blog. I wish she was still blogging.

COME BACK LINK, ALL IS FORGIVEN !!!

Link will kill you for associating her writing with mine. You're chopped liver, Deirde... :-)

April 06, 2005 9:58 PM  
Blogger Deirdre said...

Chopped liver? She'd probably run over me with the horse. Quick: hemlock, please!

April 07, 2005 12:45 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

I don;t know what Link looks like so in visualising her on a white charger, I keep getting images of Julia, Warrior Princess. It's quite disturbing really...

Link! Get back to blogging right friggin' NOW!!!

April 07, 2005 2:46 PM  

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