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Whereof we cannot speak
November 7, 2010 5:13 AM   Subscribe


 
Tell me moooooore.
posted by Gator at 5:16 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:19 AM on November 7, 2010


Ineffable has been one if my favorite words for a long time. If you think about it, why should we be able to describe everything that exists with the squawks of a tube made out of meat or scratches on paper meant to transcribe them.
posted by empath at 5:27 AM on November 7, 2010


Interpretive dance, silly.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:36 AM on November 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


.

.
posted by Wolof at 5:37 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just passing through, folks.
posted by wittgenstein at 5:41 AM on November 7, 2010 [24 favorites]


In moments when speech or writing cannot express the ineffable, whether I am the one doing the speaking or the writing, or someone else chases this elusive butterfly of a concept, whether there is an audience or not for the expression, I dance.

Just me? I hope not...
posted by datawrangler at 5:42 AM on November 7, 2010


 
posted by BeerFilter at 5:43 AM on November 7, 2010


42
posted by LogicalDash at 5:43 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


On preview: what RobotVoodooPower said.
posted by datawrangler at 5:43 AM on November 7, 2010


So yeah, you can describe anything with anything. I can say that the meaning of life is 42 if I want to. The question is, what insight does this yield?
posted by LogicalDash at 5:49 AM on November 7, 2010


Usually on reading Scruton, I find myself not just effing, but blinding too.
posted by Abiezer at 5:51 AM on November 7, 2010


> the injunction of Wittgenstein, whose Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus concludes with the
> proposition: “that whereof we cannot speak we must consign to silence.”

If W. had posted that on the internet it would have come out "when you've got nothing to say you should STFU"
posted by jfuller at 6:02 AM on November 7, 2010


I think when the author criticizes his imaginary nerds he confuses the reality of an experience with the significance of an experience. It's short-sighted to extend this blind spot to his strawfolk.
posted by Construction Concern at 6:39 AM on November 7, 2010


The mistake here is that in speaking of the ineffable, we believe that our words carry all the information. If I describe love in a poem, my goal is not to describe love to arbitrary precision. However, because I am communicating with other people who have experienced similar emotions, I can use words in such a way that other people understand what I am saying. The words themselves cannot be considered in isolation, because they are meaningless in isolation. They can only be understood in the context of human experience, and in that sense it is indeed possible to speak of the ineffable. The experience of listening to music is like that. I might not be able to describe perfectly how live performances of Ein Deutsches Requiem make me feel, but I certainly can use words that will make you understand how the make me feel, and even create those emotions in you if I am eloquent enough. This is possible because you have felt those emotions yourself at some point, about something else.

If people remained silent about the ineffable, much would be lost.

As for ideas about God, etc, I don't believe in God, but I do know that how you describe God, or fail to, says a lot about you. I would prefer that people continue to write about the ineffable, because what is being communicated is much, much more than the words on paper.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 6:45 AM on November 7, 2010 [12 favorites]


How do we express what cannot be said?

I thought this had been settled. We take it to MetaTalk.
posted by flarbuse at 6:47 AM on November 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


This article seems confused to me. For example, he says in the last paragraph, "When I don’t think about it, the answer seems clear." Ok, but that doesn't mean much in the context of the rest of the article.

Then he adds, "...there is no path, not even this one, to the cause of the world..." Hmm. I know it's not Western European Philosophy, but there are functioning traditions in the world that specifically address that issue. Did your education not include a basic description of Buddhism, Gnosticism, or Shamanism (not to ignore several other traditions one might reasonably be expected to be aware of)?

The Big Questions web site is funded by The John Templeton Foundation: "Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton's optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship."

So there's some outside-the-box thinking right there!
posted by sneebler at 7:01 AM on November 7, 2010


I might not be able to describe perfectly how live performances of Ein Deutsches Requiem make me feel, but I certainly can use words that will make you understand how the make me feel, and even create those emotions in you if I am eloquent enough.

a) you'll never know what the other person is feeling or if it's anything subjectively like what you're feeling -- you can only guess based on their expression of their feelings, which is circular, since what you're trying to gauge is the effect your expression of your feelings has on them.
b) your experience of EDR is likely unique to you based its resonance with and coloration by your memories, genetics, personality, etc. -- not replicable by anyone else who lacks the same combination of attributes
c) you cannot describe your own experience of EDR fully even to yourself, let alone someone else. there are infinitely many nuances there and many different interpretations of the same subjective feelings. in attempting to describe it from one angle you lose the chance to describe it from another. and once you've described it one way, that description irretrievably higlights it from that image, such that it's impossible to remember it the way it was before that description.
posted by shivohum at 7:03 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fellow who lives next door, the one with the very strangely shaped body, has two dogs. they are very cute and he and his upstairs neighbor built a special white picket fence to keep them locked up or, rather, in.

They are not the most intelligent dogs being that they are small dogs. everyone who knows anything about dogs will happily point out to you the correlation between the size of a hound and the size of its brains. big dogs are always more intelligent that small dogs just as the same correlation often holds true in people. how do we know this? because, just like in human society, larger creatures earn more in the marketplace.

My roommate, a small and blond woman, came home two days ago to find these dogs in our yard. unlike myself she had never met these little beasts or their happy-go-lucky owner, he of the strangely shaped body. she claims they barked at her and made threatening motions. i believe her.

I also believe she felt threatened by them. she told me so. she pointed out to me that they'd left us a small present. a brown one one which i shall not name for fear of offending anyone with foul language.

I myself had been out in the garden looking to see if any of the seeds i'd scattered earlier in the year had sprouted. i too am a small person.
posted by artof.mulata at 7:06 AM on November 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I really really hope artof.mulata's above post is not just the result of being in the wrong thread. I'll let others explain why...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:14 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


tldr
posted by DZack at 7:26 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


c) you cannot describe your own experience of EDR fully even to yourself, let alone someone else. there are infinitely many nuances there and many different interpretations of the same subjective feelings. in attempting to describe it from one angle you lose the chance to describe it from another. and once you've described it one way, that description irretrievably higlights it from that image, such that it's impossible to remember it the way it was before that description.

You don't even need to get as complicated as feelings -- you can't even describe something as simple as what the color red looks like.
posted by empath at 7:28 AM on November 7, 2010


Ineffable experiences can sometimes be very meaningful to us. In that case they move us and that movement is not over in an instant. We tend to prolong these experiences by rumination; going over them again.
Often these ruminations excrete words. We can be tempted to record these words. Hoping that the essence of the ineffable is captured in them and that re-ingesting these words will cause the original experience to arise again.
posted by joost de vries at 7:29 AM on November 7, 2010


How do we express what cannot be said?

I thought this had been settled. We take it to MetaTalk.


I prefer MetaGnosis.
posted by joost de vries at 7:31 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


 
posted by tommasz at 7:44 AM on November 7, 2010


This will not wend...
posted by artof.mulata at 7:56 AM on November 7, 2010


you'll never know what the other person is feeling or if it's anything subjectively like what you're feeling -- you can only guess based on their expression of their feelings, which is circular, since what you're trying to gauge is the effect your expression of your feelings has on them.

Ooh, but how do YOU know that I'll never know? Maybe I'm an omniscient being! On the other hand, maybe an evil demon is controlling my senses, making me think I'm omniscient!

Seriously, solipsism is not a particularly useful thing to inject into this conversation. There are assumptions that most people make, like that the physical world exists, that other people exist, and that our sensory and emotional experiences are similar due to similar construction. Feel free to deny that, but don't expect anyone think that is a particularly deep thought; we all had the same thought when we were teenagers.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:01 AM on November 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


> It's short-sighted to extend this blind spot to his strawfolk.

Block that metaphor!
posted by jfuller at 8:05 AM on November 7, 2010


The dude who wrote that article owes me 30 seconds of my life.
posted by storybored at 8:06 AM on November 7, 2010


How to express the way to express what cannot be said, cannot be said.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:18 AM on November 7, 2010


I often music about the ineffable, rather than try to talk about it. In fact, I have a pet theory that much of art-making among human beings is about expressing the more ineffable parts of being human.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:25 AM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm gonna quote the wonderful Bruce Nauman quote that I stole off Shakespeherian's profile:

"I think the point where language starts to break down as a useful tool for communication is the same edge where poetry or art occurs... if you only deal with what is known, you’ll have redundancy; on the other hand, if you only deal with the unknown, you cannot communicate at all. There is always some combination of the two, and it is how they touch each other that makes communication interesting."
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:35 AM on November 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Interpretive dance, silly.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:36 PM on November 7


Goddammit, I was going to post this.
posted by Decani at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2010


This is teh bogus and has been since time immemorial.

Clearly there is nothing that cannot be spoken of - if perhaps inaccurately. Just as clearly, words can never express everything about anything.

Dennett claims that human consciousness is a more-or-less linear thread of internalized speech on top of a massively parallel computational architecture. In that (quite convincing) model, we are only conscious of something if it has entered our internal speech stream - though we can certainly act and even reason because of information that we aren't conscious of.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:48 AM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Same Scruton who trusts that the ineffable shares his blinkered views of homosexuality and politics? Spare me the false modesty, Rog.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:55 AM on November 7, 2010


Everything is effable, so go eff yourself.

And everything wends, some more ell than others.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:00 AM on November 7, 2010


I've always liked Aldous Huxley's take on the subject: "To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call language. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born - the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concept for data, his words for actual things."
posted by corey le fou at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh Roger Scruton, I'm afraid in all your fox hunting and elementary ramblings on music and metaphor you forgot to read the entire history of the philosophy of language and its limits.

Meh.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:01 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why would we want to eff the ineffable, especially when every attempt to do so (at least in my experience) has proven deeply unsatisfactory?

There are some thoughts/feelings/emotional states that cannot be addressed through language. That's why we have things like music, art, and dance. It seems to me that it is a sickness of philosophers to assume that everything in the human experience can be expressed and resolved through the written word.

I dabble in piano playing and music composition. I have had emotional states that I could not have possibly addressed had I written a million words, but was able to express and resolve through music. Quite often these have been situations where emotions and people and events have been tightly knotted up. In these situations, discursive thought simply isn't up to the task.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 12:19 PM on November 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Talking about effing the ineffable, I'm reminded of my favorite portion of George Saunders reviewing Daniil Kharms:

Kharms’s stories are truly odd, as in: at first you think they’re defective. They seem to cower at the suggestion of rising action, to blush at the heightened causality that makes a story a story. They sometimes end, you feel, before they’ve even begun. Here, in Yankelevich’s translation, is the entire text of “The Meeting”:

“Now, one day a man went to work and on the way he met another man, who, having bought a loaf of Polish bread, was heading back home where he came from.

“And that’s it, more or less.”

Bring that into workshop! You’ll get slaughtered. Crickets will sound in the seminar room. Someone will say, “I guess I’d like to know more about the Polish bread.”

posted by Greg Nog at 2:40 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dennett claims that human consciousness is a more-or-less linear thread of internalized speech on top of a massively parallel computational architecture. In that (quite convincing) model, we are only conscious of something if it has entered our internal speech stream - though we can certainly act and even reason because of information that we aren't conscious of.

What about the people who claim to think in pictures?

I don't post because I disagree with you, but because I think that calling it a 'speech' stream might not describe the whole thing.

What we hear can be taken apart by our brain and processed for meaningful sounds, why can't the same be done for vision, looking for meaningful sights?

On a related note, I think I should point in the general direction of Karl Jaspers' work.
posted by edguardo at 5:07 PM on November 7, 2010


Fucking ineffable sounds like someone remembering how to do self-censorship halfway through a phrase. -xkcd
posted by liquoredonlife at 8:29 PM on November 7, 2010


Again: Scruton is a hack. Probably a self-loathing, closeted-gay hack, but a hack nonetheless. Until he can square his approach to the ineffable with his epistemologically-suspect (to put it politely) reading of the ineffable which just-so-happens to square with his conservative reading of political and ethical issues, we are all worse off for having him linked here.

With respect to humanity (and/or philosophy): you are doing it wrong, Sir Scruton. And I say this as someone who quoted your interpretation of Kant at length in his thesis. Please stop embarrassing yourself, old man.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:29 PM on November 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the wonderful features of music is its ability to eff the ineffable. What a delight to be introduced-to, or reminded of, a unique emotion-tone by something somehow mysteriously created long ago.

It's as though, no there is, a whole 'nother world ... to which many are, alas, deaf ... of secret delights. It is good that someone has momentarily effed the ineffable, so that we may know that we're not alone in tasting such delights ... which are seldom spoken of. I looked for a word for them for years, until finally I stumbled across 'qualia'. It's a really crappy word, but, then, there are many names to point to many sources of these secret and incommunicable moments.

Rarely, now and then, they may visit so frequently and such numbers that like we experience moments or hours of crescendo. Whatever that is all about, signifies, entails, we cannot say - but with our faces and with our delight.
posted by Twang at 11:54 AM on November 8, 2010


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