Friday, January 21, 2011

A New Idea about Ideas!

As you know, Faithful Reader, I'm not a big believer in "ideas." I'm not an idealist, and I'm not a goddist, and I'm not even much on the whole notion of a spiritual self which might persist beyond the grave or as it were above this earthly realm. I don't really get the idea of myself, and remain radically skeptical that there is any meaning to the "I" I use just as much or more than anybody who writes or talks or exposes the goings on inside.

But the thing is, also just as much as anyone, when I have something to say I often introduce it by some vague enumeration of the points I'm about to make. Now it would be impossible for me to tell if my exposition retrofits itself into the enumeration I've committed to, or if I really do have some kind of inception [sic] "in mind" which only awaits the words to be "fleshed out," as it were, for someone else's comprehension.

Of course, as I age, I sometimes can't keep hold of these objects in my head, and I find myself apologizing to my interlocutor that I can't remember "point three" or whichever one it was. I know it's there, I know I had it, but I can't bring it back to mind. Just this morning, for instance, I had this idea about what I was going to write about in this blog, and after my shower I had a moment's panic that it was gone.

I also panicked that my day would be dogged by this nagging sense that I'd forgotten something important. But in the event I retraced some of my earlier steps, consciously trying to empty my mind, glancing back across the pages of the newspaper I'd perused earlier, and oh thank the heavens, it came back.

You see I've been trying to rehabilitate my usage of Mandarin Chinese. I watch Chinese TV which, amazingly, is all over the place here in SoCal. I open my mouth in Chinese bookstores, and quite often I find myself fishing for words just beyond the tip of my tongue. I know what it is I want to say, and not in English either. . .

Well, of course this is near enough related to what happens in my native tongue. Again, the ravages of age. I have some clear conceptual construing of some topic clear in my head, but I can't find the words. I feel bankrupt of vocabulary.

Generally speaking, if I just start talking, I can recover the shape of the concept and get across, in the main, what it is I have in mind, and if I'm allowed to keep talking long enough, I'm usually satisfied that I did the job. But for the nagging feeling that there was a word; something more economical which would have gotten the concept across either more quickly or more precisely. Oftentimes, using Chinese, I'll get the right kind of help from the person I'm speaking with. Less often using English.

While speaking Chinese, I have to beat around the bush to make a point, not having the words, although as happens nearly as often in English now, I'm aware that I once did know the word, or someone did, or at least I know I've come across it somewhere once.

This is all, of course, nothing other than a trick of the brain; the way that consciousness, so called, is able or not to pay attention to all its activities. My brain has likely formed its concepts using proto-words, which simply can't make it out into the quasi-tangible cosmos of shared words until they're slowed way down and captured. These proto-words are like a shorthand, the brain dancing over the space where words are formed in a near-perfect analog to the relation my aging verbalizations now have to my once more limber speech.

Except that as a younger man my vocabulary was so much less rich, even if more alacritous for recall. Or was it only that the smaller repository allowed for at least the sensation of rapid recall. I fade, and yet my brain can claim elaboration beyond that it showed when I was brighter. Or someone can claim such for it.

Anyhow, these concepts formed before they can be articulated or expressed are what gets called "ideas." It would be - no it IS - a mistake to consider them prior to language or closer to some ideal form, the way a geometric circle mocks attempts in reality to reproduce it's concept. The ideal shape is caricature, only seeming perfect because it hasn't yet been realized. Or ever.

Mathematics is an economical shorthand, and by its usage we can arrive at things like perfect circles, but even there reality mocks the attempts, since perfect circles remains measurably and thus demonstrably absent from reality.

Together with some really smart friends and relations, I recently had some fun trying to come up with the obviously lacking English-language word for that condition of ironic made in earnest. It seems clear that there is a gap there in English. The closest we could come is 'po-faced' which is awkward at best and whose likely etymology - "potty faced" relates to the look you have coming out of the outhouse, trying to look as though you haven't been doing what anyone you see knows you have been. But without the self-awareness.

And it is just such absence, whose existence now is as certain as the existence of the word you do catch when the tip of your tongue is actually working, which delineates the I which only seems to exist but doesn't. It has always been as faded as it will have been in my grave. Subject to recall, perhaps, in minds around me did they but love me.

Though what business do I have calling it "my" grave? Surely it will not be I who occupy it. It will only be the idea of me, which is all I ever was and shall be.

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