9. What Can We Talk About?
“The cat is on the mat.” “Being is, being is what is, being is the other of nothingness.” (Sartre?) Are we to think that the second statement is about “being” the way that the first statement is about the cat? In some sort of grammatical sense the second statement is about “being” the way the first statement is about the cat. But grammar in not epistemology and our concerns are with the latter. What then is the epistemological difference between these two statements? How can we reject the latter, what can we say about it? Traditional critiques would involve theories about metaphysics, whether it was really possible at all, or might point out the fact that talk about “being” is non- verifiable. But for the most part while many would reject the second statement, claim perhaps that it was meaningless, it is difficult to show under most current epistemological theories exactly what is wrong with it.
With the current approach, rejecting it is “easy”. Note that we are not necessarily claiming that talk about “being” is “meaningless”. We don’t really care if it is or not. There is in fact no simple term or verbal formulation that really explains what’s wrong with the second statement, the language doesn’t exist because we have not yet adopted a “language as process” epistemological position. But how then do we apply a process epistemology to these two statements?
Consider the first proposition, this might be the response to an immediate observation, I might see that the cat is on the mat and the information content of my visual experience might then be related behaviorally. Or, as is indeed the case, I could be recalling an old example of a simple proposition frequently found in the literature. In this case, the information driving my linguistic behavior is from memory. What drives the behavior with the second proposition? Does anyone really think it is “being”? Does anyone think that pure “being” is banging on our neurons and making us produce this statement? Are we to believe that it is ‘being’ itself producing the internal information that causes us to say things like this?
The immediate objection is of course (?) that the second statement is about our concept of being. That “being is the other of nothingness...” is or might be a logical consequence of our concept of being for example. This is a good maneuver because it moves the discussion from metaphysics to language or to our conceptual space. But just what is this concept thing anyway? If “being” itself does not cause us to talk about it are we to think that the brain somehow has an awareness of “being”? Are we suppose to have a “being” detector analogous perhaps to our light and sound detectors, the eyes and ears. Are we in some way suppose to sense or be aware of pure “being”? Probably few would hold that we have an experience of pure “being”, the concept is then not likely to have any sort of experiential base. What is it then that causally determines this talk about “being”? What is generating the information that drives linguistic performances that involve the excessive use of “being” in the nominative case? Is it the result of some mysterious brain process, some unknown neurological activity that somehow can generate information about something which lies outside the realm of possible experience? More likely it is the result of noise in the system or reformulated recollections about what has been heard before or simply rare imaginative and creative activity about nothing except the states of the brain that produces or accepts it.
What we call a concept is represented at the information level by a variety of different driving functions and has no other realizations. My notion of the color red for example is necessarily represented in several different ways in the nervous system and the word itself has many different driving functions. (See 4.) Light of a certain wavelength can produce the information required to illicit talk about red as can certain verbal stimuli, e.g., “What color is produced when iron is heated to 1400 degrees Fahrenheit?” Both the visual and auditory stimuli produce the same linguistic response “red” even while the information generating the response is from two different sources. But if I spoke French, I would say “rouge” given the same stimuli. Driving functions then produce information, not behavior; behavior depends on many different factors.
The real epistemological problem is this: The statement that “Columbus discovered America….”(from a European perspective) and “Being is….” may both be entertained, internalized and processed on the same basis and with the same evidence, namely that they have been heard, are comprehensible and seem reasonable- whatever this involves. While this is epistemologically dubious it is what happens most of the time with most people. We tend to believe and mimic what we hear without much further evaluation. This latter operation, mimicking is inherent to, and necessary for language acquisition. It is unfortunately frequently used for validation as well.