A project of The Nature Institute
Biology Worthy of Life (⥥)
Quote of the Week
(June 21, 2021)
We are nothing but creatures of meaning. We never make a movement that isn’t a meaningful gesture — one that the psychiatrist, physical therapist, student of temperaments, sociologist, stage director, and all the rest of us can read with more or less success. Even an infant, in its own way, finds significance in the most subtle human movements. Any infant who is not raised in a speaking environment fails to develop anything like normal human capacities. And “speaking environment” refers to the meaning implicit in every significant gesture. Before they themselves can speak, infants take an interest in and learn to read gestures — to the point of distinguishing, in silent videos, between speakers of two languages they have never heard before.
Meaning is just there, whether we speak words or not. Every act of ours is a signifying. And we collectively understand each other’s meanings well enough to engender civilizations that are infinitely complex tapestries woven from those meanings ...
Here, then, is my question for the skeptic: Where in the pervasive matrix of meaning I have just characterized do you find an unscientific obscurantism? More particularly, which of the meanings you speak and understand and found your life upon and discover in other creatures is a puzzle to you? I would like to know the precise nature of the disreputable element in these meanings you live by — for example, in all the words you have spoken, understood, and been willing to respond to today. This collection of words, I am sure, goes far beyond the more acceptable technical terms of any particular science. Yet, apart from specially deserving cases, you don’t recoil from such words in disgust.
(from “How Biologists Lost Sight
of the Meaning of Life”)
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