words are in the way Nov 6, 2020
words are our primary method of communicating ideas,
but they also get in the way of this communication.
they are both path and hindrance.
what are words?
a word is a particular sequence of sounds
and an associated particular sequence of visual symbols.
as ideas, words have associations with other ideas.
this gives them their meaning.
thus words are ideas that can be spoken (and written).
many words are very small ideas.
this makes them useful, easy to agree on, easy to teach.
'water', 'light', 'under'.
some words are context-sensitive, like names.
'john' means many different people.
some words are big ideas that can seem simple.
'god'. 'art'. 'love'. one word for many ideas.
a big idea is just a collection of a lot of small ideas---
an idea that is connected to a lot of other ideas.
we're working with neurons here.
words can be combined into larger structures, like phrases.
these structures evoke something more specific than each individual word.
this synthesis occurs in the imagination.
what is thought?
for more details, see a model of consciousness.
thought emerges from the interaction of the components of our minds.
it is rooted in an alternation between networks of ideas in the unconscious
and transient images in the imagination.
it can be very fast, like 10 or 20 thoughts per second.
ideas are compressed experience.
they are clusters of sense data and other ideas.
many of the 'deeper' associations of ideas are cultural.
which is not to say they are completely arbitrary,
but there is a separation of nature, a symbolism.
water in a glass is clear,
but people draw it blue because "water is blue".
words are not thought
a word that is being thought is in the class of sense data.
like all sense data, it can be used as an object of thought.
this is 'talking to yourself', either aloud or internally.
what is the fastest that you can talk in your head, and still be coherent?
for me it is probably about the same speed that i could speak and remain coherent.
because words in the mind use the audio imagination.
compare this to how fast you can think thoughts which are not words.
often we think so fast that we don't even notice the individual thoughts.
a word is also an idea in the unconscious.
it is linked to the ideas which it represents,
and thus to examples, memories, preferences, parameter spaces.
this is how words have meaning.
"cat" is linked with abstractions of your experiences with cats---
what they look like, how they act.
specific memories of cats.
thought is not dependent on words.
you can think without words.
imagine the color green.
now imagine some things which are green.
do this without naming them, only see them in your mind.
"If you take words too seriously,
you are like someone that climbs a signpost
instead of going where it points." -- Alan Watts
thoughts and words are bound together
the goal of words is to convey thought,
in the same way that cargo is conveyed by a ship.
both are equally important for trade.
but do not mistake the ship for the cargo,
the words for the thoughts.
the space of ideas is much larger than the space of language.
if i imagine that language is capturing ideas,
instead of pointing to them, i'm going to have problems.
i will shoot down ideas that are difficult to explain,
because words are not being used exactly right.
i will limit my own ability to think;
most thought is not linguistic,
despite what the voice in my head may tell me.
getting ideas to another mind can be hard
finding the words for an idea can be hard.
the feel of sandpaper, for someone who has never felt it.
what it is like to use a VR headset.
the experience of mindful awareness.
the experience of anxiety or depression.
you start to realize how much we rely on shared experience to convey things.
this is a clue toward the nature of teaching/learning/communication.
people's ideas affect what they hear.
this can help or hinder communication.
the listener doesn't have access to the speaker's unconscious mind.
when they hear words, they will generate thoughts from the words,
but with their own unconscious mind.
if they already have ideas or parts of ideas like the ones being communicated,
then they will feel that the words 'resonate' with them.
they will feel that the words are true.
but if there is not a parity of ideas,
they will find friction as they try to make the words fit into their mental model.
in this effort, they may mistake the meaning for a different one.
or they may be completely lost, and invent ungrounded ideas to understand the words.
but if the words were a little different,
they might have connected them to some of their own ideas.
instead of misinterpreting or creating ungrounded ideas,
they might have felt resonance or created grounded ideas.
our ideas affect what we hear.
this is a big contributor to mysticism sounding incomprehensible---
plus the actual nonsense, but that's another writeup.
without shared experience or shared language,
it can be very hard to express these types of experiences and knowledge.
this is compounded by any lack of understanding on the part of the speaker.
these cracks in the ideas get filled in,
deliberately or not, by the speaker or the listener,
with other ideas that may not reflect the truth of the experience.
all of this gets at the heart of the difficulty of communication, teaching, and learning.
how do we get an idea from someone else's head into ours?
how do we get to their perspective without being coerced?
we must see how they arrived at their perspective.
scrutiny and an open conviction for the truth are necessary,
from both parties.
words can be distracting from thought
the iteration of thought can become blocked by the senses' assertions.
reading words you have already written about your thoughts,
you can rely on the words instead of thinking,
causing you to not see ideas which are missing or which don't match your thoughts.
the solution is to close your eyes and trust yourself.
there is a similar effect when speaking,
if you drop into saying a set phrase from your memory.
words box things, and have connotations.
forget about the words. the words aren't important.
what is important is the idea that the words are working to convey.
ask questions. don't put things in boxes.
many words have multiple meanings, and some egregiously so (e.g. god, art, love).
you may be using the same words for different ideas.
you may conflate the meanings because of the word.
using words may cause you to think about how other people will interpret them,
which can influence your thoughts on what to say or write.
certain perspectives on the world explain what, for example, 'god' is.
but trying to explain a way of seeing 'god' to someone who doesn't have that perspective
likely won't help them to achieve that perspective.
in fact it often makes things more difficult for everyone.
they are trying to understand 'god' from their current perspective,
not to understand a different perspective,
which will then allow them to understand 'god'.
and likewise, for someone who already has the requisite perspective,
they may enjoy this reinforcement of their perspective,
but it will not give them any new information.
they could have derived the same explanation if asked, 'what is god?'.
so what you have to do is, if someone asks, 'what is god?',
you must point them at a perspective which will allow them
to answer that question for themselves.
ideas are not permanent
our ideas change over time.
they are tested against experience and introspection.
they combine and differentiate.
they accumulate connections to other ideas.
they are forgotten.
this is an open investigation.
these ideas are not the end of anything.
both words and ideas are attempts
to capture the complexity of the world in simple forms.
can we perfect our abstractions of the world?
how close to objectivity can we get?
knowing ourselves is clearly important.
to fully utilize a tool, you must fully understand it.
our brains are our most powerful tool.
how well can we know thought?
the primary obstacle here seems to be understanding the brain.
meditative traditions seem to have a big head start here,
from the inside. science is catching up,
but hasn't integrated the wisdom because it smells bad.
don't get caught up in systems.
words are a highly effective tool for communication,
but there is an imprecision to them
when compared to the specifics of the neural structures in our brains.
can we create a notation system for abstractions?
to be able to write down the 'formula' for an idea.
words are in the way
- a direct teaching
- a model of consciousness
- fox mulder stares wistfully at the poster on the wall
- joy to the world
- the mountain of truth
- there are only so many truths. everything else is derived
- what is life?
- xin xin ming