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Old 07-07-2010, 05:01 AM   #27
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Default The Limitation of mankind

Excellent Thread! Congrats for the superb work in presenting this information to the public; nicely consolidated.

The OP's expressed premise reminded me of this passage, which I'll present here. As you will probably note, it's words ring True.

"Why do you say that our language will not permit of clearer conceptions than you give?"

p. 291

"Because your education does not permit you to think outside of words; you are word-bound."

"You astonish me by making such an arrogant assertion. Do you mean to assert that I can not think without using words?"

"Yes. Every thought you indulge in is circumscribed. You presumably attempt to throw a thought-line forward, and yet you step backward and spin it in words that have been handed you from the past, and, struggle as you may, you can not liberate yourself from the dead incubus. Attempt to originate an idea, and see if you can escape your word-master?"

"Go on; I am listening."

"Men scientific think in language scientific. Men poetical think in language poetic. All educated men use words in thinking of their subjects, words that came to them from the past, and enslave their intellect. Thus it is that the novelist can not make fiction less real than is fact; that scientists can not commence at the outside, and build a theory back to phenomena understood. In each case the foundation of a thought is a word that in the very beginning carries to the mind a meaning, a something from the past. Each thought ramification is an offshoot from words that express ideas and govern ideas, yes, create ideas, even dominating the mind. Men speak of ideas when they intend to refer to an image in the mind, but in reality they have no ideas outside of the word sentences they unconsciously reformulate. Define the term idea correctly, and it will be shown that an idea is a sentence, and if a sentence is made of words already created, there can be no new idea, for every word has a fixed meaning. Hence, when men think, they only rearrange words that carry with themselves networks of ideas, and thus play upon their several established meanings. How can men so circumscribed construct a new idea or teach a new science?"

"New words are being created."

"Language is slowly progressing, but no new word adds itself to a language; it is linked to thought-chains that precede. In order to create a word, as a rule, roots are used that are as established in philology as are building materials in architecture. When a new sound is thrust into a language, its intent must be introduced by words already known, after which it conveys

p. 292

a meaning derived from the past, and becomes a part of mind sentences already constructed, as it does of spoken language. Language has thus been painfully and slowly evolved and is still being enlarged, but while new impressions may be felt by an educated person, the formulated feeling is inseparable, from well-known surviving words."

"Some men are dumb."

"Yes; and yet they frame mind-impressions into unspoken words of their own, otherwise they would be scarcely more than' animals. Place an uneducated dumb person in a room with a complicated instrument, and although he may comprehend its uses, he can not do so unless he frames sense-impressions into, what is to him, a formulated mind-word sequence."

"But he can think about it."

"No; unless he has already constructed previous impressions into word-meanings of his own, he can not think about it at all. Words, whether spoken or unspoken, underlie all ideas. Try, if you believe I am mistaken, try to think of any subject outside of words?"

I sat a moment, and mentally attempted the task, and shook my head.

"Then," said the old man, "how can I use words with established meanings to convey to your senses an entirely new idea? If I use new sounds, strung together, they are not words to you, and convey no meaning; if I use words familiar, they reach backward as well as forward. Thus it is possible to instruct you, by a laborious course of reasoning, concerning a phenomenon that is connected with phenomena already understood by you, for your word-language can be thrust out from the parent stalk, and can thus follow the outreaching branches. However, in the case of phenomena that exist on other planes, or are separated from any known material, or force, as is the "true conception that envelops the word eternity, there being neither connecting materials, forces, nor words to unite the outside with the inside, the known with the unknown, how can I tell you more than I have done? You are word-bound."

"Nevertheless, I still believe that I can think outside of words."

p. 293

"Well, perhaps after you attempt to do so, and fail again and again, you will appreciate that a truth is a truth, humiliating as it may be to acknowledge the fact."

"A Digger Indian has scarcely a word-language," I asserted, loth to relinquish the argument.

"You can go farther back if you desire, back to primitive man; man without language at all, and with ideas as circumscribed as those of the brutes, and still you have not strengthened your argument concerning civilized man. But you are tired, I see."
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