Solidity, Language: an estimation

“If nothing is ‘truly solid,’ then what would it ever possibly mean for something to be truly solid? If solid isn’t what we think is solid, then what’s solid?” – Shaun Terry


The word “solid” as we understand it seems to be a mental construction made possible by language. I believe the table I’m sitting at is solid in so far as its relevance to what I need or want to do and having any meaning to me in practical terms. It supports rather faithfully my laptop as my ideas take the form of language and are converted by signals and muscle memory into typed words, to be converted via bytes of information transferred out by radio waves…

Language is kind of like a paradox, as many things seem to be; it seems like both a pragmatic thing and a theoretical thing. Language seems pragmatic in that it exists so that we can utilize a short-hand to get things done more easily together within the reality we think we are experiencing; it seems theoretical in that it is not actually definitive of anything real (of course, it seems we can say nothing we perceive is definitive, but more specifically let’s look at language). Language is an estimation, symbol or translation of an idea which is likewise an estimation of reality. While it grants us a vehicle to share and build together, it also limits the ways by which we translate concepts and possibly the ways we understand the world.

Language seems to be all about simplifying and making tangible or useful ideas about reality (or creativity!) — ideas made possible through perception of some sort of physical relativity. So, to use the word solid conjures up a meaning tied to the context from within which it was created — and that context appears to be that we compare our perception of what appears to our eyes solid or stable in shape to things that appear to move.

Humans in discourse tend to ascribe linguistic meaning to a human perceived reality; this version of reality is informed by — and perhaps you could say limited to– what humans can perceive. (This use of ‘perceive’ can include but is not necessarily limited to the sensory perception of one’s proximate physical environment, the generation of personal ideas, translated into language and the consumption of other ideas/media — all of which tend to become transcribed upon one another).

A limit to perception appears necessitated by this physical space and the sense of relativity we find ourselves in — of physically occupying a space that someone else is not, and we can possibly have awareness toward that.

I stand here with raised goosebumps beneath the chilling shadows cast by trees whose limbs sway to a light breeze. Leaves rustle and birds sing love songs directly overhead. Here, life is dancing. Meanwhile, you stand on the other side of the trees to the east of me, looking west, watching the inchworm ascend the bark on the other side of my scope’s trees, as muffled melodies from my scope’s birds find your ears. You peer to the west where a child clutches a magnifying glass in one hand and digs her free fingers into the dirt to reveal once-buried rocks and critters. Here, life is seeking.

Our experiences are slightly different for many reasons, but one simple contributing reason is that we stand in different places, looking at the same reality, considering here reality as a whole thing comprised of everything. But we are physically seeing a limited perception of it, we are seeing a slightly different expression, thus to us, it is not quite the same experience of reality. You could say we are in the same reality, yet live in different realities at the same time. The angle or arrangement of our personal reality is unique to the scope of our senses’, our line of sight and understanding. We each write a poem about our experience. We each share that poem. Someone else experiences our experiences from where they are sitting. Perhaps as they read, they casually sip coffee, feel the brush of a stranger’s flannel against their arm and listen to the local performer strum his ukulele and cry about life’s beautiful things, as he has perceived them. As the poem is read, the viewer experiences it through their understanding of language, thoughts and feelings about the world.

Therefore the meaning we each ascribe our poems, informed by everything we’ve experienced including others’ poems, does not necessarily represent reality’s full state-of-being, a reality not limited to the individual human ascription and place, although including that. It is a reality not limited to human understanding, if such a reality exists at all. Let’s note that maybe that idea of limitation in individual human understanding of  such a reality might be what makes art beautiful to some of us — that it is an authentic expression of intentional awareness toward something someone has ascribed special consideration to, for no perceived universal reason commanding it to be so… or maybe, because its an attempt to capture some of what is more.

I would argue a reality outside of each of these small maybe even adorable expressions and perceptions in the human mind likely does exist. To argue otherwise seems rather anthropocentric, which I feel rather confident some sort of argument can be made for, from within a specific outline of definitions. One such argument: “reality” is a word we have invented, so it can only exist in our understanding of it. This is worth considering, but perhaps takes a different premise on what is being discussed – which is fine, but taking a different premise does not negate or even necessarily demonstrate consideration of other discussions that take on their own nuanced inquiry. Arguments made from within a set of specific, nuanced definitions, while recognizing the contingency of the assimilation of approximated definitions, are in my opinion all that we can do at this time. As we speak, we try to reduce ideas to definitions made possible through words and slightly nuanced words, sometimes attaching disclaimers about the nuance intended for the idea…

But in regards to this nuance that addresses reality as being something not necessarily based on human conceptions of it, but including those as part of reality’s overarching state-of-being, I’d like to assert that we probably can’t know with certainty what that non-anthropocentric reality is. I think we are still actors in it and it still acts on and defines us, even in ways we don’t consciously acknowledge; even by redefining where we are in relation to everything else. But as soon as we would observe that reality, it would enter the human mind through a human lens and thus become placed within an anthropocentric framework – that is to say, a framework of thought specifically human-generated and from the human perspective. This occurs to some degree even as we try to imagine what it would be like to be non-human, or even, not ourselves. Trying to imagine, trying to be open-minded is beautiful to me.

I also assert that it is likely important to consider that beyond not knowing what that non-anthropocentric reality is, we probably can’t be certain we have any means of comprehending what it is. It would almost seem that one would need to “not be” what one is, in order to be fully open to reality. Again, though, saying “fully open” feels limiting when compared to the intent of using that word as a translation of concept… These words merely translate by way of how we conceive of them from within the context of the human experience. Thus you could say “I want to be one with reality, so I’m fully open,” but that sentence seems to focus on an idea of open-mindedness, as opposed to actually being at once everything that reality is. We might be part of everything reality is, and the individual might not alone be everything (maybe there is exception if we discuss the matrix idea, which is another rabbit hole to explore — at another time, for sake of focus here. Focus is something school teachers have made to seem quite important for linguistic journeys, but I may deviate from time to time for the equally valued sake of capturing bits of my consciousness!)

I do however think we each represent some value within reality, as does everything else, and that value is distinct. While it is a whole value in the context of itself, it is a limited version of state-of-being (in that in must obey rules of time and space, which seem to require its existence in a distinct trajectory, relative to all other trajectories); when all values are considered as existing together as one thing, each part belongs and has some sense of context, relationship and “meaning.” (Please, feel free to use the word “meaning” in a context you’d like, from the nuance you’d like; it is not meant here as a statement of my own opinion of what meaning is, but rather a blank space for a springboard into new ideas.)

Thus, we operate from within the parameters we perceive (considering the intended nuance of this word mentioned earlier). And, as individual humans tied to specific ‘coordinates’ let’s say, within space, we communicate the observations made from within our perception to others, and widen our perception slightly, although parameters of perception are not fully removed. Further, there still seems to exist the lack of being able to be everything if not considered as a part of or intimately connected with everything. This is all to say, we’re still quite far from knowing everything, or at least being able to communicate a knowledge of everything to others and ourselves, much less be in conscious communication with all other elements within and without our body and mind’s parameters at once.

I acknowledge that the original question is possibly a question on semantics; thus, maybe we can say that what we call solid is only a representation of perception and not a conclusive statement on reality. It may actually have no meaning to reality at all. But, we can attempt to widen our understanding of the meaning of solid as ascribed to context i.e. the world as our eyes perceive it and the world as technology allows us to temporarily see it and/or conceive of it; the latter is what we often learn to do through education. Our current investigation into the physical world leads us to consider that nothing we see is totality static, by static’s definition: lacking in movement, action, or change.

We each are made of moving particles whose relationships create us. You could say, we are each a system of relationships; further, the world and its ecosystems are systems of relationships, the solar system is a system of relationships, and so forth. And, if we want to be fun, it is the integrity of those relationships that allow us to think we’re solid and think we exist.

4 Replies to “Solidity, Language: an estimation”

  1. I’m gonna have to disagree with most of this. Your explanation of language is kinda reductive; it seems to rest on a nominalist understanding of consciousness, which, as a Platonist, I find logically shaky.

    Let me discuss consciousness first, and then I can deal with language and its relationship to consciousness in the next paragraph. Take a simple act of knowledge, like seeing a table. That act is only possible because of certain transcendental conditions that allow consciousness to exist in the first place. Personal awareness is a unified, coherent reality that precedes and enfolds every act of cognition; in other words, awareness participates in a unity found nowhere in the material order and, without that participation, its existence would be logically impossible. Our personal, subjective experience of the table is qualitative, and those “qualia” (to use the technical philosophical term) are not reducible to brute material events. No experience of “what something is like” is coherent without an explicit reference to a transcendental source of meaning because, quite simply, “meaning” is not a natural object and mental impressions are not the same thing as physical sensations. For the mind to be directed to the table in the first place, it has to move toward meaning, toward coherence, the logical source and end of which is absolute reality, transcendence. In other words, the mind can only know the table because it is already intentionally directed toward a final, transcendent cause. It knows the table within the embrace of a more primal, more natural movement toward reality as such.

    I say all of this because, unless I have misunderstood, you seem to reduce language to an attempt to impose meaning on relative things and events, when any coherent account of consciousness and of the relationship of language to consciousness has to assume the opposite. In other words, we don’t name things because we are uncertain of what they are; we name things because we are capable of abstract thought, and abstract thought implies access to an objective realm– a realm of ideas, abstractions, qualities– that confers meaning and that gives us the conceptual categories with which to organize our experience. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t be creative or write poetry or find new words for things; it just means that we are only able to create because we have access to the ideal realm, to the forms of things, to a mental universe teeming with abstractions and qualities and forms and names, none of which are explicable in purely naturalistic or relativistic way. We name from the ideal toward the phenomenal, we think from the ideal toward the phenomenal, and we create from the ideal toward the phenomenal. To reverse that order is to deny consciousness exists at all.

    1. Rather than viewing language as an attempt to impose meaning on relative things and events, I feel more specifically that language imposes boundaries on understanding those things as they exist in the observable realm relative to us — which would create a separation from understanding the universal meaning you mention. I would suggest that language, while undoubtedly helpful to us in exploring together our creative capacities as greatly as we have, still poses a reduction on meaning; it reduces whatever larger reality there is to what we perceive and more specifically to the definition of the words as we’ve been taught to filter perception through.

      As I mention, I feel that language is an estimation, symbol or translation of an idea which is likewise an estimation of reality.

      What may be easier to express in one language, may be more difficult in another for lack of precise words, in many cases resultant of a culture’s geography; but the thing being expressed, though not a perfect expression, does seem to come from a same or similar place.
      And maybe, it is that is is not a perfect expression, that makes us appreciate art; but this is off-subject.

      We can not instantly transfer meaning from one consciousness to another free of human imperfection, we seem to lack at least a perceivable telepathy in our practical day to day agenda setting. Thus, meaning seems to be filtered through language, becoming a slightly distorted encoding of whatever that universal meaning you refer to, is.
      That universal meaning you mention seems it would necessitate a consideration as being filtered or distorted through the physical world. And language seems to influence how we receive that physical information, as it is filtered through defined words we’ve learned to categorize by, words informed by an attempt to describe that universal meaning as seen in physical terms, via abstract conceptions.

      While we very well may have access to the ideal realm, it seems it must be translated into the phenomenal for us to observe it, where it is no longer in its ideal.

      1. I think we’re in agreement at a deeper level. In the Eastern Orthodox contemplative tradition– which is heavily influenced by Platonic idealism– there’s a lot of talk about “conceptual images.” These are projections or misunderstandings that distort our perceptions of ideal reality. So for example if we have an inadequate conception of beauty, maybe we think greed is a “beautiful” (desirable) state of being, and as a result our minds cannot participate in transcendent beauty with meaningful clarity. All that to say– conceptual images are only possible in language. I think your perspective is very close to Meister Eckhart’s. He uses phrases like “God beyond God” to shock the mind into distinguishing between egotistical projections of ultimate reality and the real thing. So I think we’re both right; you’re emphasizing the power of language to distort perception and confine the Infinite in artificial constructs, I’m emphasizing that those constructs can be dissolved and that real encounters with transcendental fullness are possible after and because of that dissolution. Both positions are true, and they belong to the same spectrum I think.

  2. “Solidity” is also a language. It’s a recently-created programming language designed to facilitate the construction of autonomous relationships with unbreachable freedoms and constraints. It’s part of a new form of person-to-person, person-to-entity, and entity-to-entity decentralised system of trustless and incorruptible governance (amongst other things), called “Ethereum”.

    More to your post, I was moved to try and summarise it for my own understanding – and probably add something. This is what I will come up with (I’m writing this now, uhh, as I write it…):

    Language is, by virtue of the limitations of perception from which it is forged, a reliably incomplete description of what we suppose to be “reality”. As our only means of communication with one another, and perhaps with ourselves, it is therefore a stumbling block to experiencing this supposed objective reality – should such an objective reality exist. As the subjective elements are defined as such because they are somehow disconnected from and/or subsidiary to an objective counterpart, it only follows that the limitations of perception (as the only means of observing any postulated objective reality), and language (as the only means of communicating observations about said postulated reality to other subjective observers), are the primary facilitators of such disconnection or hierarchical discombobulation of any observer from any such objective reality.

    As such, that an objective reality may only be postulated to exist from within the confines of the limitations of subjective observers, may suggest that such an objective reality may not in fact exist… yet!

    Let us suggest that the closest approximation of what we might accept as an objective reality, is in the process of being created by all various strands of subjective reality, coalescing at some future point in a totality of understanding, unification and universality that will transcend any subjective definitions of what objective reality could or could not be, and instead define it as beyond what any non-unified, and non-universal subjectivity could muster to contain it. Thus, through the experiential act of transcending subjectivity itself and becoming one singular totality for which the definitions of subjectivity and objectivity no longer apply, and – from our subjective and pre-total point of view – could be said to approximate our subjective definition of “objectivity”, do subjectivity and objectivity become one, as any suitably-thorough definition of “reality” might require.

Leave a Reply