SCIENCE AND SANITY - online book

An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

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A complicated and difficult problem is found in connection with those symbols which have meaning in one context and have no meaning in another context. Here we approach the question of the application of 'correct symbolism to facts'. We will not now enlarge upon this subject, but will only give, in a different wording, an illustration borrowed from Einstein. Let us take anything; for example, a pencil. Let us assume that this physical object has a temperature of 60 degrees. Then the 'question' may be asked: 'What is the temperature of an "electron" which goes to make up this pencil?' Different people, many scientists and mathematicians included, would say: '60 degrees'; or any other number. And, finally, some would say: 'I do not know'. All these answers have one common characteristic; namely, that they are senseless ; for they try to answer a meaningless question. Even the answer, 'I do not know', does not escape this classification, as there is nothing to know about a meaningless question. The only correct answer is to explain that the 'question' has no meaning. This is an example of a symbol which has no application to an 'electron'. Temperature by definition is the vibration of molecules (atoms are considered as mon-atomic molecules) ; so to have temperature at all, we must have at least two molecules. Thus, when we take one molecule and split it into atoms and electrons, the term 'temperature' does not apply by definition to an electron at all. Although the term 'temperature' represents a perfectly good symbol in one context, it becomes a meaningless noise in another. The reader should not miss the plausibility of such gambling on words, for there is a very real semantic danger in it.
In the study of symbolism, it is unwise to disregard the knowledge we gather from psychiatry. The so-called 'mentally' ill have often a very obvious and well-known semantic mechanism of projection. They project their own feelings, moods, and other structural implications on the outside world, and so build up delusions, illusions, and hallucinations, believing that what is going on in them is going on outside of them. Usually, it is impossible to convince the patient of this error, for his whole illness is found in the semantic disturbance which leads to such projections.
In daily life we find endless examples of such semantic projections, of differing affective intensity, which projections invariably lead to consequences more or less grave. The structure of such affective projections will be dealt with extensively later on. Here we need only point out that the problems of 'existence' are serious, and that any one who claims that something 'exists' outside of his skin must show it. Otherwise, the 'existence' is found only inside of his skin - a psycho-logical state of