Thursday, February 23, 2006

Unfathomable Addendum to a Conversation on Algebra, Etc.: Two

Let us begin with words that have a familiar ring: "We generally think that 'A is A' is absolute, and that the proposition 'A is not A' or 'A is B' is unthinkable. We have never been able to break through these conditions of understanding; they have been too imposing. But... words are words and no more. When words cease to correspond with facts it is time for us to part with words and return to facts"...

Our problems are as follows: Why is it natural to speak at times in terms of paradox and contradiction? What experience calls for this mode of expression? What is the relation of the language of mysticism to the language of science?...

If the primary language of mysticism is characterized by paradox and contradiction, the secondary language is characterized by the use of negations. The mystic attempts to explain what he has experienced, tries to translate back into language the signification of the post-language signs which he has attained. But any propositions which he utters are felt to be partial and inadequate. And rightly so, since the complex network of symbolic processes which he is attempting to translate included contradictions. Positions in space and time were symbolized, but no single positions; selves were symbolized, but also non-selves; minute things, but also vast things; good things, but also terrible things. So the whole of the experience is not characterizable in positive noncontradictory terms.

—Charles W. Morris, "Mysticism and Its Language," in Writings on the General Theory of Signs, pp. 456 ff.


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