How to experience the radicality of language: A new practical exercise (you will need an apple)

Getting across to people my radical view of language is very difficult, since it is not about telling them or persuading them with words, more about experiencing it.

I have a new practical experience you can try which might help… below…

The main radical thing for language use is that the material basiswhat makes it concrete or what makes language an event in this world—is about what other people do, not whatever it is you think you are talking about.

This goes against (and refutes) centuries of western metaphysics and all the usual ‘conceptual’ problems of language (Guerin, 2016, Appendix Tractatus Psychologica).  I had an earlier blog, for example, on how ‘word salad’ is perfectly good language and has an amazing effect on people!

What I will argue against below (by practice or experience not by logical arguments) has even been the subject of papers in western metaphysics, but they have got it all around the wrong way (e.g., Quine on observational sentences or on ontology).  They assumed wrongly that the material basis of language is “what we talk about” rather than “what consequates what we say?” or “what effects do our words have?”.  Big mistake…

The practical exercise or experience…

Step 1. Okay, you can do this best with a friend standing next to you or by yourself with an imaginary friend (I won’t judge you…)

Step 2. You will need an apple, which you should hold up high and close to you and your (imaginary) friend

Step 3. I want you to say two sentences out loud and think about what you experience before going on to the next part I will write… okay?

Step 4. Here are the two sentences…

Sentence 1. “This is an apple”

Sentence 2. “In Egypt there are very old pyramids”

So, do Step 3 now!  Then take a while to ‘savour’ this experience, or even repeat the two sentences.

<time passing>

What I want you to experience is the following.  In some way(s), which might differ between people, the language use of Sentence 1 compared to Sentence 2 somehow seems:

  • More true
  • More direct
  • More verifiable
  • Closer
  • Less distant
  • More certain
  • More observable
  • More real
  • More concrete
  • Less complex

Here is the point: in terms of the material basis or event status or concreteness of the language use…

these two sentences are identical!!!

The first use of language is not ‘more concrete’ nor ‘more certain’ nor ‘less complex’ than the second.  They are the same.


Because the material basis of any language use is what your audience does.

In both cases the events actually stemming from your two sentences are happening right there next to you 100%.  One is not less of an effect than the other!

In fact, your friend might have said “Yes, I know” to both sentences–the same effect happening for Sentence 1 and Sentence 2.  It does not matter that one is right in front of your nose and the other a long way away (apologies to anyone reading this in Egypt near Giza, as if…).

Your words are materially ‘connected’ (by consequences) to your listener, not to the ‘subject matter’.

My point is that we normally confuse (like philosophers have all along) the language we use with the ‘objects or events we appear to reference’, but these latter are not the material basis or event status of any language use.  The material basis of the language use, “This is an apple”, is not the apple but whatsoever your friend does.

To go back to word salad, if you had pointed to the apple and said, “This is my head of lettuce” you would have had a different effect on your friend but nonetheless the consequences of your use of language would still be from your friend standing very patiently there.  Your words would not show “an unclear referent” or ‘disorganized thought’ (DSM) but different effects on your listeners.

So, my prediction. If you can train yourself to a point where you can say, “That is a chair” and “The earth’s moon has a dark side” and experience that the first is not closer than the second, nor more direct, nor more true, etc., then you really will understand my radical view of language use.  It will be worth it…


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