Bertrand Russell and Poetry

I’m trying to understand what Bertrand Russell means when he talks about alternative ways to break up the world into nameable particles. For example, instead of looking outside and seeing trees, cars and blue sky, we would see… something else. This is where I get stuck.

Let’s try a different example. Instead of a room with tables and chairs, we would see some other arrangement of shapes and textures. Maybe we would see the legs of the tables as extensions of the floor. Unfortunately, this all seems very two-dimensional and unpragmatic. We break up the world in more ways than just visible shapes. Also, this view involves denying that we know anything about how tables work.

The advantage that I can see is that it adds poetry to our experiences, makes them less concrete, and lends mystery and wonder to things that we might take for granted under normal circumstances. This isn’t Russell’s intention, of course. He’s just trying to explain how reference works. But if I apply this technique to something I actually don’t understand, like the way a train is built or the structure of a molecule, I can easily create my own systems of understanding what I see. Perhaps, this is how we can now find God, by continually looking at things we don’t understand and trying to describe them.


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