What are Words?
Words are symbols to communicate with. We have character symbols that represent the words we can write and read. Vibrations in the air represent words too. The words are not in the character symbols or vibrations in the air.
|Transforming senses into symbols|
Words are ideas in our brains. Words exist in our minds. We can only physically sense the words when we imprint them or move the air. Words must exist inside us before we can use them.
We experience the worlds with our senses. Sight, smell, and sound inform our experience; our knowledge of the world. These experiences are captured in our brains. Networks of neurons capture what we sense. Neurons do not capture the reality outside of us.
Our minds store metaphors of reality. Our brains have patterns that reflect our experience of reality. Neurons capture a symbol of what we experienced. The smell of a rose is not what we have in our brains. A symbol that helps us recall the smell does exist. When a similar symbol comes to us again, we know what it is through our experience.
|Learning the smell of roses|
A child develops experience before words. We lay down symbols of reality as soon as our senses and brains become engaged. Only when enough experience of reality has shaped our brains with information, can we start to abstract that experience into words.
Words are how we share our experience. Words are our shared model of reality. We learn our words from each other. Our brains learn to assign the words to what we have sensed.
Meaning in Mind
Words are symbols held in our brains. Our pattern of neurons hold these symbols of writing separate from the experience they represent. The words “the rose smell” are stored in our brains. “The rose smell" is stored both as remembered sensation and as a set of words associated with the sensation. Words seem to have an existence of their own. The words are not the remembered smell. Words are references of smell abstracted into other networks of neurons.
|Creating meaning from links|
These stored sense memories and their associations as words are models of the world made into physical reality. The model of reality existing in our brains is a physical thing of matter and energy. Words are written into our brains.
Many kinds of living beings have sense memory. Stored experience of reality as it is sensed is an old trick of life forms. The storage of what is experienced as a symbol to be used later has a significant competitive advantage. Symbols stored in physical reality and recalled for later use give primitive mind to even the lowest of creatures.
Meaning begins when symbols are linked with experience. The very meaning of meaning is that some symbol is held to be similar to another. These associations of stored symbols in our brain define the world to us.
Symbols give our minds existence. Without a model of reality, thought can not exist. Thoughts are models of reality moving from form to form in time. Our brains sequence through models of reality, symbolic representations of experience, when we think.
One can then say the word was the beginning of the human mind. The human mind transformed by development of symbols. Brains sharing symbols of experience was the start of culture. We consider ourselves superior to other life forms because we share our internal metaphors of reality with each other.
Sharing symbols helps us all understand more reality. Metaphors of reality not yet experienced directly can prepare us to deal with them when we do. Words provide us with a tool to transcend beyond our own bodies to a larger time and space. Our senses are extended by the words we associate with them.
Often words are used with multiple meanings. One symbol can be associated to different sensed realities. Take the word Kind for instance. Kind is linked with “things that are similar”. Kind is also linked with “friendly, generous or empathy”. These different meanings are stored separately in our brains and only linked by how communicate them. The spoken or written use of the word Kind is the same. The meaning, the association, the link to our sense experience with the word Kind is different.
The average human knows less than 20,000 words. English contains about 600,000 words if you include root words and derivatives. This means most of us know about 3% of the words existing in our own culture.
Some words get used more than others. Some parts of reality are experienced by few of us, often in one special practice or another. Plumbers have their own words for their trade. Physicists have special words rarely used by others. Preachers have a vocabulary of their own. Unique sensory experience provides each of our minds with its own set of metaphors for engaging reality with.
|Words are links to stored sensations.|
There are many words we each know. There are many more we do not yet know. Of all the possible sensory experiences of reality, we are limited to only those we are exposed too. Even by extending our experience using the words of others, we are still limited to the total set of experiences that all minds have. Our limits in time and space place a limit on the vocabulary we can ever develop.
Discovering new means of sensing the world expands our vocabulary. Sensing electricity transformed our experience of reality. Close observation of the planets allowed us to sense gravity differently. The microscope opened a new set of sensory data to us. Each of these new experiences caused a change in words. Some words were transformed and others created to help us give meaning to the novel experience.
Are there an infinite number of sensory experiences? If so then there are infinite numbers of words.
There are certainly more experiences and words to call them than we can all ever imagine.