Words – where are they?

Where are words?
When are words?

Do words reside and extend in space like objects and matter? Do words unfold temporally in time like music and other forms of energy?

Words are information. And I think out of all the things in the universe, information itself is the hardest thing to guard because it seems to be transparent, weightless, odorless, formless, and colorless. Therefore, words can be stolen or given away without removing them from the mind of the speaker. Because of this unique feature of words, grammatical language allows us to share and expand our expertise in an unlimited fashion.

Therefore, using words like commodities which can be exchanged, the transmission of structured information from one mind to another can be duplicated without any loss to the giver. Pieces of matter, which are bound in space and time, once transmitted, are relinquished. For instance, if I give you a car, I lose the car once it is in your hands. But if I teach you how to make a car, or give you an idea of a car, it’s not as if I no longer know how to build a car. Both of us benefit; nobody loses, and everybody wins.

Information and words therefore, are the ultimate commodities that facilitate reciprocal altruism because it yields high benefit to others while at a low costs to the self. Within a few seconds and a few breaths, the speaker can confer an enormous benefit on someone else at a trivial cost to themselves.

With words serving as informational goods, they allow us to play the game of survival in real time; thus dominating and overpowering all other species on the planet. This means that while other organisms need to evolve complex structures of physical weapons to crack the defenses of other organisms in the struggle to survive, humans can do so more effortlessly with words and other information/communication based technologies. Information and words can be passed on from one mind to another, from one generation to the next without having to wait for the very slow process of random biological mutations and natural selection to code it into the DNA sequence from one generation to the next.

This eventually results in humans perpetrating mass extinction whenever they move into an environment because with mechanisms and weapons (words) that unfold in real time, they can easily outpace other species that could only defend themselves in evolutionary time. Words made this possible because they are not bound by the physical restraints of space and time. They are not subject to entropy the way matter and objects are in our thermodynamic universe.

Hence, words are something else. Words are “spiritual”. Words are alive. Words transcend. Words are dynamic, elusive, organic, arbitrary, and open-looped. The meaning of words cannot be defined, or even exist without the right combinations of speakers, minds, sounds, and particular circumstances and contexts of the given conversations – which all arise simultaneously. In other words, words construct, reconstruct, modify, and define themselves in a multiplicity of ways in accordance with specific contexts, activities, and games. This is what philosophers mean when they say that words are lies. Words in and of themselves have no meanings. And if words did have meaning in a certain context, it is possible to empty or strip a word of its meaning.

How can this be done?

As a child (or even now), I like repeating the same word over and over again…Or have different people say the same words one after the other.





When you have done this, you will notice the different rates, pitches, sounds each time you say the word. Different meanings can arise from each pronunciation of a single word. With enough repeats, the meanings of words detach themselves and harden. A series of meaningless noises of absurdity that denotes to nothingness is heard. You will realize that the linkage between words and meanings, between words and things are so fragile that with any tweak, turn, and pull, the link becomes problematic. It weakens and breaks until the words become nothing but dried up, empty shells that crumble away and dissolve. But if you take a break from this dissociating game, say the words again, you will notice that new linkages and are formed with new meanings attached to them. This experiment confirms the fragile, yet crucial veil between objects and subjects; a symbolic and feeble informational separation between ourselves and things in the world in which we make sense of the universe.

So what all that said, where are the words you are reading now? Are they in your mind? Are they in the air? Are they in the computer monitor? Where are they?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the question of “where and when” in regards to words is a very different “where and when” when we consider other things in the universe that we experience directly with our senses that are bound by space and unfolded in time. Words seem to exist in a matrix of the Symbolic order, a discourse that contains a great treasure of knowledge, rules, and hypothesis that we access with our unconscious.

Think of a totality of universe filled and stored with words and signifiers that takes on a universal character. It is a treasury of words like gold coins in a trunk. This metaphysical word bank was always there, as it pre-exists the individual, who has to gain access to it. Children learn language effortlessly because there exists an innate and deep structure in the brain, or mind modules that were evolved specifically for language acquisition. Our minds gain access to the symbolic order of language and signs through these brain modules. And language modules are already “in here (the mind)” ready to be “receive” and be meshed with language and signifiers that are “out there (the symbolic order)”, language comes to us intuitively and naturally as we speak and learn our first language as children.

Words, because of their unique properties and attributes, can transcend time and space, and get us out of the “here and now”. Unlike matter, objects, and bodies, with words, we are no longer bound by the physical laws that restrain us from certain actions and desires. This notion of words raises a critical question of what it means to be human.

If words are embedded in our minds, then we are more than we think we are. We are more transcendent and older than we think we are. The words that we use may be the oldest thing that I come in contact with all my life. Words help us transcend time – to fall into history, and to anticipate days that are not yet here. To be human is to be a word user. And to be a word user is having the ability and the possibility to transcend and go beyond the physical “here and now”.

Think about this: Language existed before me, my parents and grandparents. Words and language exist in a matrix of the Symbolic realm that is independent of my existence, outside of the boundaries of time and space. This lexicon of words and rules has been handed down over the millennia. When I speak, I am producing a discourse that pre-dates my existence.

So In a way, we are all alike, in the fact that we all speak the same language, borrowing and taking words to communicate with each other from this same discourse of Symbolic order. This means that a part of me was created and has existed before I was even born. My parents have already used the words that I will be using to speak about me, formulating fantasies and ideas about me in their speech and choice of words. This means that they have already given birth to me by formulating my subjectivity and unconsciousness from the matrix of the Symbolic in which they share with billions of other human beings on the planet. If this idea is stretched a little bit further, one can say that a subject could exist whether or not he or she is alive. This is how, by speaking about a dead subject, one may still act and feel like he or she is still well and alive, existing within the symbolic order of reality.

Because the words that I speak are not merely mine, but are borrowed from the Symbolic order. I think I am largely unconscious of the deep structure of my sentences, and what exactly it is that I am saying. This might sound far stretched, and you might say: I do know what I’m talking about, and most of the time, I know exactly what I mean to say.

But when you really think about it, our speech seems automatic and unconscious most of the time. Try speaking “consciously” by paying 100 percent of attention on your choice of words and sentence structures, meanings behind these words, and what exactly you mean by these words and sentences. You can’t. When you deliberately try to understand the speech you are producing, you are most likely going to stutter and run out of things to say very quickly. Most of the time when I speak, I feel as if somebody or something is taking the words out of the matrix of the Symbolic and stuffing it in my mouth without my awareness or consent. There is an interplay of conscious and unconscious in our speech; we may mean exactly what we say, but we hardly ever know why we say it.

Consider the following examples :

Somebody utters out “Is so-and-so going out with somebody?” in a common, everyday conversation.

It appears to be a simple question. Anybody can ask a question like this without giving much thought as to why he or she is asking the question. But what is motivating it? Is the man asking this question interested in the so-and-so? Is the questioner a girl worried that the so-and-so in question is interested in her boyfriend? Or is the girl who is asking the question motivated by jealousy, hoping to learn that so-and-so is single, so that she can feel better about herself for not having a boyfriend?

“I got so fucked up this weekend” is a commonly heard phrase among teenagers and college students. This seemingly innocent and playful statement might not come across our minds as profound or even meaningful, but why does the speaker say this sentence instead of the infinite numbers of other sentences she could have chosen to say?

Why does the listener need to know that “so-and-so was drunk?” Is she boasting about her awesome social life because her ego depends on whether or not she is “popular” or socially accepted/successful? Is she trying to convince the listener, or even herself that she had a good time, even though she didn’t? Or is she trying to prove that she could “hang with the crowd”, and was “hardcore” and “bad ass” enough to disregard her own body?

As you see, words don’t really belong to you, and that we don’t consciously choose the words that are coming out of our mouths. They belong to the matrix of Other and of the symbolic order. To speak is to conform. If we are largely unaware of the deep structure, unconscious meanings and true intentions of the words and sentences that we “choose”, where and when are they coming from? Why do we choose certain words to utter but not others? What do we really mean?

I hope the question of “where and when are words” makes sense. If it doesn’t, then are we restricted and constrained by the very same words and grammatical language that are penetrating the boundary and limited range of space and time in our reality? Is the rationality of language limiting and taking away our ability to question language itself? Perhaps words are both windows to our nature and at the same time, the shadows that are bouncing off of the walls in our caves.

But if you really want to undergo a thorough understanding of words and language, ask yourself these questions anyway and see what you can come up with.

Where are words?
When are words?