Sunday, July 23, 2006

Language is symbolic

Heard an interesting thing today. It was part of a recording of Alan Watts. The part that jumped out was about the way we confuse ourselves with language and symbols.

Essentially, language is just a bunch of verbal symbols. Words represent things, but aren't those things. You can use the word bird to describe a flying critter, but the word isn't that's just a shorthand description of that thing.

So, we tend to start assigning values to words. Ice cream tasted good once so it becomes good. A skunk sprayed the dog and the smell stayed around for days, so skunk becomes bad. We then scurry about trying to stack as many good things in our corner as we can while avoiding the bad things. In the process we forget to just live in the moment.

It's hard to live in the moment when you're worried about getting the next good thing in the future. Sadly, the future is just another symbol for something that never, ever arrives. There really is nothing other than the now, the present moment - everything after it can only exist in our imagination and everything that came before it only exists in our memory. Or, to dust off a Buddhist saying - you can only step in the same river once.

Anyway, the thing that really struck me was a comment Watts made about a big flaw in our language. He was talking about the way we are told that there must always be a noun and a verb, or a subject and action. The problem, Watts points out, is that an object by it's very nature can't cause an action. Likewise, the action doesn't create the subject.

He, of course, actually clarifies what he's getting at. I still need to wrap my head around it all before I can do that.

It was interesting though.


On another note... Holy crap was the Tour de France great this year. I thought it would suck without Lance Armstrong, but it was very exciting.

All I know is that Floyd Landis is a stud and a half.

He took the yellow jersey and all seemed well. But he cracked on long climb and not only lost the overall lead, but any reasonable hope of getting it back with only one more day in the mountains and a time trial left. Landis dropped from first to 11th on stage 16 of the Tour.

Then on the 17th stage, he tore it up and put in perhaps the best rides in cycling history. To win the stage was awesome on it's own, but he made up six minutes on Sastre (the guy in second) and seven on Pereira (the guy in first). At one point he had a ten minute gap - that's pretty stellar for anyone, but just short of incredible for one of the race's top riders to get. The field tried to pull him back, but ultimately, his ride was too good.

At the end of the day, Landis was back in third mere seconds away from taking back the lead. A great time trial two days later sealed the comeback.

What makes it all the more incredible is the fact that Landis' hip is so messed up from a crash earlier in his career that he'll be having hip replacement surgery after the Tour.



It's sunny. That's nice. It's just nice to be able to sit outside and enjoy the sun. It's certainly helped get me out of the funk I've been in lately.

That and walking.

I've been walking lately and it's helped get me kickstarted again. Sort of forces me to get out and be a bit active.

Healthy? Yeah, I'll drink to that.


Miranda said...

If Watts sees so many flaws in our language, why on earth is he writing with it?

If he thinks it is best to simply live in the moment, I wonder why he doesn't try it, Instead, he spends his time worrying about how he and others are using language.

It's an interesting idea, anyhow. :)

Shawn said...

It was a talk on meditation.

I don't think he was terribly concerned about language as much as he was pointing out some of the problems with trying to describe something ultimately undescribable with language.

It is kind of an interesting thing to think about though.

tshsmom said...

Watt's speech sounds like an M.C. Eischer painting...makes me dizzy.

Sunshine would be wonderful, if it wasn't for all the heat that comes with it! :(

Laura said...

Language is also fluid as well as symbolic. The meanings of words change with time, culture, and the person using the word. For instance the word "gender" or "culture" are very loaded terms and the true meanings of these words depends on the experiences of the person using/reading/hearing them. I realize those are loaded examples.

This is also why there is no such thing as absolute truth - because ideas are communicated through ever changing language and the interpretation of that language varies from place to place and person to person. Interesting.

Slade said...

that is too funny cuz I just learned the details of semiotics this week!!! and I'm a freaking English graduate...I know, I suck