"Can we bring ourselves to realise… just how overwhelmingly much of what we mean by "reality" has been built up for us through nothing but our symbol systems? Take away our books, and what little do we know about history, biography, even something so "down to earth" as the relative position of seas and continents? What is our "reality" for today (beyond the paper-thin line of our own particular lives) but all this clutter of symbols about the past combined with whatever things we know mainly through maps, magazines, newspapers, and the like about the present? In school, as they go from class to class, students turn from one idiom to another. The various courses in the curriculum are in effect but so many different terminologies. And however important to us is the tiny sliver of reality each of us has experienced first hand, the whole overall "picture" is but a construct of our symbol systems. To meditate on this fact until one sees its full implications is much like peering over the edge of things into an ultimate abyss. And doubtless that’s one reason why, though man is typically the symbol-using animal, he clings to a kind of naïve verbal realism that refuses to realise the full extent of the role played by symbolicity in his notions of reality."
Saturday, 15 December 2007
A dramatic diversion
A bit off-topic but I liked this passage from Kenneth Burke about the nature of reality. He developed a theory called dramatism which is similar in approach to the Narrative Paradigm that I have posted about before. I think it really puts the nature of our belief systems in perspective.