Saturday, 1 August 2009

Do you believe in meanings?

A refusal on a stigmeric fugue.

First of all: a dispute about the existence of something is more a linguistic charade than a risky enterprise. Nonetheless this kind of philosophical enterprise very often can delight and entertain.
When you argue about existence of things, you are engaged in philosophical battles; from a scientific perspective you are just (!) re-shaping the language you use to describe a phenomenon; for practical purposes it’s very tricky to find the sense of these argumentations: it’s difficult to see the difference. Think about the case of god. If you’re a believer, this is per definition the most important topic; you conduct all your life inside the paradigms of this topic (or at least you should). And if someone doesn’t believe in your topic, you are quite upset (or at least you should). Your approach to this opponent is simple: annihilation. But suddenly the human taste for unnecessary stupid actions prevails. You start to annihilate others for much lesser important reasons: non-existent mass destruction weapons, Balcanic murders of archdukes, a cheating wife (though divinely beautiful). What is the lesson? We are out of scale: reciprocal annihilation can come from every sort of belief (reciprocal love as well, but nobody is interested in positive news, but the argument doesn’t change…). So, even if the existence of god is per definition the most important difference in a system of beliefs, practically it doesn’t make us to diverge so consistently: we can live together with this difference (we should). The point is that, no matter how important you think a topic is, you’ll end up messing your own beliefs.

Fair enough: god is the sense of your life or a cultural figure. But: what about meanings? Can we really consider them as a cultural figure??? At the end, they are the ground for cultural figures… Well, precisely as god is, if you are a believer.We need to clarify our minds at this point and as usual when philosophy gets too philosophical, we come down to earth (we should), precisely on the very ground and start look at ants and termites…

Ants and termites are involved in complex behavioral patterns using codes of pheromones (a chemical signal: basically ant’s sweat). They can build huge, complex, articulated buildings (on challenging locations like trees, with ventilation chambers, arches: really good stuff!) only by dropping mud-balls covered with pheromones. No single termite has the minimum clue of what she’s doing; nobody is orchestrating or supervising anything at all. It’s just the self organization of a bunch of insects, driven by a decentralized set of rules: drop your mud-ball if another mud-ball is nearby. Where is the plan of the nest? Who’s in charge? Well, the answer is: technically, there is no plan at all and for sure nobody’s in charge. It looks like a college party…

Where are our meanings then? Meanings are stored in our environment: think of all the signals you encounter (it’d be the same in the wild, just tag a legend to a tree…). Now try to tag not only in space but in time. When you were very young you couldn’t speak: you didn’t have enough tags. Afterwards, step by step you started to amass a huge quantity of tags and labels; you built your own nest of meanings, interacting with others’ nests. Before even realizing it, you are thinking and speaking and you are the wonderful anthill of meanings you call “my-self”. Ok. But now I think and speak I master meanings… Correct, but what exactly are you mastering? Are you controlling meanings? You interact with meanings, you can also create new words, but this is not controlling meanings. It’s something like “you decide, you think, you play” or it’s more: the character you call “I”, built in years through the connection with others nests of meanings, this “I” character will play on the stage opened by similar interactions with others nests.

Oh my god! That means I’m a fictional character and my life is a story written by others. Half true. You did write your story, it’s just that the concept of author is more fading than you thought, not the storytelling itself. Secondary, we do look at our stigmeric storytelling, and we do interact with it; it’s just not the hierarchical supervising of a boss.
In conclusion if you stop to believe in meanings, it won’t change that much. As when you don’t believe in god, you still can be a good person or live together with believers (you should).

Ok. If it’s this way, why even starting to thinking something like that???
First: exactly the attitude of wondering about existence of things, is a good feedback of your capacity to interact with meanings, it’s a good exercise. Second: if you turn meanings inside out, you discover a new side of the meaning. Third: I’m a philosopher and I do this for living.

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