Category Archives: Language

Making and Becoming Part II

More musings on the interaction and interplay between the ideas represented by ‘making’ abstract-landscapeand ‘becoming’ led to an emergence of some unexpected connections in my mental universe.

Making and Becoming are words and as such are metaphors which we use to communicate. Each of us will share some meaning in common but I doubt whether any two people have exactly the same nuances and harmonics of reference attached to these labels. That is of course what makes it so interesting. It is why creative pieces, whether visual or aural take on a life of their own once their enabler/maker has let go of them.

My travels took me through the landscape of ideas represented by Democracy, Duality, Mysticism, Newton’s Third Law, Reality, Quantum Reality and Wittengenstein’s proposition that “the limits of my language are the limits of my world” which is to say that the Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. 

knowledge leaves 1That is probably where I should stop though like Lao Tsu I am going to go on using words but, hopefully, rather less than 5,000 of them. Ideas can be represented non-verbally in music, dance, sculpture or painting, Chagall was a consummate exponent of visual story telling, but words are necessary tools if often imprecise ones. So bear with me while I ramble on attempting to share what to me at least was an interesting journey of exploration.

So my last blog ended with the thought that many of the problems the world faces arise from too much making and not enough becoming. I was really considering the idea of making as a conscious act of will and becoming as the opposite process of emergence. Slower and less deliberate; the contrast between the yang energy of making and the yin energy of becoming.

So this led me Newton’s third law which states ‘When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.’ Or ‘for every action there is and equal and opposite reaction’.

Applying this to the ideas of making and becoming led me a bit further into wondering about its application to the abstract rather than the physical. For every idea there is an equal and opposite idea. This prompted some interesting speculation about modern-day politics with its oppositional right-wing and left-wing ideologies and I need to explore that in another blog or I will outdo Lao Tsu and spend 10,000 words before I finish. So back to making and becoming. Is it that one necessarily begets the other because they are the two forces needed in the creative process? I would say the opposing force to making is destroying and I think that would hold up in most people’s judgement. So I was left with asking what is becoming? What do I mean when I talk about this idea? I came to the conclusion that Becoming is a process that finds itself, it emerges. It occupies the still space and it is of itself and the centre. So as an artist or writer perhaps we should concentrate les son the making aspect of what we do and more on being enablers. Letting the work emerge as a result of the creative process flow through us. It is where I started from in thinking about making and becoming. The most rewarding part of  being creative is the process. That is what illuminates the mind and spirit and energizes the body. The book,the poem, the picture, the song are the by-product of this alchemy. perhaps we need to apply this way of thinking to the whole way we live as a society? 

Quantum worlds provide a very different experience and reality is simply what we observe (the double slit experiment) or what our brain produces from energy fields. So reality is subjective not objective. I am but equally and oppositely I am not. I use words to attempt to communicate idea/concept/understanding as perceived in my subjective reality. So Words are metaphors. Art and music are metaphors. My creation is altered by your observation and response to it. It becomes something new in your reality. That is change and the process of change the dance of life and entropy. Metaphor is metaphor; life is metaphor and the secret at the heart of the Tao is that there is no secret.

I didn’t discover any answers just more questions and possible paths to explore. The pursuit of understanding would be no fun if it could be answered as easily as ‘do you want a cup of tea’? On second thoughts that prompts a whole new set of speculations and is not as straightforward as it might appear at first sight.

Making and Becoming

My last post was about going to Carnac as relief from the general feeling of doom and gloom that was pervading our household over the current state of the world and where it seemed to be taking 2016-10-08-12-40-22us. I didn’t mention that while eating our picnic near one of the sets of alignments I spotted an interestingly shaped bit of wood lying on the ground.  Both David and I were the sort of children who collected interesting things (feathers, stones, bits of bone, wood etc) neither of us have out grown the habit and with his 2016-10-08-12-40-09enthusiastic endorsement of it as ‘that’s fantastic looks like waves’. I tucked it under my arm and brought it home.

I photographed it on the tarmac outside the house when I got back so that I’d have a record of it in the state in which I found it. The piece of wood was pretty dirty and definitely not far off crumbling completely.

Found Art is one of my enthusiasms but ‘Found’ is one thing usually the ‘Art’ requires a little more effort. So I set to work cleaning, treating, sanding, oiling, polishing. A continuation of my Antidote to Doom and Gloom. The physical act of working on a piece of art is wonderfully absorbing. To begin with I had to pay close attention because it was extremely fragile and the last thing I wanted was for it to break into pieces but by the time it reached the stage of beeswax and polishing it had achieved its final form and the whole process became a meditation. Sitting in the October sun rubbing a piece of cloth backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards slowly bringing out the colours and the patina. While I was doing this I found myself pondering about the idea of making and the idea of becoming (in the sense of beginning to be). Making contains both the meaning of process of creating and the essential qualities needed for something. Michelangelo’s statement that ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the sculptor’s task to discover it’ encompasses both meanings. But in the found art piece it seemed to me the wood itself played an active part. It transformed and emerged and the finished piece had its own identity. It Became. 

The ‘finished’ piece, and I use finished only in the sense that I stopped working on it, has its own definite character and energy. My hands picking at a bit here, sanding off a rough bit there and polishing it for hours merely allowed this creature to be caught in the moment of its transformation from one thing to another. Certainly not the waves we both saw when I picked up the bit of wood but an ancient and powerful beast. 

It seems to me that making and becoming are inseparable not just in the artistic process but in everything. If we make something without allowing it also to emerge than we have a flawed end result. Maybe that is most of what is wrong with the world at the moment too much making and not enough becoming.

Footnote to self – drink cider after and not before proof reading your article that way you won’t have the embarrasment of re-editing after you’ve posted.

A Poetic language

Wales is called the land of song probably  because it’s language is liquid gold that spills off the tongue in musical cadences.    For non-welsh speakers the sounds are hard to explain but ‘ff’ is prounounced ‘f’, ‘dd’ as ‘the’, ‘w’ as ‘ow’, ‘y’ as in ‘oo’ and ‘ch’ is hard as in loch not ouch

The Town Council in Brecon has just invested in  a poetry trail and this one is by a friend of mine who also writes in English.

Mwylachen y Mynydd literally the Mountain Blackbird is the Welsh name for the Ring Ouzel.
A translation – for those who want it
Flash of black,
loud singing
princeof rock
in silver torque

Here is one from his collection The Meaning of Flight
written in English

Twyn yr Hyddod

I’ve had enough of elegies
but must have you know
that mountain where I used to run
marking bounds at the edge of breath,
how its roads exotically wind
among the skirts of the hill,
its acres of snapped stone
hard turf and whin
ignore the long slopes’ fall
to where the pit no longer is.

His thrown ash has left no scent or mark.
The smell’s of nothing but bright air.
And for a sound
hear a skylark, who
forgetting she’s a cliché
always on the brink of falling, climbs
singing up through daylight
just far enough to break your heart.

I thought I’d like to share some of Chis’s poetry  if you want to visit his site its

Language and Rights

I want to continue the theme of last week’s blog about language and the meaning of words but in a much more specific context.  I have been worrying about the way in which despite the use of words that imply we have ever more freedoms and choice we are in fact losing rights and being ever more curtailed in our freedoms.   We encounter assertions of rights as we encounter sounds: persistently and in great variety.

Wesley Hohfeld died at 40, he was Professor of Law at Harvard and his published work consists of one slim book with a long title Fundamental Legal Conceptions as Applied in Judicial Reasoning.   This book was one of my study texts in my third year at university and it exercised a very profound influence on my thinking.

Hohfeld created a very precise analysis which distinguished between fundamental legal concepts and then identified the relationships between them.  His analysis of rights is a framework of elegance and simplicity revealing that most familiar rights, such as the right to free expression or the right of private property, have a complex internal structure. Such rights are ordered arrangements of basic components, much in the same way that most molecules are ordered arrangements of chemical elements.

Hohfeld identified four basic “elements” of Rights; Privileges, Claims, Powers and Immunities.  Each of these has a distinctive logical form, and the incidents fit together in characteristic ways to create complex “molecular” rights.  Each of the incidents—the privilege, claim, power, and immunity—can be a right when it occurs in isolation but each Right has an opposite and a correlative.  Hohfeld was primarily concerned with legal rights but his analysis extends equally well to moral and ethical questions.

That is probably more than enough Jurisprudence for anyone who is not a lawyer but I wanted to explain the background to my thinking that prompted this blog.

Most people who are not lawyers or philosophers would probably define ‘Right’ as meaning ‘what is just or fair’ but this is not the same as our modern subjective sense of ‘a Right’.   So why is this important?  Isn’t what we mean by ‘a Right’ clear enough for all practical purposes?  Well I would argue that it isn’t that each and every one of us needs to have a precise and clear understanding of what we mean when we talk of ‘rights.’

This is really a development of the point at which I ended last week’s blog; the way in which the language we speak limits us to the modes of perception already inherent in that language.  The form or label comes to be not merely a useful reference in a catalogue system but a limit and constraint on our thinking and we are vulnerable to other people shifting that meaning without our being aware of it.  Hohfeld identifies ‘Privilege’ as the type of right that is contained in the idea that I have NO DUTY NOT TO DO IT.  In other words there is no infringement of another’s rights in any sense in my painting my bedroom in black and red stripes or picking up a shell on the beach.  What is being steadily and in my opinion rapidly eroded is this type of right and it is going unnoticed in the white noise created by the multiplicity of assertions of rights and counter rights.

Now nobody is going to take away my ‘right’ to paint my bedroom but they are enacting legislation that will curtail and control the way I act in public.  I have no duty not to walk down the High Street wearing a hoodie but my privilege to do this may now be curtailed if it causes annoyance or nuisance, similarly if I stand outside the chip shop talking to a group of friends I may be the recipient of an order preventing me from doing this in future because it causes annoyance or nuisance.  These terms lack any legal precision and are so broad and generalized that they could be used to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.   These terms replace the previous test of anti-social behaviour namely behaving in a manner likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.  A far more restrictive test than annoyance or nuisance; under the new definition protesters, buskers, preachers, and young people just hanging out with friends could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.  These are laws which are capable of extraordinary abuse in the same way as the notorious ‘sus’ laws were and they will no doubt be applied equally inequitably.  I doubt very much whether anyone will hand me out an injunction for wearing a hoodie but if I was sixteen and black they might well.

What worries me is that people don’t recognise the infringement of perfectly acceptable rights that this entails.  Understanding the framework of rights and the way they build on and interlock with each other is key to preventing their erosion by stealth.

Words and what they mean

shep quote copy

Shep quoting Lao Tsu and Sartre

It is an interesting hypothesis that once all humans spoke the same language.  Or that at least all languages derived from one prehistoric mother tongue.

Noam Chomsky’s theory is that language is so unique to humans that it must have arisen suddenly as the result of a single chance mutation occurred in one individual on the order of 100,000 years ago, instantaneously installing the language faculty.  Nice idea but I’m sure it is wrong.  It is not impossible that some individuals were ahead of the game in inventing language (as Leonardo was with submarines and helicopters) but there’s a lot of truth in the phrase ‘an idea whose time has come’.   Noam Chomsky I feel overlooked a fundamental fact about human nature and we haven’t really changed that much in the last hundred thousand years which after all is a mere blink of the eye in evolutionary terms.   I’m sure that if one evening round the fire an individual had suddenly announced ‘Hey listen up people I’ve invented this amazing thing called spoken language’ covert glances would have been exchanged, temples touched and he or she would have found themselves the recipient of the Palaeolithic  equivalent of care in the community.

Language emerged so far back in human prehistory that the relevant developments have left no direct historical traces but I tend to think it probably evolved in response to changes in our social structures.  Writing arose from symbols and I suspect language arose from signs and sounds in some way.  Plato believed that language developed out of sheer practical necessity and like a lot of his ideas it has some merit!  The theory I like best is what is called the lying hypothesis.  E. H. Sturtevant argued that, since all real intentions or emotions get involuntarily expressed by gesture, look or sound, voluntary communication must have been invented for the purpose of lying or deceiving.  He proposed that the need to deceive and lie–to use language in contrast to reality for selfish ends– was the social prompting that got language started.  It also very neatly explains why human communication is so fundamentally different from that of other species.  Bees don’t tend to lie about where the pollen is then piss themselves laughing as half the hive shoots of in the wrong direction.

Our language centre sits in the left hemisphere of the brain, the one that categorises and orders and language also creates false separations and objectifications through its symbolizing power.   Modern languages, for example, employ the word “mind” to describe a thing dwelling independently in our bodies, as compared with the Sanskrit word, which means “working within,” involving an active embrace of sensation, perception, and cognition.  Words and the way we use them subtly shape our entire way of life, including the way we think.   The language we speak limits us to the modes of perception already inherent in that language.  The fact that language is only form and yet moulds everything goes to the core of what ideology is.  The use of words to shift perceptions, to induce a change of attitude has been exploited by politicians and advertisers probably since the Neolithic because it works on our dependence on language.  Once the door to language opened it became impossible to imagine what we were like without it.

I come back to the subject of chaos thinking and the fundamental difference between knowledge by description not knowledge by acquaintance.  The former is a function of our left brain, knowledge that is mediated, inferential and categorised, the latter a function of direct unmediated experience of the world.  This direct unmediated knowledge is an important part of our ability to question and to innovate both as individuals and as a species.