Words, Language, Reality, Fragmentation and Flow

I’ve been doing some reading along a particular vein of thought that is rooted in metaphysics and which I first encountered in Robert Pirsig’s book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“.  After a conversation with my friend Pete who just read the book, I quickly created a post, Everything is Connected, that tried to blend physics (cosmology) with Zen.  I like the 1st part of the proof, the Big Bang, but not the second part,  “YOU” are reality.  So, I decided to reread Zen and the Art which I hadn’t done in a while.

I had commented in my post on Minds, Knowledge, Well Being and Education about the need for deeper theory about how the mind works, how we acquire knowledge and well being (IMHO, you need to strive for both) and how these are influenced by the formal education model in the United States.  That lead to me to some observations about brain plasticity courtesy of Rachel who provided me a book on that subject. 

As often happens when you focus your mind on something, serendipity occurs.  I ran into an article in this month’s Scientific American, How Language Shapes Thought, about a study of how language affects the understanding (knowledge) of time and space.  And then, of all places, I ran across an article, “Etiology of the Motorcycle Phenomenon”, by James Smith, February 2011 issue, pg 82, of the BMW Owners News, published by the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, with references that led me to “Wholeness and the Implicate Order“, by David Bohm.

My, that was a lot of background wasn’t it?  Sorry about that, but you need some context for what comes next.

So, here’s the train of logic that’s growing out of all this. 

Knowledge defines your Reality (aka, worldview, mythos, truth, certainty, etc.) 
Language defines your Knowledge. 
Words define your Language. 

Humanity has a LOT of languages around 7,000 or so, so on a cultural level, there could be about 7,000 classes of reality going on at the same time.  All of them “real” by the way.

Pirsig tackles the question of what “reality” is (hint, it’s not a thing, more like a process, so it’s dynamic, not fixed), illustrates what insanity is (by personal experience) and along the way talks a lot about two fundamentally different ways to acquire knowledge, loosely defined as eastern and western.  He talks about how at the beginning of the western way (at the time of the Greek civilization) there were two branches of how to become knowledgeable about reality, one of which was like the eastern way.  He shows how one eliminated the other, and identifies Aristotle as the archetype of the winning side, now known as “western thought” or civilization.  He hints at the roll of language in defining what is “knowable”, how it is known and ultimately, how it fixes reality into the mythos and logos. (loosely, culture and logic), ultimately leading us away from a workable understanding of reality in today’s western culture.

I’m reading Bohm’s book, which I haven’t finished yet, and he provides in the 1st 60 pgs or so a concise discussion of the problems in western society, the role language has played in creating them and proposes a new set of words to overcome the limitations of our existing language so our knowledge of reality is more complete. Pirsig and Bohm are amazingly complimentary in their writing and the confluence of the two is very thought provoking.

To sum it up, both agree that unbounded fragmentation is the root cause of much (all?) of the dysfunctional behavior of western societies (Pirsig identifying this dysfunction with a growing inability to recognize the role Quality plays).  Both draw attention to why “flow” is important and how it gets overlooked — in part, due to language that doesn’t adequately convey its meaning and so, keeps its value and importance out the conversation.

Now, it’s the focus on “flow” that got the article published in the BMW ON magazine as a metaphysical basis for the reason MC riders do what they do.  One of the references cited lead me to Bohm’s books.  It’s the pursuit of flow and corresponding reduction of fragmentation that motorcyclists seek. (That could explain my posts on 1,000, and 2,000 mile rides 🙂 )

If you let that one soak in for a bit, you start drawing some conclusions about why we avidly pursue the things we do, what makes some of us hate our jobs (or life in general), and even why Egypt and Tunisia are engaged in the changes going on today.  I think its “flow” that balances knowledge with well being.  Humans need flow to achieve that balance, and both Pirsig and Bohm’s metaphysics are based on flow as the unifying principle of reality.   

Just thought I’d share … I can hear you chewing, but am waiting for the sound of swallowing.

6 thoughts on “Words, Language, Reality, Fragmentation and Flow

    • Dev,

      No I haven’t bumped into that, but will pursue the reference. I am finding that citing your reading when talking about metaphysics and your personal interpretations is important. The length and breadth of the ideas involved and slipperness of language in talking about them requires others to often read the other books so you don’t have to write another 200 pg book as background to your own interpretation.

      For some reason, unifying diverse subjects has held a fascination for me and is why I was not welcomed in some of my college courses as I made connections between diverse subjects, and was often told “that’s not what this class is about”. To the point of the title of my posting, “… fragmentation and flow”, I seem to be a Flow kind of thinker.

    • Hi Ryan,

      No, I havent’ read that. I’ll add it to my list on this topic.

      I have noticed that many writers in this area are from Physics. The earliest author I had read is Erwin Schodinger, who is one of the contributors to quantum mechanics. He wrote several small books in this area. One is “What is Life” where he links quantum physics to biology (at the scale of DNA) and makes predictions about the properties of DNA before Watson & Crick confirm its structure. The other one, “My View of the World” is a book about his metaphysics and you see very similar use of eastern philosophy to imply a deeper layer of connection to reality than is infered by the Aristotian model of fragmentation of knowledge into hierarchical trees with smaller and smaller subdivisions.

      Thanks for reading.

    • Hi Phi,

      No, I haven’t read Ilya Prigogine. I’ll look at the information on epigenome. There have been a number of Scientific American articles on “epigenetics” which is in the same vein I believe. This did catch my attention as it explains cell differentiation while all cells share the same DNA. I’ve been thinking along these lines about how similar this is to computer programs and networks, particularly “object oriented” programming. But, I’ve not reached a point where this has solidfied yet.

      Thanks for sharing.

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