Thursday, August 25, 2005

Things Mean A Lot

I don't know who you are, but it's extremely unlikely that you read this blog and don't also read the two blogs linked at the right. If not, well, why aren't you reading the two blogs linked at the right? What on earth is wrong with you? We're all having a fine little blogging career meta-blogging about each others blogs, and you're missing it.

Well, okay, whatever. Just this, and then I'm done with all the intra-blogspot incestuous posting for the moment. Over at Second Americano, Sam has an entry he's aptly titled, "That One Thing." It's about, he claims, what is really the only idea he's ever had. He phrases it thus (again, paraphrasing, because some times it's nice to have your work done for you): "Language is not a tool for use by humans; rather, language is that upon which human existence depends and that in which it flourishes." Language makes us human; it's Sam's statement of, "I think, therefore I am." It is not, as we might want to interpret it, that thinking (or talking) proves that we exist, it's the opposite. Thinking (or talking) is the necessary and sufficient condition for existence (or humanness).

I think there really is only one thing. I, last week, have been framing it as a discussion about evolution. Down the road at Stonesthrow, Greg is talking about it from the perspective of The Enlightenment. Sam and Rebecca have pretty much created entire careers out of it. I don't quite know what "it" is, but I think every now and then when we step out of our normal perspective, we see it. It's like a koan--an instant of confusion and ridiculousness that gives us just an instant where we glimpse enlightenment.

We live in a universe where it's been proven that any model that you can come up with, any axiomatic system that describes reality, is guaranteed to fail at some level--eventually you'll run into something that's true or false in your system but that can't be proved therein. You might believe that it was Godel who proved this, or you might believe it was Nietzsche, or Epimenides, or perhaps Lao Tzu (depending, not ironically at all, upon which axiomatic system you prefer). It doesn't really matter. The point is, true revelation, and true genius, comes from stepping out of the model for a moment. Godel's proof of his theorem is a brilliant little moment of meta-, where he creates a statement that talks about his axiomatic system from his original axioms. That stepping out was his moment of enlightenment, just as the revelation of language was Sam's, just as last week understanding that intelligence is born out of an attempt to create a narrative was mine. The only problem is, when we all stepped into the light, we wanted to come back and talk about it, and as soon as we did (remember Sam's thesis), we created a new axiomatic system, which is again incomplete. It's the Tao: we've seen the Tao, but as soon as we talk about it, it's no longer the Tao.

It's the One Thing: a mathematician will come back and talk about it in terms of mathematics, a philosopher in terms of philosophy, a crazy freak-from-hell blogger will talk about it in ways you simply don't understand, and so on, because that's the model he or she works with. But it's still the One Thing.

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