The Mind of a Creator


Leonardo da Vinci digitized notebook[Leonardi da Vinci – digitized notebook]

Most people prefer the use of known and simple words, to cover a lot of ground. Yet when we learn more words, we expand not just our verbal tool set, but also our mind and thinking. Yes, too many words can get in the way, but too few get you nowhere fast.

In 2016, Umberto Galimberti, a contemporary philosopher, author, sociologist, journalist, and professor spoke at the Verona Festival of Beauty. Among the many provocations in his 1.5 hour conversation was an observation on how language has changed over the centuries. His talk# was titled, “Beauty, the Secret Law of Life.”

Within the context of beauty, Galimberti explores the evolution of language, saying (translation mine):

Language becomes poorer progressively. With technology it becomes poorest, almost zero.

Linguist Tullio de Mauro# did some research and found that the average person had a vocabulary of 1,500 words in 1976. Twenty years later, in 1996, that vocabulary dropped down to 640 words.

In 2016, the average person has 200 words, says Galimberti.

You cannot think beyond the words you know. You can think within the words you know.

He quotes Heidegger#, “You cannot think where there’s no word.” German has the richest and most precise vocabulary of the modern world, he adds. But if we want to go to the source, we should look at ancient Greek, which had a vocabulary of 80,000 words (Latin was half that amount).

The Greeks invented philosophy, architecture, mathematics because they had the words. Persona in Greek means animal that has the word. “The beauty of the word is especially fitting in the efficacy of reasoning. Because reasoning needs appropriate words,” says Galimberti.

Words are important to conceptual thinking. English lacks a fundamental aspect of Western thought, which is abstraction. You cannot think in theory, this is why everything is concrete in English-speaking cultures.

For example, in German “Man sagt” is “si dice” in Italian and “on dit” in French. But English has only “you,” otherwise you have no idea who you’re talking about. Anybody, somebody, you gotta have a body in there.

If English is conceptually-deprived, Italian is conceptually poor. It’s more literary. We need adjectives and adverbs to make words adequate to the situation. Yet throughout our history, there have been geniuses like Dante Aligheri, that figured out how to bend the words to the ambition, inventing a modern language.

Words are important to strategists, because we start with ideas. To open people's thinking and challenge they way they work we tend to be well-read, highly creative, and very articulate. Being thoughtful is a compliment in more than one way.

From thinking, and communicating comes doing. We think within the words we know.

Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in a  New York Times essay# (2013):

“The problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.”

[via Cal Newport]

I'd add than when we get used to saying little, we become used to thinking little. Part of it is driven by the shifting forces in digital culture. Part of it by this idea of convenience and shortness. Make no mistake, without properly digesting the meaning of words, we can hardly expect fully-formed thoughts.

The mind of a creator is full of words.

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