“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”
Somebody famous said that. The somebody was Ludwig Wittgenstein — what a guy.
Wittgenstein came up with this idea in a book published in German in 1921, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. We know — that title just isn’t quite as catchy as the quotation itself. The Tractatus was the only book Wittgenstein ever actually published, and it’s safe to say that it’s one of the more difficult and oddly written philosophical works out there.
Wittgenstein was trying to explain the connections between reality, and the language we use to talk about it. He believed at the time that our ability to express meaningful thought was limited by the language one could use to describe “facts” about the world, as he defined them. Any language focused on non-factual matters was essentially without meaning, whereas language addressing facts could be presented as logical propositions about the nature of things, to the extent that we were capable of understanding them. Because there are things we can’t understand, and things for which there is no language that allows accurate description or definition, the limits of our language to contain “proper” meaning become the limits of our ability to understand the world of facts and express our thoughts appropriately.
Uh-huh. Even Wittgenstein himself later revisited this notion and concluded that it wasn’t quite correct.
Even if you think Wittgenstein’s work is philosophical babble (and you wouldn’t be alone), there’s a very real way in which the limits of your language ARE the limits of your world. If you’re searching for greater understanding or you want to experience personal and spiritual growth, you’d better figure out right quick exactly what “the limits of my language” really are. You also need to figure out how to alter and extend those limits.
We’ve posted before about some of the problems of language that impact your ability to broaden your understanding, clarify your internal dialogue and find your unique path to peace. You need to remember that you deal with the world through a kind of “language interface.” You also know by now that we think the language of your inner dialogue is an essential part of your personal and spiritual GPS for navigating your life. The language of that inner dialogue determines, both directly and indirectly, your feelings and your behavior toward others and toward all aspects of your life.
Get it? The language you use with others and in your internal dialogue is the means through which you deal with what’s around you in every moment of your life. Even when you’re not actually speaking with yourself in your inner dialogue, your actions and reactions always have beneath them a deeply engrained linguistic framework that’s the interpretive basis for your connection to reality.
Think about that for a moment or two. Suppose we’re actually right. That would mean that the language you use in your own head and in your dealings with others conditions the meaning and quality of every conscious moment you have, every interaction with other people, and every reaction to external “stimuli.”
We want you to be very clear: “the limits of my language” are actually those limits you’ve learned from others or set yourself in terms of the nature and content of your inner dialogue. It’s the refinement of that dialogue that’s a primary key in the development of intentional clarity.
That’s big. Really big.
That’s not all, either. If you commit to the process of refining your internal dialogue, you’ll quickly discover a couple of interesting things.
First, you’ll discover that you’re really going to need a major refresher on the way your own language works — and yes, we’re talking about things like vocabulary, sentence structures, proper usage (so that you can actually say what you mean), and so on. We’ve already told you that your ability to order a burger at a fast-food window and then actually get it does NOT make you a master of your language to the level that’s required. We’re willing to bet that at the moment, your internal dialogue is cluttered; it’s full of slang, negative pop culture terms, language that reflects problems and self-defeating attitudes, and more.
The proof is that if we were wrong, you wouldn’t be reading this now. You’d be off somewhere, dealing with the world from a state of intentional clarity and enjoying the whole process.
Second, you’ll find that the process of renewing your internal dialogue is all bound up with revisiting beliefs and assumptions that haven’t served you well. Many of those will be things you hold very close to you because you’ve made them parts of your ego.
Freeing yourself from that stuff so that you have a newer and less compromised perspective is NOT easy. It’s the focus on rebuilding your inner dialogue that will give you the “thin edge of the wedge” in dealing with that stuff effectively.
We think we can help you with that, if you like.
Let us know.
Our best to you, always,
David & Kathryn