This is a fictional discussion on the nature of language that I wrote a few years ago. It’s part of a novel in progress that has been having rather a long holiday!
“Let’s look at language as an example.” Dan stood up, swivelled his chair around and sat astride with his elbow resting on the chair back. His excitement was obvious and Bridget could not resist a smile despite her hesitation about the risks they were about to embark on.
“Taking what we know about light, we can look at language in time and ask a few questions about the nature of knowledge acquisition. For example, who knows what is going to happen even within the next second?” He rose again and walked purposefully to the coffee machine talking as he went. “Do we really understand how we traverse this moment into the next? The spoken, or written word, for example, is it made of particles, an accumulation of moments added together that result in meaning, or is it like a wave, a continuous flow that contains an inherent teleology?”
Dan poured himself a coffee and added three spoonfuls of sugar. Gavin refilled the machine, switched it on, turned around and leant against the sink without once breaking his concentration on Dan’s words. Bridget noticed that Philip was fidgeting and frowning hard. Then Philip spoke up, “I think you mean the thought, dear boy. It’s the thought that makes the spoken, or written, sentence.”
“Ah, now that’s another matter. We are not talking origins at the moment. I want to keep this simple, Philip. Quantum physicists will tell you that what you find when you look at light depends on the observer. If you look for particles you find them, a world made of bits. If you look for a wave you find it, a world of continuity and unity. I prefer the latter. But what is happening if I speak or write, without pause, word-by-word? In one respect that seems like little more than particles randomly following one after the other. But there is teleology here, even though unthought. I can think it now as I speak without pause and it is called intention. That teleology is the desire to tap my creativity, to make room for that which otherwise might not emerge, a moment of inspiration that is uncensored and unformatted, simply allowed to transpire. What a great word, transpire, to breathe across. It reminds me of Blake, ‘He who kisses the joy as it flies…’”
“You do realise that you are coming very close to metaphysics, don’t you Dan?” Nanon had been so quiet during the past half hour, standing by the window, a little apart from the rest of the gathering, that her voice startled them all, coming calm and authoritative after the tense excitement of Dan’s narrative. While everyone participated in the breathless sense of wonder of Dan’s account, Nanon’s remarks moved them all to a level of grave attention that subtly altered the mood of the room to one that appeared to align itself with the changing weather. The room had darkened as storm clouds stretched above the peninsula. Through the window they could see the slate grey light that anticipated a storm. A little rain began to splatter against the pane and thunder could be heard in the distance. Nanon moved away from the window and came closer to the table. Gavin offered her a coffee, which she gratefully took.
“In the medieval universities of Baghdad and Cordoba there was no separation between physics and metaphysics. Philosophy was all about understanding the world in relation to humanity. The big questions, then, as now, were about our origins, our destiny, and the meaning of our lives, the ‘why’, ‘where’, and ‘how’. The difference between science then and science today is that up until the enlightenment that which is invisible, unknowable, and supratemporal, was not considered to be non-existent. The other significant difference is that some enlightened souls had some pretty stunning ideas on the matter of knowledge acquisition.”
“How do you mean?” queried Ben, looking as if he well knew the answer but that some of the others might be grateful for an explanation. Nanon remained silent for a moment, staring attentively at Ben.
“I’m hungry Ben. I’m sure we all are. I could also do with a change of scenery. Shall we go down to the Mermaid Inn and get a bite to eat?”
“Good idea.” Bridget slid off the table, “they’ve got a private room there. We can continue the conversation over supper, although to me it sounds more like a briefing. Am I right? Nanon? Daniel?”