Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Look Out, Here Comes Philosophy.

                                                           Why Is a Word?

This one is going to be what is called "philosophy." (You should put on a mid-sixties Miles Davis record for this, like "Someday My Prince Will Come." That would be appropriate.)

     Words are the individual building blocks of language, as we know,. Words are one part of it, one part of what makes language meaningful. The other part is grammar. Words can mean different things but what we need to do, to make sense (this means, b.t.w., "make sense to others", I think), is put them into some kind of syntactic or grammatical form like sentences, phrases, or even shouts for [(Help!!!)].
     And, in this book that I use to learn math from - "No Fear Math" - it say, at one point: "division is..." What I am asking here is simply this. What is (or "why is") division if we separate the word from the context. Is there any point in thinking about such a thing? We need to ask, why is that word there, and, what does it mean? Is division, just as a stand-alone word, to be regarded as a word?-----or as a thing? If we look at it as a thing rather than a word, can we isolate "division" a thing and attempt to know the thing itself more deeply? When, where, and how do we tend to just assume that there is some "thing" out there? Where is this thing? Where is the actual "thing" in the sense of a division that is unrelated to language? After all, the basic thing itself is clearly not language. It is math. "Alligator" is also not primarily language. It is a thing we encounter in real life, in a Florida swamp. "Word" is a word about words; so is "verb," or "grammar." Those things may not exist apart from language, but an alligator, or the measles, etc., are are examples of things that certainly do exist, outside of language (as any alligator knows).
     Here's the full sentence form that math text: "division is closely related to multiplication. You can think of division as undoing multiplication." It is "undoing." That is fine, if you want a dynamic link between two words but it doesn't tell about division alone, by itself.  And this is a helpful book. And I am using it, to learn math. And it is a perfectly good sentence, as it is being employed by the excellent young writer who is teaching me. But what are multiplication and division? Surely we can relate division (as a "thing") to multiplication (as a "thing"). But that is still based on a relation of two things. It is not about knowing all we can about one thing.

     Why, I wonder did someone call a word, unconnected to the thing it represents, the "signifier"? Is the "signifier" separate from the "signified," and, if so, in what sense? I looked at this stuff, I think it is called Saussare, or structuralism, and I did not like it. I was intuitively repulsive, actually, but I do remember the words like "sign," "signifier" and so on, and I tend to use that a little bit. So, what is the role or function of the "signifier" (i.e. the word) as a building block of a grammatical and useful sentence? When does a word-thing become a "signifier"? Most of the writing I see around me seems to assume that things exist only in relationship, or in contingency. We seldom get down to what is "material."
     Take a clue from the sentence. The sentence seems to point to processes and the potential for "undoing" those processes. This indicates a focus on how things are done. It asks about processes: how division is done, or conversely undone. The sentence only seeks to understand division as process and the sentence only investigates how words are linked as components of a grammatical sentence. But, what is "division" without the little quotes marks I just used (that basically mean very little) and without any relational or contingent stuff added to it whatsoever? And why doesn't anyone care about that? This is what I do not understand.
     Aside from "doing," and relation, and connecting, is there another, less taken approach? Isn't there a science not of "doing" division but of defining division? That would be one wherein we can see how deep we can go into phenomena related to the word, and only the word, rather than what processes the word involves us in.
     OK, I have to take a break. This is some profound stuff and I need a break now.

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