incompleteness of Language

When formal systems such as Arithmetic and Geometry see Kurt Gödel coming, they run screaming into the night. Why? For fear that their foundations will be exposed as rickety, unstable, unsound and unsupported under the merciless microscope of Godel's incompleteness theorems.

As a formal system for locating, identifying, capturing and transmitting meaning, Language is not immune to the Gödelian virus. In the same way as the axioms of Arithmetic and Geometry can only be proved outside of those systems, so too can the consistency and completeness of Language statements only be established by stepping outside of Language. In other words, the absolute, pure, true meaning of words can only be established outside of Language.

Words are labels that language users apply to elements of reality. Words are signs with which language users point to elements of reality. Words have no meaning of their own, no intrinsic meaning, only the meanings assigned by language-users and language-makers. Disagreement is what happens when language users have different points of view about which and whether labels apply in each case.

You and I understand the statement “I went to work today” because we are members of a culture—a context--in which agreement has been reached about the application of the labels “I”, “went”, “to”, “work”, and “today”. However, there is no absolutely true and correct application of those labels, in all contexts for all time. The label “went” would be meaningless to a being without mobility, a tree for instance. The label “work” only ‘works’ in the context of a socio-economic system in which activities performed at a certain place at a certain time in a certain way are labelled as “work”, while other activities performed at other places at other times in other ways are labelled as “play”, or “recreation” or “personal time”. But in other socio-economic systems and cultures (real or imaginary) the distinction between “work” and “play” may not exist.

Einstein's theory of General Relativity shows that there are no privileged frames, no absolute time or space applicable everywhere or anywhere. Similarly, there are no absolute meanings or truths, with one exception: that which encompasses all meanings and all truths, ie, Everything That Is Has Been Will Be and Could Be (ETI).

Q: does meaning = truth?
A: Maybe, but the truth of that proposition remains to be proven.

Copyright © S R Schwarz 2007. All rights reserved.

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