Read the following passages and answer the questions based on each.
Every lover of words knows that these little symbolic units of meaning can be as contradictory as sub-atomic particles sometimes are. This may well be nature’s quixotic way of laughing at our desperate need to explain everything. It gives us a full stop, but watches helplessly, as we expand it into three dots and continue to search.
Although the measurement of the velocity of subatomic particles precludes the. measurement to their position and vice versa, it hasn’t stopped nuclear physicists from trying from searching, from attempting to pin down, to explain. And it is important.
In a book on quantum physics called In Search of Schrodinger‘s Cat, John Gribbin says something very fascinating. If a mythical god with a magical pair of infinitesimally small pliers started the task of removing one atom from a molecule of hydrogen (if I remember correctly) every second from the time of the Big Bang today, it would take another million years for him or her to complete the task. Phew!
But it is still important to try. Why? If everything is so small and the now proved quantum world is essentially indefinable, why do we go on trying to define? Because we must. It is as important to be rigorous and empirical as to accept the indefinable, Lest we forget, it is through absorption in the act of definition that we first encountered the indefinable. And it is still found there more easily than anywhere else.
But for the effort to define, how would find the indefinable? But for the setting of limits, would the notion of the limitless have ever arisen? Didn’t William Blake once remind us that we never know what is enough; unless we have known what is more than enough.
So, when we analyse words, they are paradoxical, as anything self-referential is. whether it is the language of mathematics or the language of words, self-reference engenders paradox. But one wonders why this is a cause of concern for some people, who would prefer no shades of grey.
Words are very close to what Planck called “quanta” though they are not literally packets of meaning; they are the paradoxical verbal equivalent, “receptacles of meaning”. Little drawers if you like, into which we can insert fresh meanings that expand, limit or even contradict the accepted meaning of the word or phrase.
When we say, “I’ll believe you!” for instance, we means the exact opposite. As, indeed, when we say something is “bad” in Black American language. because it means “good”.
The original meaning of the word is like a reference point on a matrix. Good, if we use. its definition as a working hypothesis. But very dangerous, if we take it as full and final, irrevocable statement of what it sets out to describe.
Why, one may ask, give the world a meaning at all, if accepting it is suspect? And why embark on the act of definition at all if the result of the definition is insignificant?
Like many wonderful and rewarding things in this mysterious world, It is not either/or but and/plus. It is like asking why we learnt to crawl, if all we are going to do is unlearning it to walk? And further, when on occasion, we are required to crawl in later life are we regressing?
Learning is a process, not a thing. If we must look a it as a thing we must look at it as lying-sittingstanding-crawling- walking-running.
To define words, and define them exactly, is very important at the outset. When one is learning a language and even through the process of getting language and even through the process of getting familiar with it, definitions and boundaries are crucial, just as following a broad road to a place is critical before we know our way there. Once we do the rules aren’t important; once we have found a dozen shorter or pleasanter ways to the place, the highway may be of little use to us.
Once we have a certain command of the language, however, rules are meant to be broken. Particularly if we are riding the crazy roller coaster of the English language. It is then what we thought was a packet turns out to be a receptacle. In the clearer light of day, when there is less confusion and obscurity, what appeared to be a serpent in the dusty light, is now quite clearly rope.
In Alice Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty says it quite brilliantly.
"I don’t know what you mean by glory', "Alice said Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously.
"Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!"
"But 'glory' doesn’t mean a nice knock-down argument’," Alice objected.
"When I use a word, " Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather sorrowful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is,"said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is, "said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be the master — that’s all."
Be that as it may, a word in your ear before the words stop. Can you ever have nice knock-down argument?
According to Humpty Dumpty:
- Alice does not know what 'glory' means.
- He is Alice's master.
- He imparts to a word the meaning he intends.
- His words are ambiguous.