“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

The Meaning of Meaning

Those with distaste for metaphysics need not read past this period. If you’re still reading, I’ll take it that you, like me, have a sense for the mysterious weirdness of existence. All in all, the concept of existence seems to me to be at least improbable, and, at most, a never-ending free-fall of Being toward the impossible, non-being. It never quite arrives there, but it nonetheless seems eternally drawn toward it. The human obsession with death here becomes a bit clearer. Fear of the unknown becomes narcotic; rather than running away from its influences, we run straight into them. The unconscious is always doubly as powerful as the conscious. This is because consciousness must always remain clear, linear and rational, while the unconscious is free to be ambiguous, dynamic and non-rational. What are the actual effects of this obsession with death on historical humankind? Most generally, the effects are civilization and society. The former provides us with a weapon against the enemy of death; the latter establishes in us a sense of finite meaning, of facts.

As to exactly how the fear of death/mystery/non-being lead human beings to develop beyond hunting and gathering (the strategies of all other earthlings) and into farming and factories (today combined as factory farming) is not entirely clear. What is clear is that it has done so. We know that it has done so because the superficial societal values we hold at this very moment are merely the conscious, rational manifestations (i.e., the rationalizations) of unconscious and emotionally charged roots, roots currently wrapping themselves ever tighter around the neck of Mother Nature in all Her modes. For instance, cleanliness is of course a hallmark of civilization, one it takes great pride in pretending to uphold. It pretends because, while it may consciously agree that cleaner is better, unconsciously it pours increasing amounts of toxins into all its air, water, and soil. A few upscale neighborhoods represent the conscious tip of the civilized self, while underneath the manicured lawns of suburbia there exists a ghetto population of minorities who live in poverty in run down cities with a life expectancy half that of their luckier brethren. So what then is the sword that civilization waves before chaos? Quite simply, it is order. We wield the sword of order so that chaos remains at bay, afraid of the sense that might be made out of it were it to be successfully dismembered. But of course, we have not vanquished chaos from existence, but merely chased it away into the unknown and unconscious. The sword is not meant to stab and defeat chaos; that is impossible. Its real use is in defining chaos; that is, in creating a pattern out of which reasonable laws can be derived. These reasonable laws then serve as the conscious rules of life; they form what we might call the social contract.

What does this social contract provide? And in providing such, what does it then become vulnerable to? The contract provides a stable way of interpreting chaos, which for the average person amounts to hiding monsters behind facts. The downside, of course, is that the facts remain monsters for the unconscious, and monsters are scary. Scarier, even, then the original chaos is on its own, as before the sword of reason is raised to fight, no enemy exists with which to battle. The sword carves from chaos its own enemy the moment it is drawn. The sharper the sword, the more vicious the monster. In a similar way, it seems that the surer a person is of their opinions (the more conscious), the more frightened they are of being wrong (the more unconscious). For consciousness, the stable interpretation of chaos provided by being a speaker of a language within a normative community is made stable by virtue of being meaningless. This seems impossible, but we must consider what it is we actually mean by meaning before we can claim that any of these words posses it.

First we must come to see that one cannot describe anything literally, as opposed to metaphorically. All description is metaphorical. Even the word itself “literalâ€Â is derived from the Latin “littera,” which means letters. So to say something literally merely means to use letters to describe it. This is, of course, what is done when we use metaphor as well.

If we suggest that the universe is a hierarchy of increasing value, that an un-manifest, unknowable Spirit is at the top, that this Spirit is both transcendent, nested at the top of the cosmic tree, and immanent, making up the very substance of the tree itself, that, as It is viewed from within time, It appears to separate (to move from transcendent oneness to immanent multiplicity, from remembrance to dismemberance, from ascendance to descendance, from wholeness to division) by feeding into the souls of each and every individual being, and through proxy the objects that those beings subjectify, that the soul then incarnates into a body, thereby giving rise to a mind bounded by the corporeal interference of the material body and therefore fallible and finite even while it remains original, always connected to and representative of its origin: the transcendent and infinite Spirit, are we suggesting that this breakdown is the literal and final Truth of all Existence?


Always, whether we speak/think out of practicality or profundity, we speak/think in metaphor. As such, we speak/think merely to convey meaning. The very word, “meta-phor” becomes, in the original Greek, “meta-pherein,” meaning to move beyond, to carry through from one place to another. We see then that all metaphors are merely tools designed to deliver meaning to the recipient. What, then, is meaning? Meaning is described experience. A good metaphor conveys meaning because it is both a description and a direct pointing at that which is already known. So it matters not, finally, whether the soul and the body combine to give rise to an illusory mind, or whether the mind and the soul are identical, or whether the body is soulless and merely reacts to its environment as in an undifferentiated state of dependency. All are true because all have meaning. That is, all relate to our direct experience and attempt to describe it. Meaning is not finite; it cannot be. Meaning is context bound and therefore infinite. Certainly, context can be narrowed to some specific realm, but in this case we are dealing with facts and no longer with meaning. Facts are statements of truth dependent on a collection of oftentimes unconscious assumptions or parameters. You can define whatever you’d like as a fact, so long as it is prefaced by certain finite rules that such facts must obey. Facts, though, have no meaning because they are finite. Whenever we know what a thing means, we know more than we know. That is, we are aware of more than just the conscious knowledge of knowing what a thing is like; we also have access, unconscious or otherwise, to the context of that which we are aware. We see and acknowledge the shiny figure, while the dull background is unseen but most assuredly still present, as it provides the invisible sea that surrounds the visible point of attention.

Having thus established that just about every truth worth believing is paradoxical; that in fact Truth itself is Paradox, we can draw an end to this treatise by concluding that we have said exactly what we have not. Let us lay down our (s)words and learn instead to fly atop our dragons, accepting them as friends. Then we will wake up from the nightmare of history and civilization will be set free. To continue to argue over specifics is to ignore the fact that all knowledge is metaphorical. It follows, then, that one ought not speak to be correct, or even attempt to. One ought to throw out this assumption that the opposite of Truth is falsity. In reality, the opposite of one truth is another truth, and together they make Truth. All thoughts, all speech, therefore ought have as their aim the expression of Truth, rather than the literal fact of It. Truth is not concerned with facts or knowledge; Truth is found only in experience and experience is always true.

Basically, the meaning of meaning is unknowable; that is its meaning. Because we cannot know the meaning of meaning, because we know we can’t know, because knowing such a thing would imply that we ourselves do not already know, we then must indeed know what the meaning of meaning is. Don’t let all these words confuse you. If you are trying to make some kind of knowledge out of what I’m getting at, it won’t work. It can only work if you let it be nowledge. Don’t try to form some concept of what is being described, don’t try to remember it so you can carry it with you for future reference. Just experience it right here and now as you read it. It can only be True in this sense. Meaning itself can only be known in this sense.







One response to “The Meaning of Meaning”

  1. Andras Magagna Avatar
    Andras Magagna

    Is it the sense that impresses the senser or is it the senser that apprehends the sense?

    I hear a loud noise. In this context a loud noise is the sense that impresses me, the senser. I listen to loud music. In this context loud music is the the sense that is apprehended by me, the senser.

    The contexts both have me, the senser, and audio of high amplitude, the sense. The differences I would like to address are the states of attention and intention. In the first context, I did not have intention to hear the loud noise but the loud noise does have my attention. In the second context, I did have intention to hear loud music and the loud music did have my attention.

    I think of meaning as framework of understanding. I think the question of the meaning of meaning is irrelevant, because I do not think there is “the meaning of meaning” as I think there is no “the framework of framework”. A meaning or a framework I think is only relevant to what is expressed by it. I do not think there is “the meaning” or “the framework” for the is indicative that there is one meaning or one framework alone. Even a binary expresses two meanings or frameworks, yes and no. The yes framework affirms and the no framework denies.

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