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The Sound of Distant Gunfire

Sitting here on a cold, rainy morning, in the distance there is the sound of gun fire – I know it comes from shotguns in the hands of hunters in the Laguna, shooting at ducks or quail, possibly geese, improbably, one another! Actually, I do not know this, I believe it – but that is another subject.

    This summer I watched as stellar jays circling overhead, making a call that sounded very much like that of hawks. Presumably they do this scare off other birds or squirrels that might be frightened by the presence of hawks so that the jays could eat some commonly desired food. In any case it is a good example of an animal communicating something that has meaning to a certain part of the local animal kingdom. [The calls of vervet monkeys is a familiar case in which an animal communicates to other animals with some degree of specificity – three different sounds made to indicate the three types of threatening animals.]

      My point is what we hear, in this case, often denotes something that we animals [birds, squirrels, monkeys, humans] understand. The inquisitive will ask: Is there a difference in these situations regarding *understanding?* This brings up the meaning of *understanding.* We clearly depend on such words, even though they are often, if not always, open to deeper inquiry that can lead to a fruitless regression. IMO, there is little if any difference in the two situations, but the introduction of the word *understanding* makes us focus on something that might just be irrelevant. The existence of words [concepts] that serve our explanation is profoundly important – without them we might be lost, and without them philosophy has no decent meal to eat. Read what Wallace Matson says about the word *sensation:*

     The Greeks did not lack a concept of mind, even of a mind separable from the body. But from Homer to Aristotle, the line between mind and body, when drawn at all, was drawn to put the process of sense perception on the body side. This is one reason why the Greeks had no mind-body problem. Another is that it is difficult, almost impossible, to translate such a sentence as *What is the relation of sensation to mind [or soul]?* into Greek. The difficulty is in finding a Greek equivalent for *sensation* in the sense philosophers make it bear….*Sensation* was introduced into philosophy precisely to make it possible to speak of a conscious state without committing oneself as to the nature or even the existence of external stimuli. [Matson, Mind-Body Problem]

       The reasons for the invention of new words [concepts] is rather similar to the reason physicists introduce new subatomic particles, even though there is yet no evidence for their existence – they are useful in explaining or justifying a certain theory. We now find the existence of meaning for such abstractions as consciousness and sensation, because they have gained an enormous currency in speech and thought; i. e. they are discoverable in use – not in actuality – as opposed to the subatomic particle that is eventually proven to actually exist via experimentation and discovery.

     What happens when such words/concepts are challenged or omitted from discourse? We are forced to shift gears and think a different way about the world and ourselves. IMO, this gear shifting is liberating, not confining. If it may lead to the removal of many bricks in the edifice of philosophy, that may be so, but perhaps another, stronger one can be built.

[Incidentally, I used the term *concepts* which is another of those words – how difficult it is to do without them! Perhaps I should have simply left it at *words* which I presume is far less open to challenge and analysis?]

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