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To think is an action. It is something that is done, something that happens through effort by someone or something.

Nevertheless, sometimes thinking can appear as a thing.

A morsel of thinking becomes an idea. There seems to be no action in an idea, no performance, nothing happening but a simple finished contained thing that exists independently. That is an illusion, and it can originate a slew of weird mistakes.

2 + 2 is not 4 until someone goes all the way to put up two fingers in the one hand, then two more in the other hand, then proceeds to join the fingers together and count them as a group. Indeed there is no such thing as a number before there is the procedure of counting.

It is easy to take this argument as yet another overly subtle academic distinction — so much empty talk that gets you no-where. Yet indeed everyone of us has to deal with this all the time.

Like when your uncle goes all preacher about the evils of the left. And you know his arguments are crap. And you know that if you told him in perfect english and unflawed logic why his arguments are crap he would just basically ignore everything you said and keep on preaching. And furthermore (that’s the puzzling part) you also know that he is basically well meaning and he does not want the police banging on people’s heads which would certainly be the consequence of his policies being enforced — he is just in a position where this crap seems logical.

And he is there not completely out of his own will, it is just the myriad forces of history repeating.

And then you meet a friend and he goes all preacher on you about the evils of the right, and it is the same.

They are in a position where.

You are in a position where your own bullshit seems like good sense. So am i.

It seems insane. Maybe it is, actually. But we are still here — this whole thing must somehow work, right?

None of those crazies are in possession of untrue ideas (nor am i, for that matter, in possession of untrue ideas, though i’d like to be included in the crazies). They are just people trying to process the world around them. So, indeed, if you isolate the ideas they claim to possess and pass judgment on those, you’ll certainly find a lot of untruth, but When you give up «the idea» as your basic unit, and instead take «people», it makes a lot of sense that everything that they say is just a fleeting impression, instead of truth. Words are not things, they are just glimpses.

{Glimpses into a river that continuously flows by and that never repeats itself. At least, that’s how Parmenides enemy liked to put it. Which is to say, that story is older than dust. Heraclitus was the best of them two, so he certainly had to lose.}

Words desperately seem like things, though.

It seems like translating words into meanings would be impossible if those meanings weren’t somehow fixed. That is to say, it seems that without ideas being things, they are nothing at all. But ideas only have meanings inside their contexts. That is to say, everything around an idea gives the idea meaning. Someone shouts “fire” inside a burning house, and you know exactly what he means, and you react accordingly, but this is because of the house on flames, not because of the word. The word calls your attention. But that is all. In front of a camera it means taking a shot. In a racetrack it makes you run in a totally different way. It is definitely possible to connect ideas to things, but this connection must be repeated, over and over again.

Still, when your uncle gets rilled up from hearing about the left, he is confusing this word for a thing.

Even more important, when i get mad at his crazy preaching, i am confusing his words for things. I am taking his display of indignation for a logical argument, which it is not. He was ritualistically renewing his own vows of obedience to a given cult, performing a ritual that is very important to himself as it carves his belonging, and that was all. It indeed did not call for any throughout interpretation, it did not require fact checking or analysis, it did not even, really, have anything to do with the people in the right-wing party, it does not really make my uncle belong to the party. It was just a show. And i confused its words with things and out of my confusion got myself thinking how terribly mistaken he was.

My mistake was to not see the effort that went into these words.

When i think about left and right and archos and politics and stuff, it takes me effort to figure out what is what in the mud-pile. As it does anyone else. But then, when i hear other people talk about the same things, i take it for granted that they have the same things figured out as i do. If we were talking about a very very simple thing, like a 16 piece jigsaw, then it would be fairly alright to assume the other person to get to the same conclusions that we did. It is more like a 7.5 billion jigsaw, and one whose pieces dastardly accept being assembled in different places, so certainly some things will be different. But more than that, politics (and almost anything else that is worth talking about, really) is ambiguous, therefore way harder than any jigsaw, because you can never really check your results.

In that case it feels so very natural that every single person has a different take on things.

Because every single take on things is an assemblage, it is a creation, an effort to put things together, to make-sense instead of uncover-sense.

If you watch the person putting together his ambiguous infinite-piece puzzle, his end result becomes so much more endearing and interesting, but if you ignore the effort and excise the end result from it, then you don’t see a process unfolding, you just see a crappy badly-cobbled-together mockup of a something. It has to be so — if it wasn’t, it would be unable to adapt to the changing reality around the person.

Our own ideas are like that, of course. But we never realise this, because we don’t (we almost can’t) ignore our own efforts.

Inside our own shackle, we never see the mends and patches that hold it together, and it feels like a mansion.

To understand the effort in an idea, of course, takes as much energy as it takes understanding anything else. So it stands to reason that we, at first, ignore it. Longer term, we all acknowledge that things are relative, that meanings are more like judgment than law, and so we all engage in the bargaining that is interpretation.

But this is slow. It would be much easier if we started off from the supposition that ideas are not things. The reason is that taking ideas for things creates illusion, and those illusions can create a whole lot of trouble.

It can cause a lot of confusion, yet the mistake can be completely impossible to see.

One Comment

  1. I wonder at times, how we can make communication easier and less time consuming. I think about it not in the context of any political misunderstanding, but in a context of just really very exact and solid things. Moreover this understanding is really what both parties desperately want. For example, a client wants you to develop a piece of software or something. And it takes so much time for people to have an idea what the other party has to say. It seems that this protocol is totally inefficient. One person says 100 words and these 100 words another person converts in one word of his own language.

    I think these our own shackles are necessary to have an inner system, inner language, into which we translate signals from the outer world. We cannot overcome it, because these shackles is actually all there is. You cannot take your house walls into pieces and have a place to live.

    Maybe what one can do is to take out some random bricks time to time and put them in some other places. But just one brick per time, otherwise the house will collapse.

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