Thursday, October 15, 2015

Self as a Linguistic Error

Spiritualists, including Mr Jaggi Vasudev, like to argue that to say "My Body" is proof that I am not the body.

But then, people also say "My soul is attracted to this.", or "I love him with my body and soul."

So, to continue the argument, "I" am not even my "soul" (whatever that might be).

But that would be mistaking a linguistic convention for the proof of an entity's existence. 

It is easier, however, to just understand the "my" adjective as referring to "this".  In fact, vedantins of some sects are fond of referring to themselves as "this body" instead of "I".

As Chomksy writes in his outstanding essay on Mysteries of Nature:
Priestley urges that we also dismiss arguments based on “vulgar phraseology” and “vulgar apprehensions,” as in the quest for an entity of the world picked out by the term me when I speak of “my body,” with its hint of dualism. “According to this merely verbal argument,” Priestley observes, “there ought to be something in man besides all the parts of which he consists,” something beyond both soul and body, as when “a man says I devote my soul and body,” the pronoun allegedly denoting something beyond body and spirit that “makes the devotion.” In Rylean terms, phrases of common usage may be “systematically misleading expressions,” a lively concern at the time, based on a centuries-old tradition of inquiry into the ways surface grammatical form disguise actual meaning. Like Priestley, Thomas Reid argued that failure to attend “to the distinction between the operations of the mind and the objects of these operations” is a source of philosophical error, as in interpreting the phrase “I have an idea” on the model of “I have a diamond,” when we should understand it to mean something like “I am thinking.” In an earlier discussion, the Encyclopedist C├ęsar Chesneau du Marsais, using the same and many other examples, warned against the error of taking nouns to be “names of real objects that exist independently of our thought.” The language, then, gives no license for supposing that such words as “idea,” “concept,” “image” stand for “real objects,” let alone “perceptible objects.”


It was dawn and he hadn't slept all night.

He was riding, without permission, on a cross-country freight train.  The noise wasn't letting him sleep.  The train had passed through thousands of miles of terrain: desert, mountain, lake, forest, rock...

The train had killed many a wild animal straying on the track.  It had killed many birds in its hurtling motion.  It had gone over carcasses and boulders and fallen trees and snow and sand...

The momentum of the train was immense.  Against its momentum, nothing lasted for long.  No view was eternal, no horizon remained a horizon, no cloud was permanent, no object was an obstacle.

It was dawn and he hadn't slept all night.

The sun was coming up far in the east, and the silence and softness of that early hour was in sharp contrast with the thundering roar of the train.

On a whim he jumped off the train.  The momentum continued to thrust him forward, dragging and bouncing him by the tracks, injuring and lacerating and scraping him all over his body.

Eventually he came to rest.  The train had disappeared in the distance.  He looked around him and saw tiny leaves, flowers and dewdrops on the grass.  The sunlight was shimmering on the drops and he dared not move, afraid to disturb those precarious beads of water.

He remained that way for what seemed to him an eternity when another freight train leaped up from behind him and deafened him with its roar.  This train was filled with cattle and sheep and monkeys who were all asleep at that hour.

As the train was passing him, he gulped a mouthful of air, stood up, faced the tracks, picked up a big rock, and with all his might, threw it under the train.  He had a perverse impulse to derail it.

The wheels of the train came in contact with the rock, and crushed it to powder.  No animal on that train even registered what had happened.  In all that noise of that train, that incident was as-if silent and non-existent.  The wheel smoothly passed over that powdered rock without experiencing even a minor bump.

He laughed aloud at his own ambition and foolishness, turned around, and vanished into the forest.