talking to ourselves (or the others)

Saussure quoted in Cliff Goddard, 2011 "Semantic Analysis: A Practical Introduction" 2nd edition, Oxford University Press.

In language itself there are only differences … and no positive terms.

When we talk to ourselves, there’s a multitude of Selves.

There may be an obvious Self in one specific context, but other Selves quickly emerge with each new context.

At the UN, there may be an American, an Ukrainian, a Chinese and a Finnish.

These Selves are obviously different, but some parts would inevitably be common.

Why do I say that? Because we’re animals, we have the same biological endowments across the species.

It is very significant that we’re all given vocal chords (under normal conditions) and most of us can use them to communicate.

Incidentally, if you can’t use your vocal chords, the brain is equipped with enough material to re-route to allow for sign language to express the same depth of meaning that we express through spoken words.

If you hear my voice and you can speak, you probably don’t get to appreciate how important and how profound sign language is until you consider that it would be possible to express (=to sign) the same meanings conveyed by somebody’s voice.

Through my voice I have conveyed a message to you by a simple process that doesn’t seem to require a lot of body movements, since these are internal body movements.

How about the external body movements? How is that different? How would reality be represented for these Selves? Imagine the Self of somebody who knows sign language.

Would it be similar to somebody who knows Japanese or Chinese and thinks in pictorial terms, whereby you could draw on your palm the kanji (Chinese-Character 漢字) for the word you speak aloud

to distinguish sensei (Before-Lived “teacher” 先生) from sensei (Conquer-Stars “horoscope”占星)?

Is there a difference in the same manner as there is in English with nouns and verbs spelled identically but pronounced with different stress?

  • on a certain syllable if it’s a verb (I re-CORD my own voice) &
  • on another certain syllable if it’s a noun (This is a RE-cord of my thoughts).

It is a remarkable fact that, while our Selves differ widely according to the sounds and the imagery we associate with the language we speak, we can find a common ground with Others speaking a foreign (to us) language when we are willing to share OUR meanings and to understand THEIR meanings.

Now, why should you be listening to me? In terms of time, we each have our own setting for how long we are willing to listen to another person, to an Other, which is different from our Selves.

If you tuned out by now (which means you cannot hear me), I am not one of your potential Selves:

Maybe you just got bored, maybe you don’t speak English, maybe I talk too fast, maybe I make so many mistakes that you can’t put up with it, maybe you think this has no meaning for you.

What are the reasons that made you sign off, that made you say

“this is not my Self, one of our Selves, it’s an Other and I’m not going to listen to this”?

When do we start refusing dialogue with others? When they sound very different.

Up to a point, we can listen to something different.

Our interest (in what Others have to say) is defined by how long an interval of time we’re willing to give the Others to state their meanings, their ideas, in certain ways, using certain sounds (which may or may not be shared).

“To question somebody” is different from “asking somebody a question”.

Are the sounds different? What else is different?

We insist on calling it a monologue when somebody talks to themselves. That doesn’t sound right in English. “When somebody talks to himself or herself”. We have to use the singular form.

What if you don’t have a singular form for the first person in your language?

What if there’s no concept of “I” separate from “we”?

Is that possible? As far as we know, the concept of “I” exists in every language. We just don’t know all the particular ways in each language of how it relates to the concept of “We”.

Are there many ways of saying “we” other than “us, ourselves, our own selves”?

What is the “we” in your language? Answer template: I and some people. These people are X, Y, Z.

I started these dialogues in order to show that we think of ourselves as individuals 

because every language is built on the concept of difference (I am not you),

but the social and biological reality disproves the concept of a separate “I” (We are here together).

This pattern of talk leads you in a certain direction (the dialogue with our Selves), which is marked by the length of time that I give my Self to produce some meanings. That “length of time” is different from person to person.

The language-specific concept of “We” will determine with whom we can accept dialogues of a certain length (our Selves) and with whom we’d rather have much shorter dialogues (the Others).

We don’t have a lot of dialogues with the others.

Why? Because they’re too different: Some things we want to take in, some things we don’t.

Some of these differences are well illustrated in jokes when something happens and then the reaction depends on who is the “We”.

Does the following joke make sense to you?

They say that in 2500, a UN committee decides that we need to build a bridge over the Atlantic. A Japanese company, an American company, and a Romanian company try to get the contract for the project. 

The Americans arrive with their plans and they say to the UN:

“We can build this bridge: We are going to start from both sides, one bridge from New York and another from London and we’re going to meet halfway above the Atlantic, using our latest technology to make the ends meet in the middle, with a margin of error of plus/minus 5 cm, and we would have to adjust the bridge parts to take into account this margin of error.”

Of course, the UN committee is quite happy with this proposal (5 cm across the Atlantic Ocean!).

Then the Japanese come and they say:

“We’re going to use a technology that will reduce the margin of error to within 5 mm; starting from New York, starting from London, and the ends will meet with a 5 mm margin of error.”

The UN committee is now feeling doubtful:

“5 mm? How are you going to do that?”

The Japanese explain:

“Well, we have this network of subcontractors in Japan who are doing an amazing job at producing the smaller parts, so we don’t have to worry about them and we can concentrate on the big design, but we’ll still have all the parts fitting together perfectly. In Japan we don’t have to deal with bad, defective parts coming from our subcontractors, like they do in other countries.”

The UN committee is satisfied with this explanation:

“Okay, so 5 mm. And you, the Romanians?”

The Romanians are the last and they say:

“Well, we’re going to start from New York on one side, and we’re going to start from London on the other side, and hopefully we will meet somewhere on the way, above the Atlantic Ocean.”

The UN committee is perplexed:

“That sounds a bit vague. How can you guarantee that the ends meet? What happens if the two ends don’t meet?”

To which the Romanians reply casually:

“Well, then you’re going to build you 2 bridges; we’ll give you one for free.”

What does this joke show you? This tells you that Romanian Selves have a high tolerance for a large number of people to take turns in a conversation.

You are one person telling the joke, but you also have many voices (the Japanese, the American, the Romanian, the UN arbitration committee, in addition to the narrator (=I):

That’s already 5 people talking through 1 person.

Why do we allow this? Because we think we can get a lot of useful information about many possible Others, and maybe a little bit about our Selves.

When we come together, how important do we think these differences are and how much should we push the others away from us when we realise that they’re Others?

How much difference can you accept?

  • If people eat dogs
  • If people eat monkeys
  • If people eat pigs (pork, right?)
  • If people eat snakes or bugs

Is this different enough for you to remove yourself from their presence? Or is this acceptable?

Could you still think

I could be one of them, the group called “we who eat monkeys, dogs, snakes, bugs, pigs, or sushi”?

Or mamaliga, of course.

In case you don’t know that last word (it’s Romanian), I suggest Googling Romanian food images and I’m sure it’s going to come up as the yellow stuff.

Anyway, what’s the point of this dialogue? The point is that in 15 minutes

  1. I am taking a short turn (in terms of my own dialogue), but
  2. a very long turn (for you to listen) because this is not you.

So of course you tuned off by now and you moved on to other better things.

You want to hear yourself, not some crazy Romanian guy who’s telling jokes about bridges built in 2500, right?

How do we improve things? We start by thinking about how much time do we give somebody who has a good idea.

Not me, obviously, but the scientists, the people who know what’s going on; these guys need a lot more of our (attention) time, at this point.

People who know more (who had longer dialogues with themselves about how Nature actually is) should get more of our time when they talk about, say, climate change.

The hard sciences (physics, mathematics etc.) should be given a lot more of our time.

We should also spend some of our time on the social sciences (psychology, politics etc.), but the social sciences need to clarify our terms, because right now we are talking about “freedom, equality, human rights” as if they’re universal concepts, and they’re not, as the Natural Semantic Metalanguage amply demonstrates.

We need to get back to what is Good and what is Bad, when we discuss the terminology used in social sciences, but before that

we need to listen to the hard sciences to know what are the constraints by which our social reality is bound:

Less resources, climate change, global warming.

Living off the planet, or living on the planet.

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