SCIENCE AND SANITY - online book

An Introduction To Non-aristotelian Systems And General Semantics.

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

reader, and myself are engaged in an argument. Before us, on the table, lies something which we usually call a box of matches: you argue that there are matches in this box; I say that there are no matches in it. Our argument can be settled. We open the box and look, and both become convinced. It must be noticed that in our argument we used words, because they stood for something; so when we began to argue, the argument could be solved to our mutual satisfaction, since there was a third factor, the object, which corresponded to the symbol used, and this settled the dispute. A third factor was present, and agreement became possible. Let us take another example. Let us try to settle the problem: 'Is blah-blah a case of tra-tra?' Let us assume that you say 'yes', and that I say 'no'. Can we reach any agreement? It is a real tragedy, of which life is full, that such an argument cannot be solved at all. We used noises, not words. There was no third factor for which these noises stood as symbols, and so we could argue endlessly without any possibility of agreement. That the noises may have stood for some semantic disturbance is quite a different problem, and in such a case a psycho-pathologist should be consulted, but arguments should stop. The reader will have no difficulty in gathering from daily life other examples, many of them of highly tragic character.
We see that we can reach, even here, an important conclusion; namely, that, first of all, we must distinguish between words, symbols which symbolize something, and noises, not symbols, which have no meaning (unless with a pathological meaning for the physician) ; and, second, that if we use words (symbols for something), all disputes can be solved sooner or later. But, in cases in which we use noises as if they were words, such disputes can never be settled. Arguments about the 'truth' or 'falsehood' of statements containing noises are useless, as the terms 'truth' or 'falsehood' do not apply to them. There is one characteristic about noises which is very hopeful. If we use words, symbols, not-noises, the problems may be complicated and difficult; we may have to wait for a long time for a solution; but we know that a solution will be forthcoming. In cases where we make noises, and treat them as words, and this fact is exposed, then the 'problems' are correctly recognized at once as 'no-problems', and such solutions remain valid. Thus, we see that one of the obvious origins of human disagreement lies in the use of noises for words, and so, after all, this important root of human dissension might be abolished by proper education of s.r within a single generation. Indeed, researches in symbolism and s.r hold great possibilities. We should not be surprised that we find meaningless noises in the foundation of many old 'philosophies', and that from them arise