Turning takes

A path is made by people walking on it; a path discovers itself by crossing with other paths.

Reader, I beg you will think this matter out for yourself, and then you can see — I wish I could — whether your independently formed opinion does not fall in with mine.

— Peirce, CP 4.540 (‘Prolegomena’, 1906)

Once a person has escaped the cage of his own opinions by entering into the quest for truth, even the internal monologue, the stream of consciousness expressed as a train of thought, can be a dialogue, or even a dialog (for the difference, see the obverse of this chapter). What counts is the sense of mission, the spirit of inquiry. The logic of this, as Peirce saw it, is that each thought is addressed by the self you are now to the self you will be momentarily: past self addresses future self through present semiosis, and the former future self proceeds to test the received idea. A philosophical writer like Peirce will typically test an idea in this way, sometimes for years, before she considers it worthy to launch into the great conversation for further testing.

The appearance of monologue, then, can be deceptive. The difference between an ordinary conversation and the reading of a text like this one is mostly a matter of medium (spoken, written, printed, electronic, etc.) and of time scale. The great conversation among authors is simply a macro-dialog, in which each partner can take years, or a lifetime, to consider and deliver his reply to what’s been said before. Since a partner does not have to wait her turn, and can reply to any number of prior texts all at once, this conversation is ‘wired’ in parallel rather than series – it’s a network rather than a train of thought. Even readers who never write are involved in this conversation, to the extent that their reading makes a difference in how they live their lives. True, the reader/author relationship is not symmetrical in ‘real time’ like the partnership in a face-to face conversation, because the text of a book does not change in response to the reader’s contribution – but the meaning certainly does. A book on the shelf means nothing at all. Don’t think that the meaning is all in the text, or all in your mind. The meaning is in the relationship, the intimate space, between you and me. Regardless of scale or medium, dialog is always talking through together.

Growing meaning

When we read the primary scripture, the Book of Nature, scientifically, we assume that its development was continuous and consistent – that the Mind of its Creator does not contradict itself, but changes itself continuously (evolves), so that throughout any measurable span of spacetime, at least some of its legisigns continue to govern unfolding events. In science, when well-documented facts or observations appear to be mutually contradictory, we guess that there is something wrong with the theoretical framework(s) within which some of those facts have been hitherto understood.

Likewise, when a systematic philosopher such as Peirce appears to make an assertion incompatible with some previous assertion of his own, without giving any indication that the new assertion is a correction or improvement of the older one, our first guess should be that our interpretation of at least one of his statements is faulty. We could call this the principle of hermeneutic fallibilism. The next step is to look for a more comprehensive interpretation of the author’s work, whereby the statements in focus appear complementary rather than contradictory, or occupy different contextual niches in a consistent meaning space, or represent different stages in the development of a single consistent system. If we do come up with a more comprehensive interpretation, it may bear fruit in future readings of this writer’s work, revealing more of its depth, breadth and complexity – perhaps more than its author himself recognized. Or the hypothetical framework may prove incompatible with subsequent readings, and have to be discarded in its turn. If no such comprehensive interpretation seems to work, then the next hypothesis to try is that the author has changed his mind on the subject without giving notice of the change – or that his system is not so consistent as we thought.

Of course, all this deep reading requires sustained attention, which means not turning attention to other possible objects in the meantime.

What you think

If you don’t argue with me, I don’t know what I think.

We speak, not only to tell others what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think.

— J. Hughlings Jackson (Dennett 1991, 194)

“How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?”

— the old lady in the anecdote related by E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, Chapter 5

… the thinking subject himself is in a kind of ignorance of his thoughts so long as he has not formulated them for himself, or even spoken and written them, as is shown by the example of so many writers who begin a book without knowing exactly what they are going to put into it.

— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 206)

So see we so as seed we sow.

Finnegans Wake (250)

Deeper logic

When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip (Thoreau). Or as Eugene Gendlin put it a century later,

the chief malaise of our society is perhaps that it allows so little pause and gives so little specifying response and interpersonal communion to our experiencing, so that we must much of the time pretend that we are only what we seem externally, and that our meanings are only the objective references and the logical meanings of our words.

— Gendlin (1962/1997, 16)

As Goffman (1959) demonstrated, ‘pretending that we are only what we seem’ is crucial to the maintenance of social roles, “team” membership and morale – our personae or masks. This is probably true of all societies, not only ‘ours,’ but especially in this age of proliferating information we need ways to dip into deeper, more intimate meanings: we need intimologies, which entail a resurrection of the body as meaning space, and a deepening of “logic” into the study of semiosis (the process of meaning) as pioneered by Peirce.

Faith

“Faith” can be invested either in conscious beliefs or in implicit grounding principles (presuppositions); what they have in common is an element of implicit trust which motivates application of the principles.

Let’s say I ask you to define the meaning of the word ‘experience.’ Whatever definition you offer will use at least several other words, but it’s the word ‘experience’ which is in focus because it’s the word being defined. The other words are all in the background, which implies that their meanings must remain both implicit and stable: both of us have to trust those words to have definite meanings, otherwise the definition is not going to be of any use to us. We must also have faith in each other, as with all acts of communication between people: we have to assume a certain level of honesty and good will, for instance.

We might call this ‘implicit faith.’ But observe what happens when we shift the focus of the dialog, for instance by trying to define one of the words that played a supporting role in the definition of ‘experience.’ Once a word is raised into focus, then its meaning can be called into question. We can (and often do) decide that the usual or assumed meaning is no longer good enough, and we have to override it to come up with a better one; and in the new process of defining the term, we have to rely on a host of implicit supports just as we did before. So implicit faith is inescapable in acts of meaning generally, yet our faith in any specific meaning is ad hoc and ceases to operate implicitly as soon as we make it explicit.

One can of course refuse to override one’s default assumptions, so that the defaults become permanent fixed settings unalterable by circumstance. The result is dogmatism or “blind faith.” But making this move in conversation entails breaking faith with one’s partners. If you have explicit faith that your usage of a word is ‘correct’ from some absolute point of view, and your partner’s usage differs from that one in some way, then you have already lost faith that your partner may have some insight to offer you.

Explicit expression of belief is the visible tip of an iceberg floating deep in the sea of implicit faith.