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Language is fun.  Do our words convey what we are really experiencing?  Are words connected to, or related to, reality?  For example, linguists say that there is probably no word we use now that did not begin its life as a metaphor ; as a colourful figure of speech ; not ‘literal’ or ‘concrete’ at all.

We’re all familiar with the word sunbeam ; also we all know, when we think about it, that a beam is a plank of wood.  But no-one believes that the sun has planks of wood radiating from it.  And then there’s one of my favourites – understand.  Who really believes that, to understand that 1 + 1 = 2, we must either stand it under us or we must stand under it?  It must have been a mind-boggling metaphor when it first appeared from the quill of a scribe.  It was a word that first needed to be explained to us, and then became a word that we had to think about when we used it ourselves.

But that’s the point.  A metaphor may be so arresting, so staggering, and also so unlikely that it becomes popular quite quickly.  Thereafter, its use becomes a habit ; and then we forget that it is a metaphor ; we take it as ‘literal’.  At this stage, the word is something that is no longer thought about consciously.  Meanwhile the original literal word is oft forgotten completely.

We do a lot of thinking automatically, without realising it.  We do a lot of thinking without consciously thinking about anything.

Imagine I hear a section of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata that just happens to be playing on the radio.  As soon as I become aware of the sound, I say, “Oh, yes, that’s the Moonlight.”  Almost instantly, I have formed in my mind a figuration of the sound.  And I do not stop to think what a curious thing this figuration is.

For what is really happening is something like this.  First the radio emits some vibrations in the air ; then the vibrations fall into my ears.  What I hear in my consciousness ought to be just a noise.  But it isn’t just a noise ; I recognise it as noise I have heard before, so it is has meaning ; it is really a sound.  And, not only that, but I recognise the sound as a particular piece of music – the Moonlight.  All this happens in an instant.

But, in order to recognise the noise, I must have referred it to my memory.  And when my memory has located it, it informs me what the sound means – or do I infer the meaning?  Whatever, there is a lot of thinking going on here.  We can guess how much thinking by imagining hearing a little-known sound ; we have to comb our memory to try to recognise it ; and sometimes it eludes us.  But, in the case of a familiar sound, our complex thinking has become automatic through practice.

So, merely to be able to use a word like sunbeam, we have to think about it ; and merely to recognise a piece of music, we have to think about it.  But that thinking is so sublime that we do not even know that we are doing it.

It can be interesting to reflect just once in a while, as we gaze upon a familiar object such as a teacup, that we have done a lot of thinking simply in order to see it – to make a picture of it in our minds.

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Just as the diehard materialist believes that all knowledge comes from some primaeval event such as the Big Bang, so the diehard theist believes that all knowledge comes from the Creator.  It is significant that neither of these beliefs is supportable by any direct sensory evidence of the everyday kind, but both are derived from reason.  Both are rational constructs which, by general consent, can be said with assurance to exist only in human minds.  Much may be said about these two contrasting beliefs by way of qualification and many elaborations may be made.

But, if we are to reach  an understanding of the materialist and the spiritual points of view, then it is important to clear up some common errors.  Perhaps the most important error, and the one therefore to be avoided,  is that of literalism.

There was no Big Bang, just as there was no lady called Eurynome.  And we must come to accept that there are no such intrinsically material things as electrons and protons, just as there are no such intrinsically material things as imps and demons.  It is a matter of serious debate, however, whether such rational entities might become material things, and whether they might take this form or that.

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Almost all science (knowledge) is concerned with abstractions.  The world is too complex for a human mind to grasp in its functioning, dynamic entirety.  So we break it down into manageable chunks ; and most of those chunks are are very small indeed – chunklets – and it is these abstracted bits of the world that we study.  It is perhaps a shame that we feel impelled to do this breaking down.

As far as we can make out, Man is the creature that has the best understanding of the world.  And to gain this understanding, we basically make  models of selected parts of the world in our memories.  It follows that our models are exactly as complex as the world we know.  Therefore Man is, collectively,  at least as complex as the entire known world or universe.

But how can we break Man himself down so as to gain a deeper understanding?  There have been any number of models of Man.  But one of the most interesting is that conceived by Sigmund Freud.

Freud is well known for his system of psychoanalysis.  But underlying that, and prior to it, is his theory of psychodynamics, or the workings of the human mind – or perhaps we should say the workings of people, for Freud did not see any essential separation of mind and body.  He was, as we might say, holistic and therefore very traditional ; one might say anciently traditional.

Man is a trinity : Id : Ego : Superego.  Strange names.  But strange for a reason.  One senses that Freud was determined to break away from the fatal Cartesian dualism concerning mind and body.  He was also determined not to become trapped in the fatal materialistic tendency in biology ( he was primarily a neurologist, so saw the traps here).  But nor did he wish to revert to traditional terminology, for spirit of his age was against it.  So he constructed his own lexicon – his own metaphors.  Many say that his ideas read much better in German, and that the English translations have not served him well.

The Id ; roughly Life, or the life principle or the vegetative principle.  The Ego ; roughly the self, especially the conscious, rational self.  The Superego ; roughly the conscience or the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.

So Freud’s theory is concerned with the interactive dynamics of these three principles ; the principles that make us what we are – human.

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I have known lots of people who have got themselves into a tangle over the Book of Genesis.  It seems to me that the tangle is spun by two principal misunderstandings : that the book is to be read literally : and that it deals with the creation of the bodies of two main actors, Adam and Eve.

First, why read the story ‘literally’?  Why try to convince ourselves of the literal existence of the Ribs, Trees, Apples, Serpents and so forth?  I am not saying that the ‘literal’ account cannot possibly be true, if only because no person living today was there to contradict it ; and there are more things in Heaven and Earth than we can even dream of.  But it seems to me that we can easily overlook the rather obvious point that almost every word we use began its life as a metaphor, and that has been true for a very long time indeed.  It follows that the language of Moses was highly metaphorical ; and it might well be the case that he never appreciated that.  So, when I see the word serpent in this context, I do not think automatically of snakes and dragons ; instead I think of evil.  Just as, when I see the word ‘true’ today, I do not automatically think of a straight rod like a ruler ; instead I think of honesty and reality.  When I speak of a sunbeam, I do not mean a plank of timber propped up against the sun, but a pattern of light in the sky.

The point about metaphors is that their use becomes a habit, and then we forget their metaphorical origins ; they become ‘literal’.  And this can give rise to misunderstandings.

And then we have the question of “What was created at the time Adam and Eve first appeared?”  Was it two bodies, one male and the other female?  Maybe, but the story suggests otherwise.  Did not the children of Adam and Eve marry people outside the family?  The writer cannot have made such a gross error in his plot.  It seems to me that he was referring to Adam and Eve, not as new physical creations but as New People.  They were the first two proper, conscious and self-conscious human beings.   All the other people were still in an essentially unconscious or perhaps semi-conscious, animal-like condition.

When I first began to think of the puzzles of Genesis as being really puzzles of language, the book made much more sense to me.  And its truth became clearer.

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