Thoughts on Thoughts

IMG_0349I’ve come across the notion more than once that we think only to the extent our vocabulary affords us a range of concepts. This is a ludicrous assertion.

I have no formal experience in studying etymology, philosophy of language, etc., but if we trace language to its roots, it appears reasonable to conjecture that there must have been original words. Even prior to this, no doubt humans made mere sounds that conveyed meaning, such as a blood-curling scream or a giggle.

So in the beginnings of human communication (which was no doubt as visual as it was vocal), if there was no language set in stone, how would we ever have come to know anything?

Now no doubt there are words we must learn in order to grasp certain concepts. This revelation came to me as I looked up the definition for teleology in my first philosophy class. The definition read something like, “the end result of a thing, such as not what a rainbow is, but what you feel or think as a result of seeing a rainbow.”

It was like I was given some eternal secret; indeed, my mind has never been the same.

People create words to frame preexisting concepts–not the other way around.

Before a word is born, it exists as an amorphous intuition without definition — pun intended. A word is born by first outlining some shapeless concept in the act of stringing words (themselves “concrete” conceptions) together to sketch the outline of this concept. The actual naming is the final step to the birthing of a word.

In short: concept > definition > word.

A poor vocabulary hardly limits our ability to comprehend notions or to think at all. No doubt a toddler understands exuberance or desire though it never heard the words. On the other hand, an extensive vocabulary certainly increases the ability to communicate.

Words are mere shadows of their higher selves, concepts.

For example, love is a mere four-letter word that houses perhaps the most common loaded array of physiological processes, feelings of attraction, adoration, romance, etc. Words are secondary to the concepts from which they are derived.

A challenging intellectuo-creative enterprise in terms of language is the ability to identify new concepts from the shapeless mass of undifferentiated impulses, intuitions, and abstractions to which our imagination and consciousness have access. It’s tough to define words.

Giving this mass of abstractions an identifiable form (definition and name) is a useful tool for communication and manipulation — but it is not the only avenue to contemplation and understanding.