— The semantic environment —

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

The Word appears to be the Logos, through which all things are made, and seen as divine. The Stoic philosophers identified the term with the divine animating principle pervading the universe.

Where lions can chase and kill us and loved ones arrive to embrace us in the physical environment, our semantic environment can produce both greater terrors and equal or greater blessings. There may be no greater manifestation of a continuing terror in our semantic environment than the inquisitions, based on totalitarian ideologies, which appear to dog every age. As we moved from the physical daily risks of the hunting era, the dogmas and doctrines of our increasingly complex semantic environment appear to have provided at least an equal potential for danger for the individual, especially one trying to experience individuality or liberty. And, one should add, the potential for a more fulfilled life.

As we age and mature we begin to appreciate the two worlds of the physical and the semantic. If one is hounded and shunned and perhaps imprisoned for what one reads, writes, or looks at, one's grief comes not from the physical world but from the semantic or evaluational environment, the world where humans make dogmas, doctrines and laws, described by Samuel Bois as the world of mental constructs, our man-made and man-organized world of abstractions. So how the rules and laws are made is all-important for both our wellbeing and our survival, but the ways in which the laws are made and implemented are interwoven with the quality of the semantics, or perhaps Bois would say the epistemics, the accuracy and truth or at least truthfulness in the sense of not being artful, deceitful or disingenuous, above all not using constructs simply to communicate but as self-serving, especially to hurt others in the course of achieving our selfish or political ends.

J. Samuel Bois, who invented epistemics, describes two worlds in which we live, as follows: "Let us speak of two worlds in which we live. One is the empirical world of things, people, movements that we can see, phenomena that we can observe. Some call it the world of reality, and we agree to its existence and its properties because we all have the same sensory apparatus and share common perceptions.

"The other world is the world of mental constructs, our man-made and man-organized world of abstractions, or units of discourse. It is the world that we carry around with us wherever we go and whatever we do. I have called it elsewhere our structured unconscious. Each item in this world is a part of speech: noun, adjective, verb, etc. A part of speech is a unit of discourse. These units differ from one culture to another, as our units of measure (inches, feet, yards) differ from the metric system, with its millimetres, centimetres and meters, or as our units of money (dollars, quarters, dimes, and nickels) differ from the pounds and shillings of England. In matters of measurement and of money, it is evident that our mental world determines the manner in which the empirical world is parcelled out- - - . From (these) evident facts, let us try to pass to the idea that our whole empirical world is also parceled out according to the mental pattern we carry about in our structured unconscious. In other words, our units of discourse determine the units of 'reality' we deal with in our empirical world, or - however paradoxical it may sound at the moment - our world is what we say it is."

This requires much patient reflection, but while it is both desirable and probably essential for our survival to make meanings in a more careful way, 'making meaning' is not simply a cognitive exercise (organize, collect, laws, rules, etc.) One only has to picture an ancient man standing alone on a great plain under an even greater sky to appreciate how meaning can begin in silence at the affective level. It may begin with a sense, and combining with past experiences or other things or people around us, evolve into a feeling. The more gifted amongst us may then be able to express it in words or art.

Our semantic environment, which has created our civilization and underpins it and all that we hold worthwhile and even great, has also worsened our displacement, first from nature and God and then through the inadequate and spurious ideologies, which we appear unable to avoid, even from each other, such as when moral panics destroy neighbourliness and sow suspicion and dissent, leading to social isolation.

A fascinating mental exercise is to take the model of semantics which begins with the existence of doctrines and dogmas, and imagine several other 'domains of meaning' or 'levels of awareness', in an imaginary world where we have moved beyond the domain of doctrines and dogmas, into one where we discard black and white labelling, a priori assumptions, and accept ambiguity.



Modified: 11:15 9 Aug 2006
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