Thursday, February 17, 2011

Words and People

  It seems to me that trying to describe another person with words either in your mind or to another person always amounts to an oversimplification or an over generalization. I feel pretty cynically about the reason people attempt it at all. Also, I'll discuss why I think words are not the tool that philosophy seems convinced that they are.
  People are always talking about other people; sometimes in a positive light, sometimes a negative one, but that's not what I'm focusing on today. What I want to talk about is my idea that no matter how many words one uses, even a whole book of words, or how well chosen they are, they are going to fall way short of giving an adequate explanation of any human being. I think it's worthwhile to keep in mind that no matter how much you hear about someone, all that's been said relates to the person the same way that a drawing of the person relates to the person. There are some major differences, the person is flesh and blood the drawing is ink or whatever on paper. Also, it's a special faculty of the mind that enables a person to look at such a drawing and relate it to the person being depicted, and it's also a peculiar faculty of the mind to think that words about a person relate to the person being described. My point is that this faculty relating the abstract to the real works quite a bit too well a lot of times.
  I mentioned that I feel cynical about the reason people abstract away from the actual complexity of the person and deal with the abstraction in their mind as if it were the actual person. I think first and foremost people like to operate as if they know enough about things that are unknowable. I think really this is probably practical for the inquisitive human brain not being able to know something would be like an itch that could never be scratched. And also people oversimplify the person they're thinking about's attributes so they can attempt to make informed decisions as to whether they should associate with the other person and social things like that. Which is born of a certain practicality as well, but I feel that except in the most extreme cases the oversimplification of the person doesn't relate to the actual person well enough to be able to make that informed decision that they want to make. It's the best way people have of sorting through and acting on their social life so we can't abandon it, but my point is just that I think people should be aware of how faulty the process is. Some people are very confident in their correct judgement of other people and I think that the best judgement possible is going to be way off.
  The next thing is sort of tangentially related is what I see as the folly of philosophy. In the case of philosophy people are arguing about ideas with words. Now as impossible as it is to describe a person with words, a concept is not even something you can interact with in the real world. I mean if there were such a thing as more impossible that would be what philosophy tries to do with words. I love words, but describing ultimate reality with them is like trying to build a bridge out of spaghetti. As great as spaghetti is it's probably not useful in that way. I still think philosophy is fun and interesting just I wish they wouldn't get so upset with each other when they disagree, I mean, realistically, they probably aren't even talking about the same thing! Like if they are discussing transcendental reality or some phrase like that, what happens in each one's brain when they hear those words is likely completely different, and trying to sort that out with words is futile, something that can be fun but shouldn't be taken seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Some people spend precious time talking about others, both positive and negative, as you say. There is both the impression intentionally conveyed and how others interpret that message. Taking conversation at face value can be futile, but over time and multiple experiences with people, a cummulative impression can yield a very good assessment of a person. There will always be the deeper, hidden parts to all people. I think we all try to put our best foot forward and utilize the parts of our personalities that we feel most comfortable with. Regarding philosophy, I also agree with you, no two people could possibly agree about a concept or religion. Maybe we could say that people are similar to philosophy in that they are unique and abstract, and we could never define them completely.