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Old 09-09-2009, 09:18 PM   #23
Peter Goldsbury
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Dojo: Hiroshima Kokusai Dojo
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Join Date: Jul 2001
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Re: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 15

Hello Steve,

Apologies for the delay in making further comments, for I was busy with other aikido matters such as teaching seminars. I took advantage of the delay by reading the book once more.

One point I picked up quite early on is the reference to Stephen Pinker on p. 217. The views of Pinker express "prevailing opinions" and the citation refers to a statement on p. 89. There you state that meaning is a function of sound and number and go on to consider an alternative view, namely, that meaning is a "product of not the sounds but of the images and sensations those sounds evoke." You go on to state that:

"Such is certainly the informed view as reflected in popular press. Words are commonly defined as arbitrary symbols assigned to prototypical images stored in memory. This is not, however, a definition that stands up well under scrutiny. How arbitrary are the sounds of language? Do you or I exercise some choice over what sounds we assign to such meanings?

"Do we get to choose which flower we call a rose? Or--equally absurd--was the name chosen for us before Shakespeare's time by some wise sage? Nonsense. Words are no more arbitrary than are roses. For as products of the natural order, flower and name are both called--one genetically the other culturally--by generative processes; moreover they bloom by the grace of causes only dimly gleaned, far less understood by the human intellect. The only element in this discussion that reasonably deserves the adjective arbitrary is the definition."

Strong words. However, the arbitrary nature of the sign is not something that began with Pinker, but is a linguistic tradition that goes back at least to Plato. In the Cratylus, Hermogenes debates issues on the 'correctness of names' with Cratylus, who is a follower of Heraclitus. It was Cratylus who modified the old adage, 'One does not step twice into the same river' (the waters are different), to, 'One does not step once into the same river' (the one who steps also changes during the process).

As I have suggested in the columns, Socrates hovered between the words-as-keys and the words-as-tokens thesis, but it was Aristotle who decisively chose for the latter. Thus, centuries later Saussure argued, against kotodama theorists like Kamo no Mabuchi, that the sign is arbitrary, which means that the word 'rose' shares absolutely none of the properties or characteristics of the flower it names. Neither theory is in fact nonsense, as you assert so confidently.

Best wishes,


Steve Earle wrote: View Post
Thanks, Peter. My information on kotodama is admittedly not very good; the reference in the paragraph quoted comes from some exposure to Ogasawara Koji and also a man (whom I met) named Hayashi Shinji (or Shinjiro? sorry; long time ago) who wrote extensively on the Takeuchi Documents. Not familiar (other than by name) with kotodama-gaku and will defer to your comments. I do know that Odano was not influenced by either kotodama or kotodama-gaku as she had no interest and never studied either; not saying that you are implying otherwise but just to be clear.

Look forward with interest to your further comments.


P A Goldsbury
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