In the popular mindset talking in circles expresses the epitome of meaninglessness, the proverbial dog chasing its tail.
We seem almost naturally disinclined to run in circles. We want our thoughts and ideas to "go" somewhere.
A merry-go-ride is fun, but ... it just goes round and round.
That most somber book in the entire Bible even speaks of the vanity of going in circles:
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which
is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes, chapter 1)
Yes, indeed, all is vanity, because, in the words of the modern pessimist, it seems to be but a matter of same shit, different day.
But I am perplexed. How could we tell if we were to actually go somewhere?
Is there some way to know—for sure—when we are not running in circles?
It may not be as easy, or simple, as you think.
For example, let us consider the hypothetical case of a person musing about themselves, a very obvious instance of going in circles, or self-referencing.
Suppose this hypothetical person were to say something like, "I am an such an oaf. I just can't believe that I am so stupid."
This is obviously an emotional outburst, but forget that for the moment.
Even though this person is saying something negative about themselves, it is meaningless, because they are saying it—about themselves. They are going in circles.
We are naturally tempted here to suggest that if someone else were to make this observation it would thereby take on some kind of meaning.
But would it?
There is a sense in which the other person is also self-referencing when/if they say the first person is stupid.
To avoid confusion let us call our two actors A and B, A being the original speaker.
A speaking of A is obvious self-referencing and therefore unquestionably meaningless.
B speaking of A is not self-referencing, which makes their statement at least somewhat meaningful.
Seems simple enough, but let's take a closer look.
Why does it mean something when B speaks of A? Who, after all, says it does?
For B to make a qualitative judgment of A (that he/she is stupid) suggests that B is fully cognizant of what it means to be stupid (or smart).
But how do we know that B is indeed cognizant of this?
Suddenly we find that there is yet another speaker required in order to properly sort out this mess, and it is us! All of us.
We (C) are observers of this little game, which means that we are in it.
So how do we know that B is blessed with the gift of discernment?
Answer: we don't. Any opinion we might have on the matter will be just that, an opinion. And you know what they say about opinions. They're like assholes. Everybody's got one, which is street language for, "It don't mean shit."
It doesn't get any better if we introduce yet another player into this game—D—who could only be a non-human (alien) player, from another galaxy, far far away.
There is no meaning even if D says there is, because who the fuck is D, and who the fuck says that they know what they are talking about? D? That would mean that D was engaging in self-referencing.
So it's a bust. Fuck it all to hell. There is no meaning, not even in the statement that says there is no meaning. Yes, even the statement, "There is no meaning," is without any meaning.
It has to be this way for the sake of consistency. You cannot say that the statement, "There is meaning" is meaningless, and thereby suggest that the statement, "There is no meaning," is not meaningless.
And even the fact that you do this, insist on some form of consistency, is not meaningful. It just means that you can sleep at night knowing that you did not tell a lie—to yourself.
In closing, we cannot help but wonder here whether there might be some sort of meaning in never discussing the subject of meaning?
This has to be answered in the negative as well. No matter what we do with the word meaning, or which direction we go with it, we must always square it with the fact that we invented the word. We would be running in circles if we tried to argue that there was indeed any sort of meaning in meaning (or outside of meaning).
February 9, 2014