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Posted by on Aug 17, 2009

Chuang-Tsu (莊子) and the purpose of words

Chuang-Tsu (4th century BC)

The purpose of a fishtrap is to catch fish, and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten.
The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten.
The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten.
Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.

Chuang Tsu was an ancient Chinese philosopher who argued for certain forms of anarchy (spontaneous order), relativity (our paths are different as our views are varied), and distinction (how do I know that life is good and death is bad?). Very heady stuff for being from the 4th century BC.

I just really enjoyed the quote about wanting to talk with the man who has forgotten words. It seems like a contradiction at first, but is more of an admiration for a person who has achieved some understanding of the nature of vehicles such as words, pictures, sound. In and of themselves, they are meaningless aside from their ability to convey meaning.

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