Updated: Apr 9, 2022
I remember the days when evangelical Christians used to approach me with "do you believe in God?" That was rarely an honest question. It was an attempt to convert me. "Define believe" used to be my response. If they provided a good enough definition, which never happened, I had a bigger task for them-- define God. You can sabotage any conversation by asking people to define their terms. People have a hard time doing it because most words are inherently meaningless, specifically abstract words such as love, friendship, purpose, respect, and kindness. I heckled in order to make them question themselves, hoping they might learn in the process that they didn't know what they were talking about. They were holding on to concepts they had themselves created. Life would have been much easier if they had given up these concepts or given up trying to package the human experience into discrete words. The human experience came before the first word was spoken and much before the first word was written. Words only loosely capture some of it. Converting an experience into words is like converting an analog signal into digital. Some information from the original signal is lost forever. If you convert it back to analog, you cannot do so without compromising precision. The same is the problem with redefining that which was summarized into a word when it was first spoken or written. The word was a summary, not the original text, not the original experience. You cannot go back to it. To define an abstract word is just as futile as converting a digital signal back to the original analog signal. When philosophers establish definitions, they create ideas. They make the tail wag the dog. Words are not prior to that which they represent but posterior to it, almost like symbols to fill in the blanks. In general, avoid using abstract words. They mean nothing. But for practical purposes, when you use an abstract word, its meaning is evoked by the context. If I ask you to define good, you're gonna struggle not because you are not philosophically developed but because good doesn't mean anything by itself. But if I say that it is not good to talk shit behind other people's back, good suddenly has meaning. Notice that in this example not good also gets contextually defined. If I ask you to define kindness, you're gonna struggle. If I said that it was kind of Roger to talk to the new boy at school, kindness suddenly has meaning and so does not kindness. Tell children a new word. They are clueless. Use the same word a few times. They suddenly know what it means. Thus, we see that the real meaning resides in the context. In fact, in practical usage, the meaning of a word is produced by all words in the sentence but the given word. A word and its context go together. Without the word, the context is incomplete. Without the context, the word is meaningless. When we want to go deeper than their practical usage, the duality dissolves into a unity.
It is all one until you look at it. Then, there are two. Quit looking and they again dissolve into one.