2009.04.13 19:00 - What kind of thing are words?

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    The Guardian for this meeting was Threedee Shepherd. The comments are by Threedee Shepherd.

    The  main theme of this session was "words". The discussion also encompassed whether the concept of words, and the use of words can help identify fundamental differences between Western (Platonic) and Eastern (Buddhist) thought.

    Eos Amaterasu: Hi Pila & 3D
    Pila Mulligan: hi Eos and Threedee
    Threedee Shepherd: Hi folks

    After a bit of social chat the topic starts:

    Threedee Shepherd: I know that the word is not the thing (finger pointing to the moon and all that) But speech did successfully evolve. So, I ask "What ARE words?"
    Pila Mulligan: and as a disclosure for Eos's benefit let's add that Threedee is big in neurology :)
    Pila Mulligan: or some such science :)
    Threedee Shepherd: whatever ^.^
    Pila Mulligan: so Threedee, what would your comment be on this topic?
    Threedee Shepherd: I don't want to prejudice the conversation by starting
    Pila Mulligan: purely by speculation, I would guess that the earliest human sounds used as words were mostly names, as reference labels (for things, people, places) -- that came after oooorrrrkk! that meant watch out, get off my foot, etc.
    Threedee Shepherd: yes perhaps first signals, then labels
    Eos Amaterasu: Yes, the "get off my foot" type is more enactive, creating meaning (do this!)
    Pila Mulligan: and a sense of urgeny, as verbal signals would allow humans some benefit there
    Eos Amaterasu: Some sounds are meant to have neurological effects :-)
    Pila Mulligan: omm
    Threedee Shepherd: animals signal alarms to others, using distinct calls
    Pila Mulligan: and of course there are mating sounds
    Pila Mulligan: ok, Threedee, for some reason I suspect you have even more detailed information ... ready yet?
    Pila Mulligan: not to rush things :)
    Threedee Shepherd: so, let's move beyond words as sound-symbols and to labels.
    Pila Mulligan: names
    Threedee Shepherd: mmhmm
    Pila Mulligan: I bet names were early
    Pila Mulligan: 'tell Grog bring meat'
    Threedee Shepherd: I don't know where this goes, which is why I raised it. Let me elaborate
    Pila Mulligan: ok
    Threedee Shepherd: I read the observation that one can hear music or see art and does not have to ask "What does it mean" in order to fully take it in as an experience in itself.
    Eos Amaterasu: Baby talk certainly shows that
    Threedee Shepherd: The music is the thing, the art is the thing, but the word is not.
    Pila Mulligan: even pets can communicate by sounds to some degree
    Threedee Shepherd: So perhaps I am asking, what kind of a "thing" is language?
    Pila Mulligan: so 'the way *is* beyond language' (3rd patricarch of Zen, I believe)
    Threedee Shepherd: yep, but I'm trying to fly below Zen radar in this conversation ^.^
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Pila Mulligan: language is a thing that satisfies the minds need to describe things
    Eos Amaterasu: Word have a synecdoche quality: the word is a small effect, in which a larger world can be found
    Pila Mulligan: synechoche, new to me ... : ?
    Threedee Shepherd: yes Eos
    Eos Amaterasu: The part representing the whole
    Threedee Shepherd: one of many named rhetorical forms, Pila
    Pila Mulligan: ok, thanks
    Eos Amaterasu: s u n
    Pila Mulligan: yes, the descriptive enlarges the perceived, I'd say
    Eos Amaterasu: all kinds of lights go on when I hear/read that word
    Threedee Shepherd: So Eos, words become shorthands
    Eos Amaterasu: Works both ways: the shorthand can curtail the experience to what i think the word already means
    Eos Amaterasu: or the word can open it up further
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Threedee Shepherd: exactly
    Eos Amaterasu: My sister knows the names of plants in the woods, which I think enlarges her experience
    Threedee Shepherd: why so, does it enlarge her experience.
    Eos Amaterasu: Because for her that 3-leafed plant with purple berries carries many more associations and threads and references
    Pila Mulligan: the Hawaiians named everything, places, winds, tidal pools, surf spots -- each name conveyed a personality attirbuted to the thing
    Pila Mulligan: the names were thus educational
    Threedee Shepherd: So, in that regard, a word can be a web connecting many nodes of concept and content
    Pila Mulligan: indeed
    Eos Amaterasu: I think that Hawaiian kind of naming could also be more than that, can refer or open up to that which generates the thing, so to speak (its deity)
    Pila Mulligan: yes
    Eos Amaterasu: As Heidegger says, "language is the clearing of being"
    Eos Amaterasu: That's kind of a further synecdoche quality
    Pila Mulligan: and as a further example, after a great battle on Maui a stream was re-named Wailuku (bloody waters)
    Pila Mulligan: so today it means its most recent signficant event
    Pila Mulligan: the stream name
    Pila Mulligan: whereas before maybe it was laundry site or something
    Eos Amaterasu: the stream in context of its people...
    Pila Mulligan: yep
    Pila Mulligan: so how are we doing in terms of your original idea Threedee?
    Threedee Shepherd: OK, all useful so far. Now, lets climb into Zen radar range and I ask, why does Zen "denigrate words and their use" given the centrality of words to our experience?
    Pila Mulligan: :) confusion probably
    Threedee Shepherd: why not express Zen in symbolic logic, then, to avoid confusion.
    Pila Mulligan: to me Zen has more of a yin quality, it is receptive to perception and expereince ad less in need of creative raeasoning
    Pila Mulligan: like the direct appreciation of art, see above :)
    Threedee Shepherd: I think Zen is beyond yin-yan
    Pila Mulligan: how so?
    Threedee Shepherd: I suspect THE WAY is an essence of being from which yin and yan derive
    Eos Amaterasu: or an activity of being (essence is has things quality)
    Pila Mulligan: yes, I agree, but there are at least two possible approaches thereto
    Pila Mulligan: [19:22] Threedee Shepherd: I read the observation that one can hear music or see art and does not have to ask "What does it mean" in order to fully take it in as an experience in itself.
    Pila Mulligan: art forms that need no words to be appreciated being one
    Pila Mulligan: so in the chiniese yin yang symbol there are four elements (at least)
    Pila Mulligan: the circle (wu chi) is the quitessence
    Pila Mulligan: the line (tai chi) divides the essence for the sake of description
    Pila Mulligan: yin and yang result
    Eos Amaterasu: Very nice!
    Pila Mulligan: so I like the yin approach but I am in awe of those mastering the yang approach
    Pila Mulligan: from Buddhism to neuroscience
    Threedee Shepherd: Well, before we go there let me broadly contrast and oversimplify Eastern and Western. Western says: "in the beginning was the word." Perhaps Eastern says, "In the beginning was."
    Eos Amaterasu: Greek "logos", from "legein", to bind
    Eos Amaterasu: word as the binding power
    Threedee Shepherd: Yes, words bind the order we make of chaos.
    Eos Amaterasu: But also keep us connected to chaos
    Eos Amaterasu: works both directions
    Eos Amaterasu: therefore poetry
    Threedee Shepherd: I think I do not understand what does that in Eastern thought, given that I do not think of direct perception of being as a state of chaos.
    Eos Amaterasu: ?
    Eos Amaterasu: I think re budhism, and probably Taoism, it's not so much "in the beginning was"
    Threedee Shepherd: I assume that enlightned "perception" of being is more than an acceptance of pure chaos, unbound in any way. So, what if anything does the binding in Buddhist thought.
    Pila Mulligan: light
    Eos Amaterasu: but the circle, quintessential quality
    Pila Mulligan: light is the quintessential quality would be my answer Threedee
    Eos Amaterasu: formless: dharmakaya (body of dharma)
    Eos Amaterasu: speech comes after
    Threedee Shepherd: Do buddhist brains really need no words to converse with each other?
    Eos Amaterasu: I've seen people just bump heads
    Pila Mulligan: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.
    Eos Amaterasu: :-)
    Threedee Shepherd: Hello Fefonz, we are discussing "What kind of thing are words?"
    Pila Mulligan: hi Fonzie
    Fefonz Quan: Hey all
    Eos Amaterasu: Hi fefonz
    Pila Mulligan: so in the Genesis descirption, god makes light first
    Pila Mulligan: so to speak
    Fefonz Quan: sure (what does genesis have to do with words?)
    Pila Mulligan: [19:49] Threedee Shepherd: I assume that enlightned "perception" of being is more than an acceptance of pure chaos, unbound in any way. So, what if anything does the binding in Buddhist thought. [19:49] Pila Mulligan: light [19:49] Eos Amaterasu: but the circle, quintessential quality
    Pila Mulligan: we ahd previously arrived at words as a bining of thought to reality
    Threedee Shepherd: Yes, i love the simplicity of that passage, God said "Y'he or" and that's all that was needed, nothing about photons, atoms and the stuff. Just a simple declartive that is best translasted as "Exist, light"
    Pila Mulligan: yep
    Fefonz Quan: well, when it was written, nobody knew about photons or atoms :)
    Pila Mulligan: and from that image I see light as primordial (not a word I really understand:)
    Threedee Shepherd: of course, it is the metaphoric sympllicity I am noting.
    Eos Amaterasu: light is one of the most powerful words or pointers or whatevers
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Eos Amaterasu: I think Buddhist cosmology has no beginning, really: there's just the nature of things, which is both empty (open, + anything can happen)
    Eos Amaterasu: and lucid (light), noetic
    Eos Amaterasu: not dumb space
    Eos Amaterasu: bright space
    Eos Amaterasu: our of that comes speech
    Pila Mulligan: and so a monk, a cobbler, even a physicist or neuroscientist apporaches enlightenment by their practice
    Threedee Shepherd: ok, let me pull us back, for a moment
    Threedee Shepherd: west-->logos east-->nature of things, is that a fair distinction (among many)?
    Pila Mulligan: yep
    Eos Amaterasu: dharma more or less means nature of things
    Fefonz Quan: flattening things up a little 3D
    Eos Amaterasu: and you could say logos is closest western equiv
    Threedee Shepherd: What I am playing with is the very different underpinning (logos vs. dharma) of the Western and Eastern cultures, and the significance of said differences
    Pila Mulligan: but even western philosopher-science folks have looked beyond simple reason in evaluting the nature of things
    Eos Amaterasu: Yes
    Fefonz Quan: well the greeks, and neo-platonism, where quite similar to eastern thought in a way
    Threedee Shepherd: Where, Pila, what is an example of such thinking among "science folks"
    Eos Amaterasu: Aquinas: existence is "esse", to be - a verb, not a thing
    Pila Mulligan: Pema :)
    Pila Mulligan: renegades
    Pila Mulligan: Jung -- synchronicity
    Pila Mulligan: Wilhelm Reich -- orgone
    Fefonz Quan: what do you mean by logos?
    Pila Mulligan: those symgols company use ?
    Threedee Shepherd: no, the greek word 'logos'
    Pila Mulligan: Threedee loves puns by the way
    Eos Amaterasu: no, ancient greek word
    Fefonz Quan: and why are they so important?
    Threedee Shepherd: [19:44] Eos Amaterasu: Greek "logos", from "legein", to bind
    Fefonz Quan: (i thought words were the issue, sorry, i should not interrupt)
    Pila Mulligan: they are the topic Fefonz :)
    Pila Mulligan: words
    Pila Mulligan: but Thredee can you please elaborate on logos as you are using it today?
    Pila Mulligan: as to different underpinning (logos vs. dharma)
    Threedee Shepherd: Yes, I rephrase my starting question, almost as a summary and ask again: "What kind of THINGS are words?"
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Fefonz Quan: a. very compressed means of communication of ideas. b. memes
    Threedee Shepherd: logos--logic--descriptors vs. pure essentials beyond words, as a basis of philosophical thinking
    Pila Mulligan: it seems to me that the idea of different underpinning (logos vs. dharma) gets to the method as much as the words
    Pila Mulligan: yes, same idea
    Pila Mulligan: so I'd go back to art or music asa valid form of expression without words
    Fefonz Quan: so do you ask if they are descriptor or essentials in their own?
    Pila Mulligan: a method of expression
    Threedee Shepherd: exactly Pila, and I am exploring the difference in methods, as much as anything else, when I use the topic of "words" as a way "in"
    Fefonz Quan: the difference between different means of communications?
    Threedee Shepherd: words are NOT, music (ignoring song) nor are they art (ignoring calligraphy), What are they, and why did one tradition elevate them and the other try to ignore them?
    Threedee Shepherd: I KNOW I am oversimplifying
    Fefonz Quan: which tradition elevates them? surely they are not music
    Fefonz Quan: they are a way to communicate.
    Pila Mulligan: why western technology is implied there, but technology is (largely) embraced world wide
    Threedee Shepherd: Platonic--> logos. Buddhist-->being
    Pila Mulligan: and the old ways don't need technology beyond convenience
    Eos Amaterasu: I think words are both descriptive and essentials on their own (ie, they create as well as represent)
    Fefonz Quan: bbuddhist sutra were also written in words
    Fefonz Quan: as well as platonic ideas
    Eos Amaterasu: logos as word as binding power meant the power that made something and made it act as it does
    Threedee Shepherd: Eastern would say--I think--that all that words can create are illusions
    Fefonz Quan: well, eastern would say in a way that even music is an illusion
    Eos Amaterasu: Not really: words/syllables as mantra can protect the mind and return it to that quintessential circle
    Fefonz Quan: again - just a means, notihing essential
    Threedee Shepherd: Please note friends, that I know there are similarities between the traditions. Tonite I am trying to explore differences.
    Fefonz Quan: so in a way - 'eastern' will give words more power, since consciousness comes before matter
    Pila Mulligan: and Threedee, seriously, if you ask me who has the best handle on Platonic logos, I'd say it is the Buddhists
    Fefonz Quan: while 'western / science' claims that everything is matter, hence the words are only descriptors
    Pila Mulligan: I have never seen a more sophisticated and coherent system of description
    Fefonz Quan: than what Pila?
    Pila Mulligan: Buddhist logos
    Threedee Shepherd: Yes, Fefonz. But, is that consciousness enlightened understanding of something like The Way, or is it "mere" words?
    Fefonz Quan fails again to understand the term logos here
    Eos Amaterasu: Does Pila mean buddhist dharma?
    Pila Mulligan: [20:05] Threedee Shepherd: logos--logic--descriptors vs. pure essentials beyond words, as a basis of philosophical thinking
    Fefonz Quan: can you rephrase that complex question Threedee?
    Pila Mulligan: the collection of Buddhist word descriptions, Eos
    Eos Amaterasu: Yes
    Eos Amaterasu: I think east/west diff keeps coming back to innie/outie (like bellybuttons)
    Threedee Shepherd: OK, I'll be daring and try this oversimplification:
    Eos Amaterasu: East takes noetic tack, West takes noematic tack (east from subject, west from object)
    Fefonz Quan: in a way the east goes to enlightenment while the west does not
    Fefonz Quan: (waits for threedee)
    Pila Mulligan (waits for threedee also)
    Eos Amaterasu: ditto
    Pila Mulligan: tension rises as the oversimplification risk is prepared
    Fefonz Quan: (oversimplification seems like a too long word for what it describes :))
    Threedee Shepherd: The "greeks" would posit that one cannot understand the world (reality, existence) without the words that bind the things that are the world. Buddhism and especially Zen says that the way that can be know in that fashion is not the Way. These are very different takes on human existance.
    Pila Mulligan: ok, there's the distinction
    Fefonz Quan: so greeks say it cannot be described by words, and buddhist say that too
    Fefonz Quan: greeks think words are the world?
    Eos Amaterasu: "No one can describe That by saying 'it is this'" - Karmapa III
    Pila Mulligan: '"greeks" would posit that one cannot understand the world (reality, existence) withOUT the words'
    Threedee Shepherd: But the greeks (as I understand Platonism) even if the words are imperfect, there are "things" to be described that are basic essences "forms".
    Eos Amaterasu: Hmm, problem is Greek philosophy had multiple streams....
    Fefonz Quan: i thought concepts (beauty, justice) are the essence, not the word (which might mean also different things in greek, english, finnish etc.)
    Eos Amaterasu: It think the east west distinction still remains
    Threedee Shepherd: True Eos, it is the contrasting bedrock ideas I am pointing to, independent of their history
    Eos Amaterasu: Forms are equiv to 2nd skandha
    Pila Mulligan: but, Threedee, again, if you look at the collected works of philosophy, and through the rhetoric, no one has a more sophisticated and coherent system of verbal description of reality than (non-Zen) Buddhists
    Fefonz Quan: i think the distinction is between concepts and 'suchness"
    Eos Amaterasu: Sorry, skandha of from, 1st, which is not the essence: it obscures the essence
    Fefonz Quan: words are just means to decribe poorly concepts )
    Eos Amaterasu: When it comes to logos, Heraclitus is the man
    Pila Mulligan: was just looking at that -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logos#Heraclitus
    Threedee Shepherd: Perhaps this difference may be useful, again, admitting my weak understanding on Eastern thought. In Indian precursor to Buddhist thought, I think the ascending chakras are like a ladder, leading to enlightenment at the top rung, at which point the ladder ceases to exist and indeed never was. That is not the state of forms in Platonic thought.
    Pila Mulligan: and it quotes him thusly : Listening not to me but to the LOGOS it is wise to agree that all things are one
    Pila Mulligan: is that Zen or what :)
    Pila Mulligan: chakras actually have separate integrity
    Pila Mulligan: like do re me fa so la de etc
    Eos Amaterasu: Maybe threedee is coming to find that west had not similar notion of emptiness
    Eos Amaterasu: Actually Heraclitus may have been closer to that, and Plato definitely further
    Fefonz Quan: i totally agree. the west (not esoteric one) does not talk about emptiness at all
    Threedee Shepherd: Well, we keep coming back to similarities and I am not sure I asked well enough to get at the idea of words.
    Pila Mulligan: Threedee, earlier today Pema and Stim debated the value of describing reality as a fiction -- it was interesting, and the chat log may be informative on this idea
    Pila Mulligan: i.e, words are meaningful or decepetive
    Fefonz Quan: the link pila just gave just shows how ambigious the term LOGOS is, pointing at many diferent things, hence i was so confused
    Threedee Shepherd: perhaps another time I will ask "are there basic differences between "Western" and Eastern" approaches to understanding being and existence? But that is for another night or 1000 nights
    Pila Mulligan: you have already nicely described such a distinction, Threedee
    Eos Amaterasu: I wrote a paper way back on Heraclitus and Greek use of logos - many meanings!
    Threedee Shepherd: which was it Pila :D
    Pila Mulligan: [20:20] Threedee Shepherd: The "greeks" would posit that one cannot understand the world (reality, existence) without the words that bind the things tha are the world. Buddhism and especially Zen says that the way that can be know in that fashion is not the Way. These are very different takes on human existance.
    Threedee Shepherd: mmhmm
    Pila Mulligan: now how many Buddhists have you met that don't say anythting?
    Pila Mulligan: :) lol
    Fefonz Quan: we should be reminded that Zen is not all of Buddhism
    Eos Amaterasu: buddhists say nothing :-)
    Pila Mulligan: yep, and Buddhists talk quite well
    Fefonz Quan: about nothing :)
    Fefonz Quan: just like Sienfeld
    Pila Mulligan: but the end is as you stated it Threedee
    Pila Mulligan: can the way be known without words
    Pila Mulligan: I'd say yes
    Threedee Shepherd: Of course Zen is but one expression of Buddhism. And the essence of a koan is to mock its words, not use them as such.
    Fefonz Quan: yep
    Pila Mulligan: mock may be a perjorative, it could be more subtle
    Threedee Shepherd: I know, but I was tgrying to be emphatic.
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Fefonz Quan: but i would say the differences between west/east can be discussed simplified, without the need to be so entangled with the 'words' issue

    Threedee draws the chat to a close with humor:

    Threedee Shepherd: Ade taught me this koan a few days ago, which I had never heard:
    Threedee Shepherd: If you have ice cream, I will give you ice cream. If you do not have ice cream, I will take it away from you.
    Threedee Shepherd: She said: "It is an ice cream koan"
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Fefonz Quan: nice :)
    Pila Mulligan: with a logo no doubt
    Eos Amaterasu: I'll try it on my kid :-)
    Pila Mulligan reiterates at the risk of being annoying: in the collected works of philosophy, there is no more sophisticated and coherent system of verbal description of reality than that prepared by Buddhists
    Eos Amaterasu: I tend to agree
    Pila Mulligan: logical included
    Fefonz Quan: i would agree, but my knowledge of non-buddhist phylosophy is poor :)
    Threedee Shepherd: Understood, yet for many the result of that is to deny reality, in the end.
    Pila Mulligan: and I'm not a Buddhist
    Pila Mulligan: denial is not actually the end though, I trust you realize
    Eos Amaterasu: More subtle than that... the cherry really does taste good as you fall off the cliff
    Fefonz Quan: yes, no denial, surely
    Threedee Shepherd: I do know the denial is not the end, but I'm a true pragmatist and go mainly with "what I see is what I get and what there is" at least when I put my foot out to take the next step walking down the street.
    Pila Mulligan: I'm on the same sidewalk, Threedee -- but that is not logos at work, is it?
    Pila Mulligan: it is merely perception
    Fefonz Quan: i always like to mention myself what my teacher said about the Buddha when
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Pila Mulligan: having a nice walk through life
    Threedee Shepherd: yes, it is related to logos, because I believe the cement under my feet is bound to cement beyond my feet that will SURELY be there when I take my next step, if I can see a long sidewalk ahead of me
    Pila Mulligan: isn't that faith?
    Fefonz Quan: yes, threedee, but then a buddhist might ask you: if as you say "what I see is what I get and what there is", why do you somthimes bother your mind with 'what if's' ?
    Threedee Shepherd: no it's pragmatic extrapolation based on reality
    Pila Mulligan: Threedee is a pragmatist with enough integrity to have a passing interest in metaphysics :)
    Fefonz Quan: if you would really be pragmatic and see everything as it is,
    Fefonz Quan: that alone can make a hugh change
    Threedee Shepherd: I do not bother my mind with "what ifs". "What if's arise FROM my mind as one of the essential ways of its working.
    Fefonz Quan: hence your mind does not see things as they are.

    Threedee adds as editor, a response to the last comment: "Of course it does not."
    Pila Mulligan is a metaphysical pragmatist :)
    Pila Mulligan: and in mental terms, Buddhism is a pragmatic extrapolation based on reality
    Threedee Shepherd: Actually Pila "Threedee" is pragmatic enough to know there are things I do not know--indeed that probably cannot be known--yet finds exploring those mysteries compelling.
    Pila Mulligan: :)
    Eos Amaterasu: Gentlemen, Chuang Tzu must go find that butterfly
    Pila Mulligan: happy hopping Eos
    Eos Amaterasu: thank you very much
    Threedee Shepherd: good night friends and thanks for a long interesting chat
    Eos Amaterasu: good night!
    Fefonz Quan: good night threedee :)
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