I love words. They are loaded with meanings. They can unify a whole universe with only three syllables: u.ni.verse. They embody understanding, make it tangible, and seem to create it out of thin air. They paint our reality with crisp colors, organize our experiences with well-defined boundaries, and bring certainty to our anxious hearts. They weave us into giant social organisms that live for millennia to challenge nature at its own definitions. They are bottomless wells that keep flowing with precious gems. Do you remember a time when you discovered a word and you felt like a big portion of the world has revealed itself to you, almost like an epiphany?
But I also dread words. They claim to represent my reality; and yet, seem to only live in my mind. They’re mere representations, projections, shadows of my misperceptions. How can I trust a word if every now and then it decides to change meaning, or if the words that define it become obsolete? What if one day I decide to define myself with a word, proudly declaring “I believe”, and then, the next day, it betrays me by changing what it represents? Would I have to change with it, with whoever redefined it, or would I have to find a new word?
What makes things worse is that there seems to be no other way to “know” who I am. Even “I” am a symbol, and have a name for others’ imaginations to contain me. After all, life is a struggle to transform my physical existence into a symbolic world that fits the rules my society has already set for me. Words are boxes with boundaries I have very little control over. Just like my body, they empower me as much as they bound me; but unlike my body, they live in a non-physical world of abstract representations that are often hard to grasp and communicate.
My love-hate relationship with words comes from their dual nature. They live outside my mind as much as they do inside. I create them as much as they create me. After all, words are social conventions that represent experiences people have in common; otherwise, they wouldn’t deserve to be in a dictionary. Their meanings somehow live in the collective mind of a society, like genes in the cells of a body: exact copies everyone shares to harmonize the whole. What I’m saying isn’t pure gibberish only because I can trigger in you similar images and feelings as in myself; or at least I hope I can. And this is because we have, for the most part, the same underlying program: similar genes, similar bodies, similar family structures and environments etc. This allows us to create the same symbols and sounds encoding the same experiences. In short, we are the same and we define the meanings of our words together as a society; and that’s why the words we communicate – even the abstract ones – have meanings. If I ever use those words to understand myself and my surrounding, it would be in big part from the outside-in, through the lens of my society, starting from its assumptions of how the words fit together.
But now everybody writes. Why bother you with another reshuffling of words you have already seen thousands of times before? What’s the point? Do I write to reveal a buried meaning worth sharing, or do I write to entertain? Do I write to document something I’ve built, or to build yet another edifice of meanings?
The short answer is: I don’t know. Sometimes, I write to give words a voice to speak of themselves. For example, what are linguistic truths and what do they represent? Can’t a word ask, who am I? Just asking the question delights me. Sometimes, I write because I get excited when I see a pattern or when I create one; so I share it with my friends, write it down to build on it even further, or just get obsessed with it for a few days until I’ve had enough. But I mostly write for myself, often blurting out my ideas on a screen in utter chaos, with the thrill of having discovered something invaluable, yet probably incomprehensible to my two-days-later self. Now, I also write to you, my reader, to entertain you with stories of ourselves and our strange universe. It always starts from the same place: Ignorance. I like to poke into the discomfort I have from not really knowing who I am, just as a motivation; and then enjoy coming up with all sorts of answers that satisfy as much of the mind and the heart as possible. It’s a game I always play when I’m bored. Sometimes I forget, it’s a game not everyone enjoys.
The main reason I like to write is to unify. Aren’t we all driven by the desire to bring things together? I like to unify concepts in philosophy, observations and theories in science, axioms and theorems in math, sounds in music, people in a society, and myself with my deepest Self. Unfortunately, this idealist dream to unify is usually cut short by some unsurmountable paradox, or by the realization that there is always a tradeoff between union and destruction. This is the nature of all good dreams; they are elusive. But it doesn’t mean that we should stop pursuing them. At the end of the day, we have to choose the rules of our game, even when it doesn’t end within our lifetimes.