|Name ist Schall und Rauch,
||[Jun. 20th, 2011|07:16 pm]
I had a conversation the other day that brought to mind this quote Ive had memorised since I was 18 years old. I've never forgotten it and its always stayed with me. It's from Goethe's Faust part 1|
Name ist Schall und Rauch,
Or in the English translation
Names are but noise and smoke,
Obscuring heavenly light.
this conversation got me thinking about why I remembered these words and what they meant. I'd like to share my thought journey with you and hope you can tolerate my meaningless ramblings. Naming things is a pretty nifty little idea when you think about it. You can understand why it made sense to start with. There is a rock, we dont know much about rocks so it doesnt need any other words to sum it up. That there is a tree, a bit more complicated because trees grow and change, but still you can see it. Its when you get to naming collectives of things that I think the problem starts.
See I think its in these things that the problem arises. We assign these collections of individual parts that are totally different and perform multiple functions a single name.
A forest has many different breeds of trees, may have different fauna in it, may contain streams..or not, may have poisonous berries or not, may be growing, may be shrinking, may be standing still. You get the picture and you can see why a name works
It makes it easier to talk about and it means you can discuss something even if you dont understand it...theres advantages to that... language would be clumsy and unwieldy if we had to explain everything for what it was, but disadvantages too, it allows someone to speak about something, even though they know nothing about it.
So we see what Goethe is saying....the process of naming a thing obscures the truth of what that thing is...
Yeah so what...I hear you say
Well what about me...what about people, of course its important to be able to say Mrs X sold me Y...you convey unimportant information quickly, but what about when you want to understand someone or even understand yourself? The idea of something complex and variable and constantly transforming having a single method of being refered to and understood seems wrong, seems counter intuitive, seems a formula for misunderstanding ourselves. Lets take Greg, baby Greg is different to teenage Greg, who is different to adult Greg, etc, etc. Even these arbitrary divisions of time (Baby, teenager, adult) are names that obscure the truth.
The truth that there is no Greg.
Greg is a constantly changing primordial soup of chemicals and synapses, who Greg is today bears some relation to the person before because of his physical constancy and perhaps even by the predictibility of his actions (going to work, coming home), but Greg in the morning is not Greg in the evening and Greg last week could be completely removed from Greg next week.
The constancy of physical form (Greg sees the same face in the mirror every day), the predictability of actions (Greg takes himself to the same place for work everyday) and the fact that people spend all day shouting the word "GREG" at the mind inside the body that is named Greg this convinces Greg and those that know Greg that he is a singular thing, a unit, one being, indivisible.
This is an illusion, Greg will wake up tomorrow a different person, each experience and dream changes Greg and these dreams, experiences, tears, laughter, screams, moments of reflection and joy accrete inside Greg like Barnacles on a ship, below the surface where you can't percieve them unless you delve deeply enough.
This whole rant probably doesn't make any sense, but I guess what I am trying to say is that human beings unique amongst all things on the earth have road to damascus moments http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/road_to_Damascus
Seeing a flower, watching the sunset, seeing someone smile, small things that trigger great and profound change. These events happen everyday to people everywhere. Even when the dont the accretion of change inside us moves us constantly in new directions and towards new things.
Yet we think of ourselves and we think of others as singular beings, that's just Greg, that's Daisy, etc and in doing so we do them a disservice by not acknowledging the many facets of their nature and we miss out on the opportunity to truly understand the constant state of transmogrification that is our true nature and the nature of those we love.
Thus it is that our names become noise and smoke...obscuring heavenly light...