Raymond Finzel

Notes on Fundamental Meanings


I was talking with Jason Snyder and we had a minor disagreement about the role that symbols (in this specific case, language) play in the course of our thought. We video-chatted and were able to discuss, and I think we're on the same page. What follows were my initial thoughts, now watered with Jason's cerebrospinal fluid.


I think identifying symbols as the fundamental unit of thought is somewhat misleading, like thinking that metaphors are stored in the words that one uses. In my piece chunks (from many moons ago) I tried to explore the structure that I feel like thoughts rely on. They seem to me like a bunch of sorta fuzzy buckets or a mental geography of ideas that get retrieved together.

Loosely related to this is the "ground beneath thoughts" which I think is experienced vividly through these things: (not nearly an exhaustive list)

Thought opening up to reveal "ground":

Partial descriptions of the "shape" of "ground":

  • Ineffability
  • Unflat (as Sousanis)
  • Goal, sorta (also as me)
  • To "know" as in to "know" that there is a tree there, or to "know" that one has two hands (as Wittgenstein)
  • The Complete Stance (as Chapman)
  • Emptiness (as many Buddhisms)
  • Flow (as positive psychology)


I think my current thoughts problematize some of these things:

  • Brain as separate from self (othering the unconscious, as if it does not speak to us)
  • View of thinking as inseparable from symbols (better, in my opinion, to see symbols as another model approximating thought)
  • View of meaning-making as entirely within our control or entirely without (as though it were that simple)

And to address them we can start here:

  • Sensation of things "As they are" is very real
  • Personally late developing internal monologue seems to imply cogitations without "formal symbol"
  • Experience of some people as "handing information to their brain" via the internal monologue is also weird
  • Aella's experience of the "stones" of her thought as being further apart after the use of psychedelics (what is between them?)
  • Things often feel most "meaningful" when symbolic reasoning drops away


Lastly, weirdly, my first thoughts were:

"Nice. I would just add that language also modulates how we think and make meaning. ‘Your’ meaning is impossible without internal semiotics." - @cognazor

  • "Modulation" is definitely the right word - the color blue, while not necessarily impossible without the word, is a much duller experience without it.
  • "Impossible" seems like exactly the wrong word. Model-making and thinking in metaphor require symbolic system, but the signified parts are embodied and without symbol. These embodied things still have a "patternicity" that is anchored in a push and pull with the real world, but to identify them as symbols in the same realm of language seems limiting.
  • It is from embodied meanings that we trace thoughts into the flat representations that become words or images.