words and reality

What is the true purpose of thought?

Words interpose themselves between us and the present, so much so that we live in a world of thought, an internal virtual reality, hardly ever being where our feet are carrying us. Our thoughts, beginning as symbolic tokens for the real world, become a substitute for it. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, as Shakespeare wrote.

There must once have been a time, in the early pre-historic, when there was little speech, no words as we know them, no syntax, no thought. Were we real then, but animals? Now we are human, but illusory.

There was a time before writing was invented. Writing enabled many things from libraries of knowledge to the keeping of accounts. Yet the price we paid for writing was the gradual loss of the ability to remember. The work of Homer was passed down from singer to singer from the Mycenaean age to Classical Greece. Yet by the time of the Peisistratids there was a real risk that one of the masterpieces of the world would be lost forever. Thus they had to have Homer's words written down.

Similarly with speech and thought - perhaps there was a much more ancient gain and loss. How can we use thought without being bewitched by it?

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