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An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

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ON SYMBOLISM
79
thing, then it becomes not a symbol but a meaningless sign. This applies to words just as it does to bank cheques. If one has a zero balance in the bank, but still has a cheque-book and issues a cheque, he issues a sign but not a symbol, because it does not stand for anything. The penalty for such use of these particular signs' as symbols is usually jailing. This analogy applies to the oral noises we make, which occasionally become symbols and at other times do not; as yet, no penalty is exacted for such a fraud.
Before a noise., may become a symbol, something must exist for the symbol to symbolize. So the first problem of symbolism should be to investigate the problem of 'existence'. To define 'existence', we have to state the standards by which we judge existence. At present, the use of this term is not uniform and is largely a matter of convenience. Of late, mathematicians have discovered a great deal about this term. For our present purposes, we may accept two kinds of existence: (1) the physical existence, roughly connected with our 'senses' and persistence, and (2) 'logical' existence. The new researches in the foundations of mathematics, originated by Brouwer and Weyl, seem to lead to a curtailment of the meaning of 'logical' existence in quite a sound direction; but we may provisionally accept the most general meaning, as introduced by Poincare. He defines 'logical' existence as a statement free from self-contradictions. Thus, we may say that a 'thought' to be a 'thought' must not be self-contradictory. A self-contradictory statement is meaningless; we can argue either way without reaching any valid results. We say, then, that a self-contradictory statement has no 'logical' existence. As an example, let us take a statement about a square circle. This is called a contradiction in terms, a non-sense, a meaningless statement, which has no 'logical' existence. Let us label this 'word salad' by a special noise - let us say, 'blah-blah'. Will such a noise become a word, a symbol ? Obviously not - it stands for nothing; it remains a mere noise., no matter if volumes should be written about it.
It is extremely important, semantically, to notice that not all the noises., we humans make should be considered as symbols or valid words. Such empty noises., can occur not only in direct 'statements', but also in 'questions'. Quite obviously, 'questions' which employ noises ., instead of words, are not significant questions. They ask nothing, and cannot be answered. They are, perhaps, best treated by 'mental' pathologists as symptoms of delusions, illusions, or hallucinations. In asylums the noises., patients make are predominantly meaningless, as far as the external world is concerned, but become symbols in the illness of the patient.