Skip to main content

Thought requires language

The finger that points to the moon should not be confused with the moon itself, as the proverb has it. Osho wrote, “You become so obsessed with the word God that you forget that God is an experience, not a word. The word God is not God, and the word fire is not fire, and the word love is not love either.”

And yet we do not, cannot, experience things exactly as they are. We experience them mediated through thought, and that seems to require words. Lance Morrow:

”We know what we think when we find words. Language is the vessel that carries us, our home and spaceship, and outside its protection, there is no oxygen for us. Outside the dimension of language lies a void in which the human conscience cannot breathe. To abandon language is suicide.”

Mark Haddon wrote in a novel: "The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it comes from the Greek words meta (which means from one place to another) and pherein (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn't. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.

Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat:

"In the infancy of language nearly every word is a metaphor and every phrase an allegory. The mind grasps the figurative and the literal sense simultaneously. The word evokes the idea and at the same time the appropriate image by which the idea is expressed; but after a time the human mind becomes so accustomed to using the word in this figurative sense that by a process of abstraction it tends to fix on this alone and to lose sight of its original meaning: and so the secondary and the metaphorical sense of the word gradually becomes its ordinary, normal meaning. The priests, who were the guardians of this original allegorical language, used it in their dealings with the people who were by now incapable of understanding it properly for, having used it so long in only one way, they had come to think of this as the only way of doing so; with the result that when the priests used some expression and meant by it a quite simple truth, the people understood by it heaven knows what absurdity. The priests exploited the written word in a similar fashion, for when they used signs to represent some astronomical phenomena or some incident in the cycle of the seasons, the people saw only references to human beings, animals, and monsters.

Our language deserves to exist as much as anything else has its place on Earth. Alan Watts:

”'Words are noises in the air; they are patterns of thought, patterns of intellect, like a fern. Do you put down a fern because it has a complicated pattern?'
'No,' he said. 'But the fern is real – it's a living, natural thing.'
And I said, 'So are words! I'll make patterns in the air with words, and make all sorts of concepts and string them together, and they're going to be great! So don't put it down – it's a form of life like any other form of life.'”

By allowing us to communicate, language gives us political life. Giorgio Agamben:

”The question 'In what way does the living being have language?' corresponds exactly to the question 'In what way does human life dwell in the polis?' The living being has logos by taking away and conserving its own voice in it, even as it dwells in the polis by letting its own bare life be excluded, as an exception, within it. Politics therefore appears as the truly fundamental structure of Western metaphysics insofar as it occupies the threshold on which the relation between the living being and the logos is realized. In the 'politicization' of bare life – the metaphysical task par excellence – the humanity of living man is decided. In assuming this task, modernity does nothing other than declare its own faithfulness to the essential structure of the metaphysical tradition. The fundamental categorical pair of Western politics is not that of friend/enemy but that of bare life/political existence, zoe/bios, exclusion/inclusion. There is politics because man is the living being who, in language, separates and opposes himself to his own bare life and, at the same time, maintains himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclusion.”


Osho. Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000. p 162.

Lance Morrow. Evil: An Investigation. New York: Basic Books, 2003. p 219.

Mark Haddon (in the character of Christopher). The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2004. p 15.

Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet. Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. (1794) Translated by June Barraclough. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, Inc. 1955. p 37.

Alan Watts. What is Zen? Novato, CA: New World Library, 2000. p 100.

Giorgio Agamben. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. (1995) Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford University Press, 1998. p. 8.


Popular posts from this blog

Castration at the Battle of Adwa (1896)

On March 1, 1896, the Battle of Adwa "cast doubt upon an unshakable certainty of the age – that sooner or later Africans would fall under the rule of Europeans." In this battle, Ethiopians beat back the invading Italians and forced them to retreat permanently. It was not until 1922 that Benito Mussolini would again initiate designs against Ethiopia; despite Ethiopia's defeat in 1936, the nation ultimately retained its independence. "Adwa opened a breach that would lead, in the aftermath of world war fifty years later, to the rollback of European rule in Africa. It was," Raymond Jonas wrote, "an event that determined the color of Africa." (p. 1) It was also significant because it upheld the power of Ethiopia's Christian monarchy that controlled an ethnically diverse nation (p. 333), a nation in which, in the late 19th century, the Christian Emperor Yohannes had tried to force Muslims to convert to Christianity. (p. 36) The Victorian English spelli

Review of Cliff Sims' 'Team of Vipers' (2019)

After he resigned his position, Cliff Sims spent two months in Fall 2018 writing Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House . Many stories are told, some already well known to the public, some not. One buys this book, most likely, to gape at the colossal flameout spectacle that is Donald Trump, as with most things with Trump's name. Sims exposes the thoughtlessness, the chaos, the lack of empathy among his fellow insiders in the campaign and later in the White House, but he does not at all acknowledge the real consequences for ordinary Americans — there might as well be no world outside the Trump insider bubble, for all this narrative concerns itself with — and therefore falls far short of fully grappling with the ethical implications of his complicity. Previously, Sims was a journalist. "I had written tough stories, including some that helped take down a once-popular Republican governor in my home state," he says. "I had done my best to be

The ‘prostitute with a gun’ was a middle-class high school girl

On May 19, 1992, Amy Fisher, a 17-year-old high school student in Long Island, N.Y., rang the bell at the home of 37-year-old Mary Jo Buttafuoco. Buttafuoco stepped onto her front porch and had a brief conversation with the girl, whom she had never met before. Fisher then shot her in the face and fled the scene. Neighbors heard the shot and rushed to Buttafuoco's aid. She regained consciousness the next day in a hospital and was able to recall the conversation with her attacker. This information helped police to promptly identify and arrest Fisher. Fisher's explanation of her action shocked the nation. She claimed that she had been lovers with her victim's husband, Joey Buttafuoco, 36, since the previous summer when she was still only 16. While those who knew Buttafuoco believed him to be a pillar of the community, Fisher said he perpetrated auto theft scams. She claimed he introduced her to a life of prostitution, such that she wore a beeper to her high school classes an