Comments 10

On the multiplicity of languages…

Languages are fascinating systems…
Puzzles, really…

With a language, one begins to think in concrete steps.
Steps that can be transferred to another person, with more or less complete understanding.
We can now begin to explore… ourselves and our environment.
We can begin our quest for understanding, and truth.

Without a language… well…

Math, among other things (and contrary to what you may think of it) is a language.
And just like any other language, i
t has its rules and logic; its own grammar and composition.
Within such a system, correctly applied, can lie the entire Universe, open to our gaze.
The trick is in the application.

But to conclude that the language you use to understand something is in fact that thing itself, is to have missed a step or two somewhere along the way.
To think that the item you refer to as a ‘chair’ has no reality outside of that word is at best silly; and rather puts the cart before the horse…

The word ‘chair’ is but a metaphor, for that conglomeration of materials we’ve fashioned to perform the highly under-rated function of providing me with a place to park my carcass… a shorthand, for all of that information which we’ve, more or less, all agreed to accept as a general description.

Math, too, seems to me to be a shortcut; a generally agreed upon metaphor to express what is going on in the Universe around us.
But you’ll notice that when the cosmologists have ‘discovered’ something, they still have to talk about it using words.
Math is a means to knowledge; not the thing you are now knowledgable about.
Math can describe the formation of a star…
It is not the star itself…

Now, Math may, indeed. be your preferred method for understanding your place in the cosmos…
But it is far from the only method.

You might as well say that English is the only acceptable language for expressing universal truths, merely because it happens to be the language you know.
You might as well say that because you don’t speak French, or Slovakian or Arabic, that those languages are worthless.
Of what use does the Arabic speaker have for the word ‘chair’? Or เก้าอี้, or कुरसी or ປະທານ…?

What mindless hubris we insist upon practicing on each other.
What complete and utter contempt we must feel for all other parts of humanity…
For those who cannot, or will not join our little club…

The language you’ve chosen is merely a framework upon which to hang your theories out to dry… to see if your thinking can withstand the brutal scrubbing it’ll need, in order to be washed clean.

Why condemn Music or any other art as secondary; of no importance to the supremacy of mankind? Why be so insistent that only the sciences can save the country? Or the economy? Or mankind?
Is it because you can’t speak the language of Music, that you’ve deemed Music to be superfluous?

I tell you truly, the solution to the problem of all wars everywhere lies in the heart of Shostakovitch’s String Quartet No. 8… and that the solution to our climate woes resides within the opening movement of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2…

Let those who have ears, hear…

To choose math or science and then insist it’s the only system that matters, is to have missed the whole point of there being more than one method of knowledge to begin with.

EJ Liederstein




  1. postcardsedge says

    Joseph Kosuth’s “One and Three Chairs”…continues to haunt. Thanks for the post it was fun to read.


  2. I speak read and write three languages and the beauty in each one can’t be compared. Speaking many languages helps you understand that one cannot express enough. Music and math is a whole other world, yes, but completely different…Interesting post and kept me reading…nice.


  3. Interesting indeed! I’ve always thought Maths was it’s own language. It’s not a language I’ve ever felt comfortable with though. My older brother has always loved it! I do like classical music, but I’m not very familiar with Shostakovitch, so not entirely sure what you mean – perhaps I should scoot off and listen to some?!! 😉 It is an illusion to believe the only language that exists is what comes from a human vocal chord, that’s definitely not the case. Body language is a favourite of mine. Over the years I’ve learned to work people out by their body language even before they speak to me. Language is a complex and fascinating subject. Thanks for an inspiring post! 🙂


    • I think what was meant by the comment on Shostakovitch is that you can hear the pain inside the music… possibly more so than most other pieces… but I haven’t heard everything there is…
      Thanks for your kind words.


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