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Nietzsche and Hayakawa

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Nietzsche and Hayakawa both delve into intellect and language as a means for us ignorant humans to communicate.  Because our minds and senses are so limited, we use abstracts and inferences to share meanings with one another.  With these limitations, the search for true ‘truth’ is forever just beyond our reach.  With this in mind, it is the constant struggle to obtain the unobtainable truth that defines us as human. The challenge, the struggle, the will to do and learn more, gives life a purpose. This focus on a purpose, I believe is the basis of hope for human kind.  Yes, there are many of us that have not found a purpose because it is different for each individual but time will aide most.

        The intellect of man has given us the tool of language to communicate with one another.  With all our limitations, we have achieved a communion of thoughts and ideas with each other.  By employing abstracts and inferences, we have come closer to understanding our fellow ‘ignorant humans’ now more than ever in history.


        In the essay written by Hayakawa in the book, Language in Thought and Action (1991), the author explains that we cannot perceive what we see because we can only sense the exterior of things. The actual item that we encounter is an embodiment of constantly moving and shifting molecules that may look, feel, and smell constant but in actuality, are in flux and ever changing.  So to be able to identify anything, we must generalize what our senses are gathering.

        This generalization is what is called abstracting. There are many levels of abstraction from the rapidly changing ever spinning atoms and molecules to the totally vague, all encompassing ‘life.’  Hayakawa explains “The “object” of our experience, then, is not the “thing in itself,” but an interaction between our nervous systems (with all their imperfections) and something outside them (p. 84).” 

        To be able to use abstracting properly can loosely be considered a skill.  This is said because there are many people that either don’t know how or don’t care to use multiple levels of abstraction.  They tend to either stick to the high levels (super broad or vague) or the lower levels (not categorizing individuals or small groups).  Hayakawa goes on, saying “The test of abstractions then is not whether they are “high-level” or “low-level” abstractions, but whether they are referable to lower levels (p. 93).  If you use an abstraction, you should have supporting information from a lower level just in case further information is requested or required.  


        In the article On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (n.d.), Frederich Nietzsche claims that “… he [man] employs the intellect mostly for simulation alone (para 6).” The individual wants to protect himself from others but he gets bored and has needs which makes him want to have a social life so he creates a ‘peace pact’ within himself.  This peace pact gives the shielded core an escape route to exist socially. Thus enabling the origin of the contrast between truth and lie.  The liar will use words to make false appear truthful, where as “Only through forgetfulness can man achieve the illusion of possessing a “truth” (para 7).

        Define a word, what is it?  It is the sound of a nerve stimulus.  Language is used to describe the nerve stimulus but how can a concept be truly described from one individual to another in the limited context of language?  It is in this context, using language, illusions will forever masquerade as truths. The author continues with “[truth is] a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out (para. 9).”

        So in summary, Nietzsche disputes the very existence of truth.  Because of the rudimentary nature of human senses, the acquisition of truth is impossible.  The best that can be hoped for is the acquisition of a sense of truth, but even to this end, he admits “We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from (para. 10).”  All the negativity he shows to the inadequacies of human perceptions leads me to the conclusion that hope is not warranted, man will continue in the dark stumbling from one misconstrued metaphor to another plodding along unaware of his actual surroundings.



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