Humpty Dumpty, words, gestures, and me.

Pamela McLean and David Pinto: An Exploration of the future through a mixture of fact and fiction.

In "Alice in Wonderland" -  or maybe "Through the Looking Glass" -  Alice is exasperated by Humpty Dumpty. It's all about the way he's using language. Humpty insists on using words  to mean what he chooses them to mean - never mind what they mean to other people.

I'm with Humpty Dumpty on that.

I can see his point.

It's hard enough to find words to capture enough meaning to explain things to myself. Maybe I should stop worrying if the words mean something different to other people. People have different cultural reference points. Words are rooted in individual experiences. We construct our own meaning as we live our lives  - even the simple words "parent", "school", "breakfast"  - are deeply rooted in our personal lives and times and cultures. As for using words to share ideas ...  maybe we are even crazy to try.

We don't think in words do we? We think in thoughts. And those thoughts don't come in straight lines – they come through connections. That's why it's such a struggle to express thoughts in a linear way, when inside you they are all churning and bubbling, connecting and exploding, combining, reforming, doing whatever it is that thoughts do when you're thinking them (or maybe, in fact, the thoughts are simply using you...in order to get themselves thought) anyhow they just do whatever it is that thoughts and ideas do when they are happening.

It's hard putting things into words.

I can drive people crazy when I talk.

I keep failing to provide a linear narrative. I start sentences and don't end them. I interrupt myself. I seem incapable of choosing between what people must know, what they should know, and what they could know.  I wave my  arms around. (I wave them around when I'm on the phone as well. I can't think out loud without using my hands.)

I've replayed in my mind what my hands are doing when I talk.

I think I use them to place “half thoughts” in the air around me as I refer to them. Then I come back and tug at some of them, and chop through others. I reach out to claw some back, combine them, prod and poke them, pummel them, push some away again....

So what do gestures have to do with Humpty Dumpty and his use of words? The gestures  are a step towards  taking thoughts (that are internal) and somehow placing them and organising them in a way that is external.  Words are an attempt to do the same thing.  They too, pull on an internal reality.

The fact is of course, that the reality that my words come from is not the same reality that your words come from - even when we're trying to understand each other. We may use the same words to try to frame some shared thoughts, but we each bring those words wih a different heritage.

So Humpty-Dumpty had it right really.

From now on, Humpty Dumpty is my role model. When I use a word, it'll mearn what I mean it to mean. If there is enough shared meaning to connect with what you mean by the word let's celebrate the overlap - however temporary it may be.

Let's exchange some words and thoughts with each other for a while. moving on togther, creating new ideas and understanding. The new understanding will take one form for you and another for me,  just as the words we use in the exchange will mean one thing to you - and another to me - but that's fine.  Let's accept that mismatch and not trouble ourselves over much about the difference.

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