“Language is originally and essentially nothing but a system of signs or symbols, which denote real occurrences, or their echo in the human soul.” Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious
In the midst of reading Jung’s Red Book, the idea of words and language and their relationship to the underlying wordless reality has begun to haunt me. I understand that trying to use language to discuss language presents the same problem as does seeing the eye with your own eye, but if that’s the case, where does that leave us? Can we trust language, can we not trust it?
What is the difference between the world we create through the understanding and choice of our words and the unspoken essence that cannot seem to be put into words? When we cannot articulate the pure essence of the ineffable, assuming that there is one, how can we know it when and if we do? I know the world goes on, but all the searches for truth seem to be suspect if we cannot locate the bridge between language and what it tries to convey. Even if this problem is only sensed, maybe it can partially account for why there is mistrust between people with differing opinions?
“Words are the physicians of the mind diseased.” Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC), Prometheus Bound
How close does language come to articulating all that the world is, or as some might say reality? Can language only approximate reality? How do we know? So much, it seems can be taken for granted in the natural ease of our speech and use of language.
But if there is, and I believe there is, a world apart from language, can we prove that? And if not with language than with what? I wouldn’t say math because it too is a language, a representation, yes?
“Touches are better than words, but words are better than nothing.” Dick Summer
Who hasn’t sensed that there is an underlying-ness that language approximates by putting the ineffable into words? A metaphor that works for me in describing the ineffable is the image of a well, a very deep well and that when we have immediate, non-verbal experiences in which we sense that there’s something beyond, we’ve fallen in the well. Resurfacing allows us to live in both worlds by using a bucket to visit the depths by dipping down into the well. But as much as I like this metaphor and sense it pointing to a truth, maybe it doesn’t. Or does it?
Is it consensus then? If enough people sense and agree that a metaphor approximates reality, do we then know the truth?
“Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.” Benjamin Lee Whorf
We might think that animals don’t have language or certainly trees, plants, stones and the elements don’t have language, but maybe they do. Jung often noted that psyche and soma are inseparable, and if that’s the case, some form of language could be said to exist for every and anything. Then language ceases to be merely representational and has its own underlying ineffability.
When the starlings go quiet and suddenly fly away in formation is that language?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.” Is that what John 1:1 is trying to tell us ?
I’m sure better minds than mine have already figured this stuff out and that there is a way out of what seems like a strange loop, even if it means to accept that language and reality are one and our best bet is to work at using language. But then reality truly remains at least a partial fantasy of sorts, but even that is saying too much as it implies that we can make a distinction between the two.