there is nothing in nature to answer to our words

No doubt it is often convenient to formulate the mental facts in an atomistic sort of way, and to treat the higher states of consciousness as if they were all built out of unchanging simple ideas which ‘pass and turn again.’ It is convenient often to treat curves as if they were composed of small straight lines, and electricity and nerve-force as if they were fluids. But in the one case as in the other we must never forget that we are talking symbolically, and that there is nothing in nature to answer to our words. A permanently existing ‘Idea’ which makes its appearance before the footlights of consciousness at periodical intervals is as mythological an entity as the Jack of Spades.                – William James


8 responses to “there is nothing in nature to answer to our words

  1. What do we make of the status of the symbolic here, though? There is such a thing as a Jack of Spades, after all.

    • hey Adam, help me out here as a Jack of Spades isn’t the Jack of Spades and in card games and all the role/value is ruled no?

      • Are you saying the Jack of Spades isn’t the Jack of Spades outside of a context/set of rules that defines it as such?

      • sounds about right, I’m saying that there are just things (like playing cards or books) that we learn to use and than cues/behaviors/expressions/etc that people enact and we respond to, so yes context/socialization/etc (with some moderating sense after Ingold and all of variations/improvisation) is vital (keeping in mind that contexts/assemblages are changing and not set).
        Embodied critters (including us) and the material world (physics) we make our ways in/of, no more no less.

  2. Ah, didn’t catch the shift in articles from “the” to “a.” What difference does it make in this context?

    • ah sorry was typing the above when yer comment came thru, just as there is no Ur/Archetypal-Mickey Mouse somehow coming thru (like some spirit haunted eastern orthodox icon) the endless dolls, cartoons, etc, that we loosely identify with the name/term MM (pace larval-levi) there is no actual/virtual Jack of Spades just particular cards, drawings, tattoos, spoken sounds, and so on. Better understood in terms of familial resemblances if you will.
      maybe sometime we should try and skype or the like and see if I can be clearer that way as my writing skills are limited.

      • Yeah, I’d be into the Skype thing. I’m wondering if we could even do some kind of salon-type thing over the Internet. Not as fun as meeting face-to-face but better than nothing.

        About our Jack of Spades, though:

        The design on the card, not to mention the card itself, including its colors, shapes, the visibility of the character, its likeness to actual people, etc., aren’t these part of the material word?

        And then what about my ability to continually pull from different decks a Jack of Spades in Vegas, my living room, and at my grandma’s house—surely the resemblance is rooted in us critters but isn’t even this intersubjective space part of the material world as well?

      • sure the (various) designs/marks are part of the material world but the likenesses are functions of our bodies/perceptions/manipulations and so not ‘out’ in the world, and as such for certain purposes/relations we can say that you pull out jacks (plural) in those settings but not The Jack, easier generally for our interests/inter-actions (as WJ notes) to treat them as being the same.
        Don’t think there is intersubjective space if that means sharing experiences but if we want (more than not) the same things in a situation (like to play poker) than we may well be disposed (if not outright trained) to work/act in like ways (as say excepting a jack to be higher than a 10 lower than a queen).

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