Monday, 23 April 2018

Wise Words: I Am, Therefore I Think

… Each of us tells stories, and each of us is a story. Not just each of us humans, but each of us creatures … We all tell stories to ourselves and to each other — within the tribe, within the species, and way beyond its bounds. Roses do this when they flower, finches when they sing, and humans when they speak, walk, sing, dance, swim, play a flute, build a fire, or pull a trigger.

[Stories] are probably our best maps and models of the world — and we may yet come to learn that the reason for this is that stories are some of the basic constituents of the world.  

… (1) To be and to think are the same; (2) To be and to have meaning are the same. The implication of the Greek verb νοεῖν [noeîn] is that thought and meaning form a unit which ought not to be dissolved.

The English words noesis, knowledge, and narration all stem from the same root. Thought and meaning are connected not just to each other but to storytelling too … To be and to tell a story are the same. Or: To be is to be a story. Or: I am, therefore I think — and not the other and more arrogant way around.

(Robert Bringhurst, ‘The Tree of Meaning and the Work of Ecological Linguistics’, in The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology, Counterpoint: Berkeley, 2006/2008, pp. 167–168, 172, and 173)

(Take that, Descartes!)


  1. yes! words have power...we use them to tell stories about ourselves and our world. but they are not the reality themselves. life IS. we ARE, because we are part of life. and as it says, we are stories because we live them. but the words we choose matter because they affect how we perceive everything. "target acquired" "was raped", using a passive voice, changes the perception of such acts, removing the doer/doing. creating distance. "resources", "collateral damage", "immigrants", rather than "living earth" or "necessities of life", and "dead people" and "desperate people in need"...i always thought decartes was a bit of an ass, and that he got it backwards. no, rene, we think because we are. my animal body exists, lives, whether or not i think/verbalise about it. and every other aspect of life is living their stories. we need to remember that. we need to be conscious of living, embodied; of the being and doing that are inseparable as we live our stories.

    1. Any opportunity to do a bit of Descartes bashing! ;)

      I so agree. Life, the Real, what is—this is what matters the most. It is the bedrock from which all our experience arises; and it is what we define and speak about with our words, only incompletely, and often poorly. The way we use language is so important. I, for instance, try to use the term 'natural community' rather than 'ecosystem', as the latter is too scientific, too mechanistic. What I am really interested in is how we could use language in such a way to really evoke what is, to speak in such a way that we perceive the world more clearly, more lovingly, as a living being, an ongoing creative process that we are part of. Robert Bringhurst's thinking is very influential in this area.


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