8/22/08

 

MEANING AS INTERPRETATION

Ken Wais 9/8/08

 

Here are three questions I want to answer:

 

  1. Have you ever thought about the nature of human existence versus what does exist?
  2. If you have considered this question, then do you come to the conclusion, as I have, that we interpret our existence in the world? I will explain exactly what is meant by the term interpret shortly.
  3. Building on these two questions, I ask: is there any objective meaning to existence?

 

Question 1.

 

 

I am asking why do we have such notions about ourselves.How do we come have these ideas? First, let me make clear what I mean by interpretation.I donít mean what we do when we translate one language into another, or render an opinion on a work of art, or watch a play and explain its import.No, thatís not the meaning of interpretation Iím after.By interpretation I mean when we receive information through our sense organs, our brains process it, then our minds create a coherent explanation of what weíve sensed.This process goes on all the time in our minds and itís essential to being human. It is how we understand the world through our eyes, ears, noses, mouths and skins.The problem is trying to understanding what we've experienced, more often than not, our interpretations are meaningless in the external world.Notice that interpretation is not perception that is when we take in the external world through our senses.Nor is it judgment that is when we make decisions about our perceptions.Interpretation is most akin to understanding.Though, it is not exactly that either.Letís look at interpretations that spring from two human perceptions: smell and hearing.

 

We find things that stink are offensive to our olfactory organs.A flatulent emission, a dead body, a gaseous vent, a malodorous person are good examples.But, I ask why should one smell be offensive to us and another pleasing?It seems we are born with this negative or positive reaction to smells.A baby doesnít have to be taught to not like the smell of its own waste products, the infant cries until changed after defecating.Which is a profound statement.It means we are predisposed to interpretative processing from birth.Again, the infant reacts positively to the smell of its mother's breast milk, without having to learn this behavioral reaction. But, there is nothing outside our interpretation of smells that would make our perceptions through our olfactory organs favor one and disfavor another.It must be related to our evolutionary heritage, you might respond?I agree probably so.Yet, if we take smells unrelated to human beings, then the odor of sewerage, animal waste products, sweat, perfume, motherís milk, flowers, gas emissions, industrial pollution, ad infinitum hasnít any objective meaning. It is only our perception of the smell that gives it the value of stink or aromatic.This example is at the heart of what Iím trying to express: We make the meaningfulness in our world; it is our perception of reality that we in turn, interpret that makes for meaning.The external world outside our sense organs has no evaluative judgment. As another exemplification lets look at sounds. During the summer I walk to work as I live within blocks of my job, and a stroll to work is both healthy and sometimes invigorating. As I walk down the narrow side street to work, I hear sea gulls that inhabit the area making, what to me are the most cacophonous sounds.I sometimes scream at them:

 

Shut up! You (censored) etc.

 

I realized closing in on the red brick structure at which I work, this is another example of a human being interpreting an external objective event.To me their calls sound bad, but if we take sounds in general, there is not objective reason why one sound is bad and another good.A fallacious argument could be made that some sounds are discordant, in the sense that their wave patterns cancel each out and cause pain in the ear of a person hearing them.But, not all cacophonous sounds cause physical pain to our sense of hearing .A singer with an off-key voice certainly doesnít hurt your ears. We can discount this argument. To repeat, if sound patterns are consonant it has no more meaning than if they are dissonant.We must interpret these sounds for them to have that meaning.Music sounds pleasing, while a sound from a vehicle crashing into a lamppost sounds terrible? From the standpoint of events occurring in our everyday world, they have no such meaning.Just as the comets that crashed into Jupiter in 1997, were not cataclysmic events, unless we applied that interpretation to it.This leads to my 2nd question.

 

 

Question 2.

 

We do interpret our realities.We as a species create meaning in the external world outside our minds.Things smell bad or sounds are discordant, because we perceive and interpret them in this fashion.These real world experiences donít have such meaning outside our minds.A song by my favorite artist, for instance, Jor Ben Jor, Brazilian singer/guitarist is no different from the quacking birds I hear everyday walking to work, unless I interpret it so.This seems like a trivial conclusion at first sight, but itís not.I add several examples here.

 

 

The answer here is this: the world is not conceived it simply is.Its existence defies every interpretation that we can give it. The moment we start to apply ideas and relations to it, we have gone astray.We canít interpret existence; we can only be a part of it. This leads to the next question.

 

 

Question 3.

 

The objective meaning to existence is to not interpret it, to not make meaningfulness, where it doesnít exist.So, in our endeavors in scholastic pursuits, we should know but not judge.We should seek to understand but not apply meaning to our knowledge gleaned.†† We must be part but not to feel a part of it. We should be what religionist believe is GOD.Within the thing but not a part of the thing.Thus, there should be not interpretations like malodorous and aromatic, or symphony and cacophony.But, we canít do this! We must by our very human nature interpret our external world.To return to the earlier analysis, Science does just that.It explains and doesnít apply meaningfulness to its explanations. So, the objective meaning to existence is to find no meaning in its existence.This brings us full circle back to the founding tenet of Existentialism: there is no meaning to existence. Existence is meaningless in the sense I've described. With dismal ducking of my head, there will still be those that go on believing the opposite. Ranting and propounding how meaningful the world is....

 

Existentialism 5: The Real World and The Individual

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The Existential Concept