Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Intellectual Integrity and Meaning

I'm wondering this morning, what the difference is between the idea of intellectual integrity and the idea of what it means to be human? I know Dr. Pete began this thinking exploration with a particular incident. However, the phrase intellectual integrity on that day stood out differently than I normally see it. So even though I'm going beyond the parameter of his initial post, I'm only trying to go further into his own thinking about Mind. And my own. And yours.

What surprises me is how big the idea of intellectual actually is- it carries a lot more than our typical use which usually only signals tones of being erudite, elitist, or just plain stuck up—both in attitude and altitude. To be intellectual, in reality, simply means that we pretty much carry our sense of being in language. And once we are talking about language, we are implicitly talking about meaning. And communicating; so to be an intellectual organism means that the realm of our existence is language, meaning, and the expressing and receiving of meaningful information—to ourselves and each other; in contrast to fish for instance, which has as a primary realm of existence, water. Or bears, which crap in the woods because it doesn't/can't dawn on them to wonder if someone's going to talk about 'em. (If bears only knew what we were saying about them…would they make bathrooms?)

You could say that intellectual life is a life lived in meaning. The problem with that short statement though, is that our sense of meaning isn't very intelligible. Oh- we know when we experience something as meaning-full, as well as when something is meaningless. In a like manner, we also know when we experience gravity, and when we don't. And I would offer that where meaning and gravity are most alike, is in the way they both exist like "fields", are irreducible to anything else, and in the way we don't understand how they come about in the first place. More, without gravity, mass makes no sense and likewise, without meaning, information makes no sense. However, where gravity and meaning differ--in terms of most consequence to us--is how our understanding of Gravity is more intelligible than our understanding of Meaning.

Riddle: What has force but doesn't have mass or acceleration? Meaning.

For human being at least, (I can't speak for bacteria) meaning has real causative affect; when we mean to do something is to equally say we intend to do something. Or the meaning on the look of your face may incite me to action; you show distress and I move to help out: an effect is caused without Newton's logic there to describe and predict that effect.

We in our beautiful ways of science understand nature in ways we don't understand meaning. Yet without Meaning scientists can't exist, and neither can engineers. And without civil engineers, bathrooms can't exist. There's something more profound to the realm of meaning than Hallmark cards can reveal. To understand intellectual integrity, or what it is to be fully human, we have to have an intelligible sense of Meaning that has an existence in the way gravity does.