Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 455-465
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 455
Magic of Language
Bernard Korzeniewski
Faculty of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Biotechnology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland
Received July 23rd, 2013; revised August 23rd, 2013; accepted August 30th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Bernard Korzeniewski. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cited.
Language, through the discrete nature of linguistic names and strictly determined grammatical rules, cre-
ates absolute, “quantized”, sharply separated “facts” within the external world that is continuous, “fuzzy”
and relational in its essence. Therefore, it is similar, in some important sense, to magic, which attributes
causal and creative power to magical words and formulas. On the one hand, language increases greatly
the effectiveness of the processes of thinking and interpersonal communication, yet, on the other hand, it
determines and distorts to a large extent the picture of the world created within the mind. The relatively
smallest (but still significant) magical admixture is present in science, because of its relatively reliable
methodology, while the largest is found in religion and a large part of philosophy. The magical nature of
language also manifests itself in logic and mathematics that refer to ill determined, fuzzy objects, sets and
relations in the real world. The meaning of linguistic names is based on the conceptual network—an
epiphenomenon (continuous in its essence) of the neural network—where interactions between particular
concepts are based on the relation of connotation. The names and formulas of language correspond to
these concepts which are best separated and determined. A direct relation of denotation between the ele-
ments of language and “facts” of the world is an illusion. While we cannot dispense with language be-
cause of its immense usefulness, we must remember about its “fact-creating” nature and influence on our
thought and cognitive processes. The picture of the reality created as the result of them is to a large extent
formed and deformed by the nature of language, and not by the “immanent” properties of the world in it-
Keywords: Language; Cognitive Science; Neurophysiology; Self-Consciousness; Conceptual Network
Speaking shortly and in somewhat simplified terms, the faith
in magic consists in the belief that some appropriately chosen
formulas of language (words, sentences) and, more broadly,
various signs, symbols, numbers and activities (including ges-
tures, graphical signs as well as complex rituals and ceremonies)
possess causal power in the real, material (but also psychical)
world. In accordance with this belief, magical formulas can
cause objects shift, provoke a lightning or induce an illness in a
human or an animal. Puncturing an enemy’s puppet with splin-
ters is supposed to cause his death. Occult signs placed on walls
or doors protect against evil demons, while enchantment is able
to change the emotional state of the enchanted person. Gener-
ally, “casting spells” brings into existence (or annihilates) vari-
ous sorts of entities, phenomena, objects and processes. While
knowledge (e.g., common or scientific) says something (by
definition) about the real world, constitutes more or less ade-
quate picture of the objective reality, magic “creates” a new
reality that has nothing (or almost nothing) to do with the “true”
one. Of course, magic creates entities only seemingly, in the
opinion of persons believing in its power.
The thesis of the present article is this that not only strictly
magical spells and formulas, but alsoin some more general
epistemological sensethe whole language plays in its essence
the role of magic in the process of cognition of the reality sur-
rounding us. Language is to describe the world, to serve the
purpose of communicating about that world. However, through
its nature (discrete names and rigorous grammar), it co-creates
the picture of this world and, in some disciplines, it completely
dominates this picture. Thus, as magic was to bring various
entities and phenomena into existence, so language “brings into
existence” sharp, “quantized” facts and relations within the
world that is continuous in its essence, and it frequently does so
without (almost) any reference to this world. Additionally
according to the Sapir and Whorf hypothesis (Sapir, 1921;
Whorf, 1940; Kay & Kempton, 1984)—particular ethnical lan-
guages shape the picture of the reality through their grammati-
cal structure (but also vocabulary) in somewhat (sometimes
very) different ways. For this reason, such pictures may to a
large extent not adhere to each other. The impossibility of per-
fect translation of two ethnic languages into each other (the
so-called indeterminacy of translation) (Quine, 1960) seems in
its essence, after some pondering, trivially true. Of course, the
peculiaritybeing a derivative of upbringing in a such-and-
not-another culture (of which ethnical language is a part), and
also individual (inborn and acquired) properties of the brain and
mind of a given personsuperimposes on the peculiarity of the
world picture caused by the specificity of an ethnic language.
The ability to acquire language during individual life is inborn
in humans. There are special centers in the human brain,
namely Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, that are responsible
for generating speech (expressing thoughts in words) and un-
derstanding language, respectively. Along these lines, Chomsky
formulated his Universal Grammar theory and postulated that
the ability to learn grammar is hard-wired into the brain
(Chomsky, 1968). However, any particular grammar and vo-
cabulary are learned during individual life.
However, in the present article the stress will be put on
something else. It was practically always being (silently) as-
sumed that words and sentences of language correspond to
various objects, sets, categories, entities, aspects and processes
of the world. This thesis was most explicitly formulated by
(early) Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein, 1921), who claimed that
language refers (or at least should refer) to the facts of the
world. Sentences of language that do not refer (correspond)
clearly and univocally to these facts were eliminated by Witt-
genstein as senseless. This philosopherand also neo-positi-
vists who sympathized with him (especially from the Viener
circle)—wanted to base all rational knowledge, especially sci-
ence, on names and sentences that remain in direct correspon-
dence with the facts of the world. Leaving aside the fact that
this approach rejected most scientific theories (and practically
the entire philosophy) as unacceptable, nobody managed to de-
fine clearly what “facts of the world” are. In “Tractatus logico-
philosophicus” Wittgenstein did not resolve this problem, but
put it offas relatively unimportantfor the future.
Such a zero-or-one division of linguistic sentences into those
corresponding with facts of the world and those having nothing
in common with these facts, I regard as enormous mistakes.
The real state of affairs looks quite differently. Objects, aspects
and phenomena of the world (and so, generally speaking, the
discussed “facts”) described by words and sentences of lan-
guage do not in reality exist at all in an autonomous and abso-
lute way. Therefore, if one says that he/she ate today sushi for a
dinner, that dinosaurs became extinct over 65 million years ago
or that the force of gravity acts between bodies endowed with
mass, then one does not express sentences about facts that are
true or false (or objectively “existing” or “non-existing”) in an
unconditional way, but one performs some rough and approxi-
mate description of reality that is continuous in its essence. This
thesis can seem absurd at first glance, but I will try to demon-
strate that arguments supporting it are irresistible.
There exists some small superficial similarity between my
idea and Austin’s speech acts and “performatives” (Austin
1962). However, this theory concerned mostly social “facts”
and assumed anyway that facts in themselves exist in the ex-
ternal world. Frege postulated in his mediated reference theory
(Frege, 1960) that the meaning of a name cannot be simply
reduced to the object which it refers to. For instance, the same
object can have two different names, with different semantic
connotations. However, this proposal, again, has little to do
with the content of the present paper and accepts objectively
existing absolute “facts”. Generally, as far as I know, the main
concepts I formulate below have not been published before
elsewhere, at least not in so extreme a formulation. Of course, it
is widely recognized that many predicates of linguistic names
are vague (compare for instance, the paradox of the heap).
However, I argue that, on principle, all such predicates (“facts
of the world”) are at best vague (not well determined), and at
worst, they do not exist at all. Perhaps a point of view closest to
my ideas was proposed by Bertrand Russell (Russell, 1923)1,
although it seems that he attributed vagueness rather to linguis-
tic representations of things than to “things in themselves”.
This is opposite to what I think.
Language and Facts—Individual Person
Let us reflect on the facts of the world described by words
and sentences of language. For a start, let us consider some
concrete person, for instance mister XY. Does this individual (it
could be Julius Cesar, already deceased, frequently used by
logicians and philosophers) exist (or did he exist) in somehow
absolute and unconditional way (and therefore constitutes/con-
stituted a sharply and clearly separated “fact of the world”)?
What does in fact its “existence”, “identity” consist in? Let us
begin with the matter it is built of, i.e. a given set of concrete
atoms. It is well known that, in contrast to (most) inanimate
objects, living organisms (of course including humans) unceas-
ingly keep replacing the substance of their bodies. Biological
systems are dissipative structures (Prigogine, 1980; Prigogine
& Stengers, 1984)—their existence and functioning is driven
and conditioned by a continuous flow of matter, energy and
information. During weeks and months, the atoms that the hu-
man body (in particular its cells) is composed of are excreted
from it, and, in return, new organic components of the body are
built from the matter taken up as food (this is one of the two
reasons, why organisms that do not grow must feed; the other
reason is gaining energy as a result of combustion of assimi-
lated organic compounds with the participation of oxygen—this
is why humans must respire). The enamel of teeth and mineral
components of bones constitute an exception here. Therefore, it
is certainly not given concrete material components that decide
about the identity of mister XY. However, undoubtedly, despite
the continuous exchange of matter, the atoms entering into
composition of the human body adopt a certain form, maintain
a given concrete structure, that is a mutual arrangement of at-
oms of various elements (and of body components on higher
levels of the hierarchy of complexity, such as macromolecules,
cells, tissues and organs). However, the problem consists in the
fact that this structure evolves with age, from the stage of the
fertilized egg cell (which conventionally is regarded as the first
stage of embryonic development) to natural death. Therefore,
one must weaken this criterion of identity of a given person: it
is not a concrete form that matters here, but rather a continuity
of changes of this form in time. In this interpretation, mister
XY would constitute some sequence of forms transforming
themselves one into another during his lifetime, a kind of an ice
block “suspended” in four-dimensional space-time. However,
we face here another problem. Namely, what will happen if we
start to decompose mister XY into parts? Let us begin inno-
cently with cutting off his hair and nails. Of course, we will still
think that we deal with our XY. Even a much more drastic am-
putation of a limb will not, in our conviction, take the identity
from XY. The same can be said about an amputation of further
limbs, or transplantation of internal organs coming from other
persons, or even from animals (e.g. a pig’s heart). Even if we
removed or “exchanged” the majority of the XY’s body in this
way, most people would think that this is still XY (although
this is maybe already not so obvious). Let us assume, however,
that we are able to isolate (without damaging it) and maintain
alive the “naked” brain of our unfortunate “patient”. Is this still
XY? Does there exist at all a good answer to such a question?
In fact, the answer does not have any important significance in
this context. To explain this, let us start again with intact XY
and remove one atom from his body. Undoubtedly, the result
1I found and read (with great pleasure) this article when I was finishing the
present article, so I came to some similar conclusions independently.
Open Access
will be still XY. Of course, the same will happen, when we do
this with two, three or four atoms. Yet in the end, following this
procedure with sufficient consequence, we can fully decompose
XY into atoms in this way. Even if we leave the isolated brain
of the victim of our semantic analysis for the end, the gradual
disintegration will finally affect this organ as well. And there-
fore, at a certain moment, after taking away a proper number of
atoms, a removal of a subsequent atom will lead to the trans-
formation of XY into not-XY. It is unimportant where we will,
arbitrarily, mark out this border. In each case, it will look fully
artificial. After all, before taking away the next atom, this
still-XY differs much more from the initial XY than from the
already-not-XY that comes into being after taking away that
atom. This is just the magic of languageimposing discrete,
apparently perfectly determined and separated “facts”, such as
“XY”, onto the world that is continuous in its essencethat
forces us to face this sort of paradoxes. Of course, when we
reach his brain during the decomposition of XY into atoms,
when subsequent neural connections and neurons begin to van-
ish, the psyche of XY will also gradually vanish. This will not
be a sudden act of disappearance of the “soul”. Human con-
sciousness can undergo splitting into two consciousnesses,
almost completely independent of each other, when the opera-
tion of commissurotomy is carried out (i.e. cutting of corpus
callosum that connects the two brain hemispheres), which was
once used to cure epilepsy. Large character changes (different,
but generally consisting in mental impoverishment) can occur
as a result of damages of various brain parts, chiefly frontal and
prefrontal cortex (damage of other parts handicaps various cog-
nitive functions). Alcoholism and drug addiction, associated
with creeping degeneration of different brain areas, lead to
gradual degeneration of personality. A similar general process
occurs in Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases or, unfortunately,
at advanced age. Due to taking away atom by atom from the
brain, the transition between fully expressed consciousness and
psychical nothingness will be continuous, “smooth” and hardly
noticeable, as fading of colors on an old photograph. Anyway,
as in the case of the structure (form) of the body, the “content”
of psyche changes during the entire human life. However,
unlike the form of the body, the mind can undergo a sudden
shift to a completely different course, when the light of con-
sciousness (directed by the phenomenon of attention) unex-
pectedly takes in still new and new “mental objects”, jumps
from one thought to another (or from one sensation to another),
although the “general potential psyche”—that is broadly under-
stood personal propertiesundoubtedly evolves at a much
slower rate. Anyway, there exists immanent discontinuity in the
existence of consciousness in the state of dream, especially its
deep phase.
Instead of decomposing XY into atoms, we can gradually
proceeding in very tiny stepschange its structure and function
in such a way that we ultimately transform him into another
man (let us call him XY2) of a completely different appearance
and psyche. Performing slightly more drastic modifications, we
can perform a transformation of mister XY into lady XX. Go-
ing further, we can transform her in turn into something else,
for instance a creature from X files.
Summing up all the said above, mister XY does not exist as
an absolutely determined object of a clearly defined identity or
fact (or even process) of the world, either in the material or in
psychical sense. When decomposing our “patient” physically,
we also decompose him semantically. The act of bringing XY
from ontological non-existence to irrefutable and absolute exis-
tence is a magical trick of language. This person appears to be
only some loosely, intuitively and roughly determined, “fuzzy”
set of states. Shortly speaking, in reality mister XY simply does
not exist in a sharp and absolute way.
Language and Facts—Biological Species
Mister XY is undoubtedly an individual entity. What about
general entities, for instance the category “man”, which mister
XY in our conviction undoubtedly belongs to? Can we refuse
such categories to have a status of absolute and autonomic ex-
istence? Undoubtedly we can, even in a more definite and justi-
fied way than for individual beings. First, the man originated in
the course of biological evolution from an ape (quite recently
there were found fossils of species called Sahelanthropus tcha-
densis, probably closely related to the common ancestor of
chimpanzee and man). Biological evolution is a continuous
process (although it periodically accelerates and slows down)
and the point in the sequence of human ancestors, at which a
not-man underwent transformation into man cannot be indi-
cated in any non-arbitrary way. It would be like two ape parents
suddenly gave birth to a man. This also concerns the origin of
(self)consciousness (if we assume, which is not obvious at all,
that, for instance, chimpanzee does not yet possess any early
form of consciousness). Consciousness was emerging (because
it had to) in a continuous way in the course of biological (and
later social and cultural) evolution. Secondly, during ontogeny
(embryonic and post-embryonic development), a grown man—
in his biological and, above all, psychic aspectgradually de-
velops stage by stage from the embryo into a newborn infant, a
child and a young man (it is not at all clear whether these two
aspects appear in a perfectly synchronized way). According to
religious dogma, the absolute beginning of humanity is defined
to occur at the moment of fertilization (combination of a sperm
and an egg cell and formation of a zygote), at which point egg
cell is endowed with a soul. However, fertilization is not an
instant “moment”, but a multi-step process composed of many
events and stretched in time (and therefore, in accordance with
the theme of this article, fertilization is not an absolute fact of
the world; yet it is seen as such by religionextremely magical
by its very nature). After the first zygote division, the two re-
sulting cells can dissociate and give rise to two one-egg twins.
Do the twins have throughout their life one soul or is soul di-
visible? Rarely, it happens that a zygote is transformed as a
result of embryonic development not into a newborn, but into
undifferentiated ball of cells. What about the soul and humanity
of such a ball? While one can (although it may seem com-
pletely fruitless) discuss the biological, structure-functional
beginning of a man in the course of ontogenesis, it is obvious
that his psychic aspect can emerge only after the formation of
functional neurons, and therefore in a rather late phase of em-
bryonic development. Anyway, the human psyche cannot be
formed without a rich inflow of sensory stimuli that takes place
only after birth. Certainly, an adult chimpanzee possesses a
much richer mental life (no matter how it is defined) than a
fertilized human egg cell. Many stages (especially the initial
ones) of the embryonic development of chimpanzee and man
are very similar. For example, at a certain stage, the embryo of
both species possesses gill clefts and a taila remnant inherited
after our fish ancestors. The thesis proclaimed by unconditional
opponents of abortion that the embryo at this stage is already a
man with full rights seems to be difficult to defend, at best. And
Open Access 457
all of this results from the strength of magic dogmaextremely
powerful, but artificially created “facts” of the world with
claims to the Absolute. Of course, the “soul” constitutes a ma-
jor example of bringing a delusive entity into existence by cre-
ating a language name that corresponds to it.
However, the above examples of lack of good semantic
specification of the category “man” (as a general being) are
only some of a huge number of kinds of such lack of good
specification. We can imagine objects or phenomena that differ
from man to any large (or small) extent, with respect to one or
many of an uncountable number of properties that characterize
the category “man” (I leave here aside the question, whether
they would be biologically functional or not). In the present
period on our planet, this category seems to be relatively well
separated and determined, because there do not exist, here and
now, any “entities” very similar to humans (for instance, our
immediate ancestors: Homo habilis or the genus Australopith-
ecus). However, this does not mean that such entities could not
exist in principle. For instance, it is possible (although the
probability is extremely low) to imagine that, on other planets
in the Universe there evolved organisms that resembled people
very much, but differed from them by various complexes of
features. In the multi-dimensional continuum of such possible
organisms, it seems to be simply impossible to strictly separate
and define the category “man”, as it is impossible to strictly
(with infinite accuracy) separate purple color on the spectrum
of colors, continuous in its essence (although the latter seems to
be a great deal easier because of the uni-dimensionality of the
Therefore, during analysis of general entities and categories,
it appears again that they are created by the magic of language,
in this case the magic of the names “designating” such entities.
However, this designation is only apparent in this sense that the
designated categories exist at best in a very fuzzy, approximate,
intuitive and not strictly determined way, while at worst, they
are simply delusive. Many philosophers postulated that differ-
ent sets, for instant the set of red cars, exist in an objective and
real manner, independent of our minds. Of course, from the
point of view represented in the present article, such sets are
entirely products of the mind, and in particular of language that
in a magical way attributes absolute existence to “facts” desig-
nated by its names.
Language and Facts—Physical Objects
A similar analysis can be carried out in relation to biological
entities devoid of consciousness as well as inanimate entities.
This concerns both given concrete objects (a given concrete
apple, planet Earth, stone) and categories of objects (apple as a
sort of fruits, planet as a category of astronomical objects). I
think that the Reader will have no problems with transferring
the above reasoning carried out in relation to mister XY or man
as a species to the mentioned objects/categories. Anyway, the
paradox of the heap is widely known in the form related to
physical objects (if somebody takes sand grains from a heap
one by one, it is not possible to determine strictly at which
point the heap ceases to exist, i.e. to be a heap). It can be men-
tioned as a curiosity that quite recently Pluto was deprived of
the status of a planet by a scientific committee, although this
decision was not undertaken unanimously, and the assumed
criteria arose controversies. Fuzzy logic is frequently applied to
tackle the problem of the vagueness of language.
A more serious problem is met in the case of such indivisible
(at least at the present stage of knowledge and scientific theo-
ries) objects as elementary particles, for instance photon, elec-
tron or one of a few distinguished kinds of quarks. Because
they are indivisible, one cannot take away their elements from
them. All electrons, for instance, are “identical” (have the same
properties, e.g., electrical charge, resting mass, spin or magnetic
moment). Therefore, it seems easy to distinguish the category
of objects called “electrons” and to indicate univocally a given
particular electron. However, at a closer look, there appear
serious difficulties. Particular electrons occupy different places
in space and, therefore, it must not be saidin agreement with
the real state of thingsthat all properties of particular elec-
trons are the same (there are different space coordinates of their
location, different intensities of the electrical and gravitational
field in their neighborhood, different locations of other elemen-
tary particles). Electrons can be created or annihilated in vari-
ous quantum transformations, in which other elementary parti-
cles also participate. Once a conception appeared that all elec-
trons are in fact multiplied “reflections” of one electron (while
positronselectron anti-particlesare electrons travelling back
in time) (Coveney & Highfield, 1991). However, this concep-
tion seems now to be much outdated (it required to assume that
there exists the same amount of matter and anti-matter) and
citing it here and now could seem unfair. So let us go further on.
Moving electrons have greater mass than resting electrons
(therefore mass depends on the velocity in relations to other
objects). We do not understand in fact what the electron is.
According to (standard) quantum mechanics, electrons behave
both as waves and as point particles. In some contemporary
conceptions (string theory), the electron is not a point particle,
but a circular string vibrating in different ways. However, we
have no idea (and, on principle we cannot know this, because of
the nature of the “content” of our mind that is different from the
nature of the “content” of the Universe), what could be the
“substance” of such a point or string (here we crash in our cog-
nition against the so-called hard problem of matter, irresolvable
in its essence). Before it is detected, an electron is neither a
point nor a string, but it propagates in space as a wave. There-
fore, the above statement about its determined location was
already an abuse. An electron bound in an atom is not located
in any particular place, but forms a kind of a “cloud” (that can
have different shapes) called orbital, whose local “density”
determines the probability of finding a given electron at differ-
ent points in space. As a wave, a free electron can pass through
two slits simultaneously, and its location and velocity are gen-
erally determined only with a certain approximation. The more
exactly we know the location, the less information we have
about the velocity (impetus), and vice versa (the Heisenberg
indeterminacy principle). But this happens only until the mo-
ment of an electron is detected by some apparatus, when there
takes place the so-called reduction of the wave function and the
electron becomes localized in a particular place in space. No-
body has in fact an idea, what such a reduction consists in. The
so-called conception of decoherence says that the stronger an
electron interacts with the surroundings, the more it loses its
wave properties, the less it is “blurred” in space (Penrose, 1990).
Therefore, the properties of elementary particles do not belong
to the particles themselves, because they are also derivatives of
other “objects”. Two elementary particlesfor instance two
photons or a pair electron-positron that originate together as a
result of certain quantum processesconstitute to some extent
Open Access
one whole (so-called quantum entanglement) (Tegmark & Wheeler,
2003). This means that the properties of these particles are
strictly connected, although none of these particles taken sepa-
rately has these properties determined. If such particles go away
from each other in opposite directions and find themselves at a
distance of, say, one million light years, then determining such
properties (by measurement) for one particle determines auto-
matically and instantly the properties of the other particle (for
instance, if a certain property adopts the value of 1 for one par-
ticle, then it adopts the value of 1 for the other particle). In
other words, particles (their properties) are correlated—this
constitutes a manifestation of the so-called nonlocality of
quantum mechanics (it has been confirmed experimentally)
(Tegmark & Wheeler, 2003). It is worth to emphasize that in
the past of the Universe, in particular just after the Big Bang,
when the Universe was very small, pairs of elementary particles
repeatedly underwent creation and annihilation, and therefore
we have reasons to suppose that all of them are mutually corre-
lated with each other. And in the face of this, the properties of
elementary particles are determined by the context of all other
elementary particles. Therefore, something like a single, iso-
lated elementary particle simply does not and cannot exist! In
fact, the problem is even more enigmatic. This is so because, at
least according to some theories, the positive energy related to
matter counterbalances exactly the negative energy resulting
from the distance in space between bodies endowed with mass
in the gravitational field, and therefore the total energy of the
Universe is exactly zero (Hawking, 1988). Therefore, it can be
said that, after the Big Bang, there originated only information
(related to negentropy) about mutual separation of matter and
space. In the face of this, the existence of matter—and therefore
also of elementary particles—would be dependent on the exis-
tence of space. And ultimately, the existence of anything in the
Universe would be dependent on the existence of anything else.
Therefore, for instance, an electron is not a fully autonomous
object (or a category of objects) that can be considered and
analyzed separately from other objects, and to which univocal
properties and independent existence can be attributed. There-
fore, we deal here, at least to some extent, with a not fully de-
termined notion, with a magical name, which makes the pre-
tense of absolute and independent existence of electrons of
determined, univocal and understandable properties.
Up to this point, I have been discussing mostly “objects” in
the real world, but the same reasoning also applies to processes
vs. “events”. There is no “discrete” causality in the real world,
where a “sharply-defined” reason causes a “sharply-defined”
result (an “event”), for instance, in the case of snooker balls,
when one ball strikes another on and sets it in motion. Instead,
there is only continuity of processes, for instance, when some
atoms of one ball, kept together by the electrical force, interact
with some atoms of another ball, and the latter moves as a
whole, also because the electrical force that keeps its atoms
together. In fact, one should talk not about atoms, but about
electron coats of atoms (orbitals) that are “blurred” in space, as
discussed above. In this way, macroscopic “facts” are extracted
by the human mind (not only according to language, but also
the mechanism of sensory data integration by the brain) from
microscopic continuous processes.
Shortly speaking, when we have a name, it seems to us that
we know what the electron is, we “domesticate” the mystery
that surrounds it. At the same time, it should be remembered
that (as discussed above) the names and notions developed
within the frame of formal and natural sciences correspond still
much better to various aspects and “objects” of the real world
and they “adhere” much better to the external reality than those
existing for instance within religion or (most of) philosophy.
For this reason, they are much less magical.
Language and Facts—Logic and Mathematics
What about the languages of mathematics and logic, appar-
ently the most strict and unequivocal of all languages? Are they
notthrough their strictness and unambiguitycompletely non-
magical, perfectly coherent and “objective” (devoid of acci-
dental and subjective “contaminations”)? Do they notthrough
sharply defined, discrete objects and rulesdescribe the world
in an absolutely certain way, devoid of any doubts? Well, it de-
pends on how one looks at this problem. Many mathematicians
and logicians believe that their disciplines and objects they deal
with (such as logical syllogisms, numbers, sets, functions,
various kinds of arithmetic and geometry) exist independently
of the material reality and human mind, in the world of ideal
Platonic entities. However, if somebody thinks (as I do) that the
Platonic world is an illusion, an empty name, then the language
of logic and mathematics would be (in a sense at least) the most
magical of the languages known to us, as it brings into exis-
tence entire independent universes. Let us start with logic. Its
rules seem to be obvious and even trivial. For instance, the law
of transitiveness of identity that says: “if A is identical with B
and B is identical with C, then A is identical with C”, or the
postulate saying that the sentence “the quantity (number) B of
A is located within C” is either true or false. So far, everything
seems to be all right. The problem begins at the moment, when
one starts to substitute real or thinkable objects for A, B and C.
Let us consider the sentence “A is identical with B”. What does
it mean “identical”? If one apple differs from another by at least
one atom, is it identical with it or not? And if the atomic com-
position is actually the same, does the spatial location still not
make a difference? After all, such a difference means a differ-
ent situation in relation to various objects, different gravita-
tional and electrical field intensity, different quanta of electro-
magnetic radiation (photons) reaching the surface of an apple
and exciting atoms entering into its composition, and so on.
Anyway, the notion of “identity” of two apples does not make
any sense, because of quantum indeterminacy. It allows for an
infinite number of combinations of locations of particular atoms
and elementary particles in apples. Quantum mechanics is sta-
tistical in its essence and therefore two apples on principle
cannot be identical! As it is discussed above, the property of
identity cannot be applied even to single elementary particles,
including those entering into the composition of apples under
consideration. And therefore, the above-quoted, apparently in-
nocent sentence is in fact nonsensical, simply impossible to be
correctly and logically formulated. The situation described by
the analyzed statement can occur only thanks to the magic of
Let us take another sentence: “there are two apples in this
basket” (being an exemplification of the general sentence “the
number B of objects A is located within object C”). According
to the analysis carried out above, neither apples nor baskets can
be identified in an absolute way. Therefore, this sentence can be
neither unconditionally true nor totally false (and so, it cannot
adopt the logical value of exactly 1 or 0, but only some inter-
mediate value). Similarly, it is impossible to define sharply the
Open Access 459
relation of “being located within”. For, what can one do with
the situation, when one atom protrudes beyond a basket? Fi-
nally, let us consider the number “two”, especially that it refers
directly to mathematics. Since there do not exist sharply de-
fined objects, numbers have nothing to count in the real world,
while the Platonic world is in my opinion (as I already men-
tioned) a delusion of our mind, caused by the “fact-creating”
magic of language. Generally, logico-mathematical objects and
relations constitute elements of the physical world that are ex-
tracted, sublimated and arranged in various combinations
(compare e.g., Barrow, 1992 for discussion). Thus, as the num-
ber “two” was extracted from two apples, two goats and so on,
so a tight string was the prototype of a straight line and two
sticks crossed at a possibly large angle gave rise to the notion of
the straight angle. Piaget demonstrated how children acquire
understanding of mathematics, when they gradually pass from
concrete objects and facts to abstractions and symbols (Piaget,
1953). It is likely that mathematics developed in a similar way
during biological and social evolution of humans. Of course,
contemporary mathematics deals with much more complex and
subtle “objects” than a number or a straight line. There is also
no “one mathematics”: within mathematics, there coexist vari-
ous competitive (alternative) constructs, such as Euclidean geo-
metry and countless plethora of non-Euclidean geometries.
There exist many alternative kinds of logic. Most of these va-
rieties of mathematics and logic seems to have little to do with
the real world, although some can appear to be very useful in
describing certain aspects of the physical reality. However, in
my opinion, all of them are a result of arranging conceptual and
linguistic blocks into different combinations, while the blocks
themselves are taken more or less directly from everyday ex-
perience, and also from neural structures in the brain that proc-
ess signals coming from receptors and carry out autonomous
associations on a higher level (broadly understood thinking proc-
esses—see Korzeniewski, 2010). Similarly, the same blocks
atoms and moleculescan be potentially arranged in various
configurations corresponding to functional living organisms2
that do not appear on Earth. This would be equivalent to crea-
tion of “alternative life” (after all, most probably some of its
possible forms exist on other planets in the Universe). However,
this does not mean that such “potential” living organisms be-
long to a certain Platonic world of biological entities. Addition-
ally, I suspect that at least some (if not all) mathematical con-
cepts extracted by mankind are internally contradictorythis
concerns for instance the concept of infinity (also infinitely
small points). In fact, how is it possible that infinite number of
points multiplied by infinitely small (zero) size of a point gives
three centimeters in one case and five centimeters in another
case? (To be sure, the great majority of mathematicians regard
this problem as overcome for a long time; being aware of this, I
take the liberty of disagreeing with them). The Cantorian con-
ception of infinity (commonly accepted now) says that the nu-
merical force of integer numbers is equal to the numerical force
of even numbers (both sets have the same cardinality), because
they can be univocally attributed to each other in pairs, e.g., 1 -
2, 2 - 4, 3 - 6, 4 - 8 ... and so on ad infinitum (see e.g., Penrose,
1990). However, in a certain important sense, there are more
integer numbers than even numbers, because this is true for any
finite sequence of numbers longer than one number. In other
words, in any finite (and infinite) sequence of integer numbers,
integer numbers are “more densely packed” than even numbers.
This statement also applies to the same degree, for instance, to
integer numbers and their squares or cubes. Therefore, the Can-
torian conception of infinity and equinumerosity is only one of
possibilities, and its common acceptance constitutes, to some
extent, a manifestation of a certain intellectual fashion. Gener-
ally speaking, I suspect that the concept of infinity is internally
contradictory, or even nonsensical. It was started by a simple
word-concept conglomerate, for instance, “if we continue to
add number 1 to a sequence of subsequent natural numbers, we
will never terminate” or “if we continue to divide a segment ad
infinitum, we will come to points of infinitely small (zero) size”.
However, this “operational infinity” does not imply any tran-
scendent “real infinity”. Considering the above stated, absolute
mathematical facts are not so “absolute” (see e.g., Barrow,
1992). The name “set of all sets” seems to be strictly and pre-
cisely defined, easily and intuitively understood. However, it
appears that it is an empty and nonsensical name, as such a set
cannot exist, because it has been proven that the set of all
sub-sets of a certain set is bigger than this set itself, and of
course no set can be greater than the set of all sets. By the way,
in my opinion, for a large part of mathematicians and logicians,
their discipline constitutes a substitute of religion as a certain
Absolute, existing somewhere in the (Platonic) underworld.
Though, of course, I prefer much the linguistic magic of
mathematics and logic than the linguistic magic of religion.
Language and Conceptual Network
So far, the relations between language and the external world,
“objective” reality have been discussed. However, it should be
emphasized that, in my opinion, language does not refer di-
rectly to the world. Somethingwhich I call conceptual net-
work and the neural network underlying itmediates in the
relations between them. As I proposed in detail earlier (Kor-
zeniewski, 2010; Korzeniewski, 2013), the “substance” of our
psyche is a network of concepts being a mental correlate of the
network of functional connections between neural cells in the
brain. This network develops during lifetime through extension
of the already existing system of connections caused by an
inflow of signals from receptors (sensory impressions) and as a
result of its autonomous activity (processes of thinking). In turn,
the conceptual/neuronal network itself serves as an interpreter
of incoming sensations that enables their understanding, and
also manifests the above-mentioned autonomic activity (again,
associated with understanding of carried out neural/mental
operations). In the process of individual development (onto-
genesis), appropriately directed and organized cognitive proc-
esses (whose general mechanisms are inborn and therefore
shaped by biological evolution) lead to an approximate repre-
sentation (sometimes better, sometimes worse) of certain as-
pects of the external world within the neural/conceptual net-
work, especially these aspects that are important for humans as
biological and social beings. To put it metaphorically, the neu-
ral/conceptual network entwines the reality in such a way that
particular mesh holes correspond to various aspects of the
world (like the spider web entwines the surface of a stone
sculpture; however, while the spider web is two-dimensional,
then the conceptual network has a potentially unlimited number
of (semantic) dimensions)3. When (either during individual
development or biological evolution) languagebeing a special
part of the conceptual network in this sense that it facilitates
effective use of this network as a whole and does so through
2Functional biological systems would correspond to non-contradictory and
consistent mathematical systems.
Open Access
attributing discrete names to concepts (I leave aside here the
obvious function of interpersonal communication)enters the
stage, some aspects of the world, represented by mesh holes,
become the above-discussed “facts” of the world. Language
names do not mean by themselves (this would be on principle
impossible), but through concepts (and thereforefragments of
the neural network) that underlie them (Korzeniewski, 2010;
Korzeniewski, 2013). Concepts, in turn, mean through relations
with other concepts (meaning by connotation). It is just the
conceptual “lining” of language in the mind (brain) that allows
us to understand language, while a computer does not under-
stand it, while also operating on different forms of language,
yet not equipped with the underlying conceptual network.
For this reason, the human thinking is on principle not algo-
rithmic. In my opinion, any discussions whether thinking is
algorithmic or not (see e.g., Penrose, 1990) are pointless. An
elementary knowledge about the functioning of neurons and
their groups is sufficient to conclude that they work in a con-
tinuous, analogical and therefore non-algorithmic way. For
instance, the frequency of impulses conducted by axons or the
concentration of neurotransmitter in the synaptic cleft can adopt
one of a continuous spectrum of values. Thinking is based pri-
marily on the conceptual network, and not on linguistic names
and formulas. Therefore, the algorithmic thinking is one more
apparent “fact” created by the magic of language.
The correspondence between linguistic names and “facts” of
the world is a two-step relationthe conceptual network
“winds around” (various aspects of) the world, while the names
of language are assigned to those elements of the conceptual
network-concepts-that are best separated, determined and char-
acterized by the greatest “intensity of the semantic field”. In
other words, language realizes its meaning in relation to the
world through the conceptual network. Granting names to con-
cepts, on the one hand, considerably facilitates manipulation of
concepts4, their ordering in grammatical and logical structures.
On the other hand, however, it causes a far-going absolutization
of these concepts, their transformation into discrete and appar-
ently independent entities (since something continuous, fuzzy,
partly undetermined is transformed into something apparently
unitary, discrete, self-dependent, sharply separated). The same
happens of course to the aspects of the world represented by
these concepts. The former suddenly undergo a conversion
from entities connected by interactions with other entities into
autonomous, absolute and sharp “facts” of the world. This is a
manifestation of the duality of language, which enables a more
efficient formation and use of the picture of the world based on
concepts, but at the same time, it co-shapes, co-determines,
deforms and even distorts this picture. Of course, the discussed
problem of the “world-creating” role of language concerns not
only the discreteness of linguistic names and bringing simple
facts into existence, but also grammatical rules, through which
sentences of language impose their structure on the external
reality, order it (or in fact its picture in the brain and mind) into
specific forms, depending on the kind of this structure.
In a certain important sense, the conceptual network is a
phenomenon superior to language, as it is more primary and
spacious than language. As I mentioned, the conceptual net-
work in humans constitutes the semantic “scaffolding” of lan-
guage, without which the latter cannot exist, and first of all
possess meanings. In animals, the conceptual network (much
simpler than in humans) is devoid of the linguistic “superstruc-
ture” (this is probably one of the reasons limiting the complex-
ity of this network). Besides, as I stated above, even in humans,
linguistic names are attributed only to the best separated and
determined concepts (what anyway strongly stimulates their
further individualization and development). Therefore, large
areas of the conceptual network-composed of barely sketched
concepts, allusions about sensesdo not find equivalents in the
sphere of language.
This indirectness of the relation of correspondence between
names of language and “facts” (caused by the conceptual net-
work) leads to a large divergence between the world and its
linguistic picture or representation. This results from a double
incoherence (or rather very imperfect coherence): between the
conceptual network and the external world as well as between
language and conceptual network. In the face of this, it is really
astonishing, how deeply and universally we are convinced
(frequently implicitly) of the existence of “sharp”, clearly sepa-
rated objects, processes and categories within the “objective”
reality. The conviction results, of course, from the way of func-
tioning of human brain and mind, the way that is shaped by
biological evolution. Language constitutes so effective a tool of
interpersonal communication and manipulation with the con-
ceptual network in thought processes, that it pays to tolerate its
“fact-creating” or even absolutistic “side effects”. Because, the
primary aim of biological evolution was not to perfect “subli-
mated”, abstract (“philosophical”) cognitive abilities, but to
improve purely instrumental functioning of humans in their
physical-biological and socio-cultural environment. Language
being a very efficient tool helpful in achieving this purpose
shaped at an occasion the mind in such a way that it has a
strong predilection to quantize the continuous in its nature en-
vironment. Additionally, language was becoming a more and
more autonomous phenomenon and started to create constructs
(names, messages) that had little, or even nothing to do with the
external reality. In simplest and most trivial cases, this con-
sisted in elementary combinations of “facts” to create new
“facts” on this basis. Thus, a combination of a man with a bird
gave an angel, while that with a lion produced a sphinx. More
abstract and complex operations of this type led to tearing off
the mental sphere from the corporal (material) sphere, which
gave origin to astral bodies or the immortal soul (spirit). Big
ontological or religious systems are most “advanced” in this
combinatorics of linguistic elements, which also makes them
leaders in getting completely detached from the real world.
Simply speaking, after gaining a certain autonomy, lan-
guagethat initially originated in order to (among others) rep-
resent the conceptual network, and thus the external world,
which was greatly facilitated by the combinatorics of language
elements (names) based on grammarbegan to experiment
with such combinations of elements that did not have any real
equivalents, as angels mentioned above. What’s more, it was
able to impose these constructs onto the conceptual network, i.e.
the “carrier” of senses (meanings). Thus, it forced in a sense the
belief in the existence of “designates” of such combinations in
the external world. In no different way did there originate big
religious and philosophical systems. Of course, I perform a
purposeful language subjectivization. In reality, we deal with
3The analogy with the spider web demonstrates also why it is impossi
le to
resolve the hard problem of self-consciousness: as the substance of the
spider web is completely different from the substance of the sculpture, so the
substance of the conceptual network (psyche) is totally different from the
substance of the external world.
4Therefore, my idea resembles to some extent Fodor’s language-of-thought
hypothesis (Fodor, 1975).
Open Access 461
impersonal processes occurring in fragments of the conceptual
network lying at the base of language. I also leave aside the
mechanisms responsible for the generation, selection, estima-
tion and acceptance as well as cultural consolidation of
such-and-not-other combinations of language elements, not to
mention yearnings, fears, needs and pure chance. I also do not
deny that such deceitful (in the cognitive sense) activity can
have some adaptive value. For instance, a certain mythology
can be useful tool that integrates a society or tribe. Yet, all these
matters, undoubtedly important, do not change the role of lan-
guage in the creation (through free element combinatorics) of
delusive entities and that role is what I am focused on after.
When language entered into primitive human societies, it
was accompanied with such fare-dodger phenomena as the
system of arbitrary cultural senses, mythology, religion or just
magic (in the narrow sense). Therefore, the magic of language
creates not only discrete facts in the continuous real world,
forces not-well-determined aspects of the reality into a strict
corset of linguistic names, but it also brings into existence
mental phenomena that do not correspond to nothing in this
reality, namely spirits of ancestors, supernatural powers, vari-
ous gods, rituals that are to gain their favor (prayers, scarifica-
tion of animals or humans) and so on. And all this happens
because of the pragmatic and opportunistic biological evolution
that shaped our brains for hunting mammoths and achieving
social success (a handy tool for propagating our genes), and not
for faithful cognition of the world that is not contaminated by
Language and Self-Consciousness
According to my conception (more comprehensively dis-
cussed before: Korzeniewski 2010, Korzeniewski 2013), con-
sciousness in the psychical sense and self-consciousness, that is
“feeling” of one’s own “I” (ego) emerge as a result of self-
directioning of the cognitive “center” in the human brain on
itself. This self-orientation would consist in the fact, that, apart
from receiving signals from the external world (processed by
sensory centers), this center begins also to receive signals from
itself. In this way, it creates within itself a model of itself, pro-
jects its own picture in itself. In other words, we deal with here
with a recurrent reference to itself. It seems likely that it is not a
matter of coincidence that the only creature known to us en-
dowed with (self)consciousnessmanpossesses a highly de-
veloped language. In my opinion, in the process of biological
evolution (but also individual development), language consti-
tutes a good candidate, if not for as much as the source (gen-
erator) of (self-)consciousness, then at least for a catalyst of its
development. Languageas it is also, after all, an element of
the conceptual networkfacilitates greatly the self-referring
relation between this network and itself, the process of model-
ing itself within itself, the process of entering a certain me-
ta-level and adjudicating also about itself (one can notice here
an analogy to famous logical paradoxes: the liar’s paradox,
Russell’s antinomy of classes (Penrose, 1990; Barrow, 1992)
and Gödel’s proof (Penrose, 1990), which are also based on the
relation of self-reference). Language is after all a sort of a
model of the conceptual network. Its names correspond, as I
mentioned above, to the best separated concepts. A very im-
portant role is played here by the efficiency of language in han-
dling the conceptual network, and also by the formal structure
of language that enables it to refer to itself (an therefore in fact
to handle and manipulate itself) as well as to separate sharply
(through naming) a certain set of phenomena or processes. This
is the origin of one of the most delusive facts of the world (this
time the “internal” one): our absolute, indivisible and invariable
“I” (ego) that decides about our identity, or even essence5.
From here, it is not far to the immortal soul (spirit), under-
worlds that this soul inhabits and similar delusions.
Something like one absolute, indivisible and invariable ego
the quintessence of the identity of our beingsimply does not
exist. As this contradicts our everyday subjective feeling and
common opinions, I will devote a few words to this problem.
One should start from the fact that the “I”, understood as (self)
consciousness, is not separated from “non-I” by any absolute
border. It emerged in the course of biological evolution of man
and emerges each time from psychical non-existence during
development from a fertilized egg cell to an adult individual.
By the way, there are reasons to think that in both cases the
development of ego proceeds in parallel with the development
of language and both these processes mutually drive (stimulate)
each other, in accordance with the conception presented above.
For instance, let us consider a known phenomenon of the
so-called infantile amnesia that consists in the fact that a child
has no (conscious) memories preceding the period before he/
she masters language. Secondly, the “content” of the “I”—and
therefore, both the momentary content and general features of
psychechange in the course of human life. A man learns, gath-
ers experiences, his views evolve, he acquires new memory
traces, while many old ones undergo obliteration. Even if we
abstract from the infant period, then an old man certainly is not
“the same man” as the young man from whom he has devel-
oped. The only thing that connects them is a certain continuity
(smaller or greater) of the evolution of the traits of psyche
(memory traces of course play here an important role). How-
ever, much more drastic changes are possible. Personality
changes significantly in a short period of alcoholic stupor or
drugged state. Anyway, it is enough to recall that the much
more usual shifting of attention from one thing to another or
turning consciousness off during dream. Long-term and irre-
versible changes (most frequently damage and impoverishment)
of psyche are caused by diseases, like Alzheimer or Parkinson
disease, as well as by vast damages of the brain inflicted by an
accident or stroke. A frequently cited example is callotomy
(section of corpus callosum that connects both brain hemi-
spheres), leading to the emergence of two almost completely
independent selves (each of which possesses its own “free will”)
that inherit some properties of the initial self, although they are
undoubtedly impoverished compared to the original self. Con-
trary to all appearances, the psyche is not indivisible either. It
consists of many “parts” and aspects that can be selectively
handicapped as a result of a damage inflicted on various brain
areas. Therefore, this is another case, when language creates an
apparently absolute fact of the world, namely our own invari-
able and indivisible “I”, which is in fact an evolving complex of
processes that constitute the base of (the content of) our
(self)consciousness and that can be determined and separated
only in an approximate and fuzzy way.
5I will add for clarity that I do not negate the emergence of the (epi) phe-
nomenon of (self)consciousness from a certain form of brain functioning, as
I do not deny the emergence of the phenomenon of life as a result of a cer-
tain functional organization of matter. I only put in doubt the existence of an
absolute, unchangeable and indivisible “I” (or soul, spirit, etc.), by analogy
to the negation of an absolute existence of a fact of the world in the form o
mister XY.
Open Access
Language, Science, Philosophy,
Religion and Magic
Due to the lack of perfect adherence of both language to
conceptual network and of the network itself to the world, lan-
guage can describe the real world only in an approximate way.
Additionally, due to absence of appropriate methodology, the
adherence of language to the world is much worse in philoso-
phy than, for instance, in science (such disciplines as, for in-
stance, religion represent the pure magic of language, practi-
cally uncontaminated in its essence). Already in science itself,
and in trials of unification of whole physics in particular, our
conceptual apparatus as well as language (especially mathe-
matical language) seem to face huge obstacles in their attempts
at representing the reality. Philosophy exhausted the majority of
its potential to describe the real world hundreds, if not thou-
sands years ago. In fact, during the last centuries, the only sig-
nificant progress has been made within the framework of scep-
tical, analytical philosophy (e.g., Hume, Kant) that underscored
limitations of our knowledge of the world. Contemporary huge
developments in neurophysiology also indicate univocally that
humans are not universal cognitive machines. Moreover, man
has an intrinsic inclination to create concepts referring to delu-
sive entities and to do so for his own use. Such concepts un-
dergo unusual enhancement through attributing appropriate
linguistic names to them. This process took place in different
sorts of mythologies, religions, astrology, alchemy, masonry,
and generally-according to the viewpoint presented here-in
broadly understood magic. In all these social phenomena, an
important role was played by proper names, incantations, spells,
rituals and ceremonies. All of them generated the sense of ini-
tiation, esoteric knowledge, of belonging to an exclusive group
of the elect. All beguiled with access to the Deepest and Ulti-
mate (and frequently also Inconceivable) Mystery. The same
also applies to a large extent to philosophy (especially ontology)
which operates with highly delusive names and concepts that
do not correspond to anything (or almost anything) sensible.
These concepts are predominantly simply senseless and very
poorly defined at best. Here belong the concepts of the spirit
(soul), matter, predicate, monads, causality, fact of the world
and many, many others. Philosophy also lays claims to the ab-
solute truth. The higher the level of abstraction is reached by
philosophical reflection, the less it has in common with the real
world, the more it is devoid of any sensible content, the more it
can be defined as juggling with meaningless names. Therefore,
the most reasonable philosophy is the one that is directly based
on contemporary achievements of science and that integrates
and interprets them on a current basis.
For this reason, if we undertake to engage in a philosophical
dispute, we ought to know exactly, when this dispute should be
terminated. Otherwise, it simply boils down to futile, termino-
logical (linguistic) “mumbo jumbo”. In other words, one should
avoid entering such abstract and “transcendent” peaks of phi-
losophical reflection, where any statements appear to be only a
pure phrase-mongering. Somebody who professes solipsism or,
oppositely, denies real existence of consciousness does not
understand that the concepts of the spirit (soul) and matter
(functioning quite well in everyday life) have no well deter-
mined meaning in philosophy. Therefore, instead of assuming
absolute, magical existence of names and concepts (and facts),
it is better to retain a certain minimum of common sense and
mark out a conventional line, beyond which it makes no sense
to continue philosophical disputes. Of course, setting such a
line is not easy and nobody can lay exclusive claims to know its
course. Besides, it is easy (I know this from my own experience)
to go too far in the fervor of discussion and cross the borders
set by oneself. Therefore, it is important to respect them con-
sistently. Finally, it is worth mentioning that (again, I judge by
myself) the awareness of the existence (and liquidity) of such a
border is formed (and evolves) in time, together with an ongo-
ing analysis of the nature of science, philosophy and all that lies
in between.
It must be honestly admitted that science is by no means free
of magical admixtures. For instance, physicists are inclined to
attribute an excessive degree of reality to mathematical objects
that are to describe the real world. Biologists believe (to a
smaller or greater extent) in the existence of living individuals
and species. Astronomers believe in the absolute existence of
stars, planets, and so on. I mentioned this above. Science,
however, is nonetheless the least magical of all disciplines of
human intellectual activity. Because only science possesses a
reliable methodology (including, first of all, experimental tests
and observations), which allows a relatively good (although by
no means ideal) attribution of linguistic names (including those
of the language of mathematics) to various aspects and objects
of the real world. Therefore, it tries to describe the world and
not to create it. Yet, it is only partly successful in fulfilling this
Coming back to the magical aspects of philosophy, I would
like to mention yet another issue, namely that of words-master
keys, as I call them. These are names that are in principle empty,
yet they are willingly used in philosophical disputes as they
make the impression of wise and profound concepts. I will give
one example. Neurophysiologists (as well as researches from
kin disciplines) for decades carry out laborious studies and
build theoretical models that are to reveal how (for which kind
of functional matter organization) self-consciousness (psychical
sphere) emerges from the functioning of the neural network in
the human brain (the so-called soft problem of consciousness).
Philosophers, in turn, in spite of their frequently week under-
standing of neurophysiology, resolve the problem by saying
that the mind cannot emerge from the functioning of matter,
because both entities are “incommensurable”. Similarly, nine-
teenth century philosophers denied the possibility that life can
emerge from inanimate matter, because they were unable to
accept the fact that life is only a set of atoms organized in a
special way6 and there is no “vital force” behind it. Huge pro-
gress of biology in the twentieth century proved this view to be
completely false. Generally, human brain shaped by biological
evolution (this concerns not only philosophers, but also, for
instance, physicists and biologists) has huge difficulties with
direct “seeing” and comprehending the phenomenon of com-
plexity and also with the consequences resulting from it, in-
cluding emergence of phenomena and properties on a higher
level of complexity hierarchy from interactions of elements on
a lower level. This applies not only to such phenomena as life
or consciousness. We are even unable to explain in detail, why
huge numbers of complexes of two hydrogen atoms or of two
oxygen atoms take the form of gases, while huge numbers of
complexes of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom take
the form of a liquid, water, of such-and-not-other properties.
6I am not a primitive reductionist, as I believe that the phenomenon of com-
plexity exists objectively—see below.
Open Access 463
A leading example of magical thinking in philosophy is
found in the attribution of real existence to universals (general
beings like sets, categories or notions). This is the so-called
philosophical realism. In my opinion, however, the problem
turns out to be completely futile, when one realizes that they are
simply concepts created in our brain/mind by common neuro-
physiological processes that underlie brain functioning (they
correspond to what I call associative structures—see refs. Kor-
zeniewski, 2010; Korzeniewski, 2013).
While in science the admixture of the magic of language is
relatively small (thanks to its relatively reliable methodology),
it constitutes the dominant element in (abstract “positive”) phi-
losophy (especially ontology), not to mention religion. On the
other hand, science frequently suffers from excessive speciali-
zation and lack of a general approach. Therefore, it can be
said-simplifying the matter somewhat facetiously—that phi-
losophers know nothing about everything, while scientists
know everything about nothing. This means that philosophers
have a wide, integrative view, but they lack effective method-
ology allowing for a relatively reliable cognition of the world,
while scientists have such methodology at their disposal, but
their interests are very frequently limited to very narrow seg-
ments of the reality. I think that one ought to try to reconcile
these opposite approaches to cognition of the world and to gain
a possibly integrated picture of its various aspects (the domain
of philosophy), directly based on the relatively “hard” knowl-
edge, acquired thanks to a large contribution of empiricism (this
is what science deals with).
Language and Ethics
One of the most blatant cases of the magical, fact-creating
power of language is fundamentalist ethics. An example of such
thinking is found in the unconditional prohibition of abortion,
based, among others, on the dogma that a zygote is already a
human with full rights, endowed by God with the immortal soul
at the moment of fertilization. Fundamentalist ethics views all
possible moral conflicts in terms of zero-or-one solutions and
grants an absolute status to the laws it chooses to preach. How-
ever, psychic and social life is of course too complex to be
unequivocally codified, forced into a corset of simple, unshak-
able rules that do not contradict each other. This was experi-
enced by everybody, who faced the so-called moral conflicts,
that is by all normal people. Therefore, any attempt at con-
structing absolutist ethics simply takes the easy way out and
releases man from the duty of thinking and hesitation before
taking a decision, and generally from elementary human re-
sponsibility. A ruthlessly consequent realization of literally
sketched moral rules leads very frequently to gruesome results.
This would not happen if we do not use the magic of language
to promote the frequently conflicting motivations of fair and
honest behavior to the status of facts (ethical this time).
My point of view is decidedly relationist, because I do not
believe in (the sense of) an absolute existence of (sharp, per-
fectly determined) linguistic elements, concepts and “facts” of
the world (objects, processes, phenomena, categories). I think
that both elements of the neural and conceptual network as well
as those of the external reality mean by connotation, by being
related to each other. The semantic relation of denotation
facts of the world-concepts in the conceptual network-language
and its elements (words, sentences)is very imperfect. There-
fore, the picture or representation of (different aspects of) the
world in the mental and linguistic sphere is very approximate
and “fuzzy”. Additionally, it is considerably deformed by the
discrete and “stiff” nature of language elements (words, sen-
tences, grammar).
The process of separating and extracting discrete objects
from the essentially continuous world (and continuous stream
of sensory data) starts already on a pre-linguistic level, at the
stage of processing signals from receptors by the sensory cortex
(Korzeniewski, 2010, Korzeniewski, 2013). However, language
strongly enhances the separation of “facts” of the world, which
leads to their absolutization and apparent autonomy.
Through “quantized”, discrete nature of its names and sen-
tences built of them and governed by rigorous laws of grammar,
language imposes on us irresistibly an urge to classify and cat-
egorize everything, to create sharp, absolute facts within the
essentially continuous and relational world. Because of this, it
stimulated the creation not only of these facts, but also of sets,
classes, all sorts of systematics, classifications, hierarchical
organizations, divisions into opposites, and so on. This gave
rise to our fondness of order, arrangement of elements of the
world into simple and understandable constructions, symmetri-
cal and clear-cut patterns, stiff and incontestable rules. Para-
doxically, this affection to a simple, universal and preferably
absolute and the only possible order gave origin both to astrol-
ogy, alchemy, magic, philosophy and religion, on the one hand,
and to science, on the other hand. The main difference con-
sisted here in the fact that the former drew mainly or exclu-
sively from the creativity of our mind channeled by language
and based only on its own inventions, wishes and fears, while
science gave preference not to unlimited speculations of “pure
mind”, but to empirical knowledge, that is to consequent inves-
tigation of the external world and to continuous confrontation
of the ideas of the mind with observations and experiments.
This cognitive modesty allowed scientific reflection to advance
step by step, slowly and with many mistakes, yet to reach much
farther and do so in a much more reliable way.
Every word, sentence and more complex construct of lan-
guage is in a certain important sense a magical formula: it cre-
ates absolute, “sharp” and discrete entities, facts, objects, per-
sons, laws, sets, processes and categories from nothing, from an
essentially continuous spectrum of phenomena, and it fills the
real world up with these creations. Naming some entity (giving
it a name) in fact brings this entity into existence. It is not so
bad if this entity corresponds to some relatively well separated
aspect of the world, which takes place in science or everyday
life. It is worse if language creates entities or “facts” that are
completely (or almost completely) imaginary, delusive, ex-
tremely poorly defined or even devoid of any sense, which is
the domain of magic, astrology, religion and a large part of
philosophy (in particular-ontology). I mean here not only
“pure” invention of entities that have no (or almost no) equiva-
lents in reality, like monads or angels, but also more complex
linguistic (and, as a consequence, semantic) constructs. General
entities corresponding to various sets or categories of elements
constitute one of my favorite examples. It seems obvious (at
least for me) that such entities exist only as linguistic names
(and concepts corresponding to them) in the mind. However, a
quite large part of philosophers attribute real, objective exis-
tence to them. A good example of inconsistency of constructs
based on sets viewed as absolute entities is Russell’s antinomy
Open Access
Open Access 465
of classes, which demonstrates that both positive and negative
answer to the question “is the set of all sets not being their own
elements its own element or not” lead to contradiction. The
already mentioned “set of all sets” is a less known, yet equally
spectacular case. It appears that this apparently clear linguistic
construct that seems understandable without any problems is
devoid of any sensible content. Similar linguistic constructs,
only apparently filled with real or sensible content, appear in
religion. They can take the form of one of the “proofs” of the
existence of God (there must exist a most perfect entity, and
this by definition is God) or an apparent paradox (whether om-
nipotent God can create a stone that he could not lift), or some-
thing from the Buddhist wisdom (is it possible to clap with one
hand). A while of sober reflection leads to a clear realization
that these magical formulas constitute simply empty and mean-
ingless juggling with words. Thus, the mentioned disciplines
(magic, religion, a large part of philosophy) lead to (magical!)
autonomization of linguistic names and phrases, and through
this to their detachment from anything real, or even sensible. In
fact, can there be something more magical than “The Word
became flesh”?
Our thinking (to a large extent) and our interpersonal com-
munication (almost completely) are slaves of language. The
problem, however, is that we practically never fully realize this
state of affairs. And we necessarily should do so to free our-
selves at least partly from the omnipotence of language. When
operating with language, one ought to remember about the all
the deep and rich subtleties of its relations with conceptual
network and external world, and one should not use names in a
brute way, believing naively in their absolute and incontestable
or even magical status.
The following analogy (simplified out of necessity) can be
used to compare language to conceptual network. Language is a
fundamentalist, ordered, strictly logical phenomenon that im-
poses military discipline on our thinking, but also it frequently
limits this thinking, reduces it to usual schemes. On the other
hand, conceptual network is liberal, even anarchistic, chaotic to
some extent, intuitive, full of freedom and inclined to improvi-
sation. The question of which of them should be given priority
can be answered only in one way: none. What is needed is the
golden mean, such symbiosis of language and conceptual net-
work that enhances their merits and limits their failures. Lan-
guage in reasoning is a despot and it has by its nature decisive
supremacy. Therefore, a great effort is necessary to allow the
fertile mists of conceptual network to come to the force. Only
ideas first formed in this way should be afterwards exposed and
explicitly expressed by dressing them in possibly adequate
linguistic constructs.
Of course we will not liberate ourselves from language, and
under no circumstances should we do this, because it makes our
thinking (use of conceptual network) and communication (ex-
change of meanings between conceptual networks of different
persons) much more efficient. However, we should continu-
ously remember its limitations and faults. First of all, we should
be aware that it imposes facts onto the world, facts that consti-
tute at best only approximate and imperfect representations of
certain aspects of this world, while, at worst, they may have
nothing in common with it. Language helps enormously to
create the picture of the world, but it also simplifies and de-
forms significantly this picture. In extreme cases, it brings
imaginary worlds into existence. This concerns especially such
disciplines of human intellectual activity as religion and phi-
losophy. Therefore, we must be as immune as possible to the
magic of language, in order to avoid getting uncritically en-
Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon
Barrow, J. D. (1992). Pi in the sky. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chomsky, N. (1968). Language and mind. New York: Harper and Row.
Coveney, P., & Highfield, R. (1991) The arrow of time. The quest to
solve science’s greatest m ystery. Flamingo.
Fodor, J. A. (1975). The language of thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
Frege, G. (1960). On sense and reference. In: P. Geach &, M. Black
(Eds.), Translations from the philosophical writings of Gottlob Frege
(pp. 56-78). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Hawking, S. W. (1988). A brief history of time: From the Big Bang to
black holes. New York: Bantam Books.
Kay, P., & Kempton, W. (1984). What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis?
American Anthropologist, 86 , 65-79.
Korzeniewski, B. (2010). From neurons to self-consciousness. How the
brain generates the mind. Amherst: Prometheus Books.
Korzeniewski, B. (2013). Formal similarities between cybernetic defi-
nition of life and cybernetic model of self-consciousness: Universal
definition/model of individual. Open Journal of Philosophy, 3, 314-
Penrose, R. (1990). The emperor’s new mind. Concerning computers,
minds and the laws of physics. London: Vintage.
Piaget, J. (1953). How children form mathematical concepts. Scientific
American, 189, 74-79.
Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. (1984). Order out of chaos. London: Heine-
Prigogine, I. (1980). From being to becoming. San Francisco: W. H.
Quine, W. V. O. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Russell, B. (1923). Vagueness. The Australasian Journal of Psychology
and Philosophy, 1, 84-92.
Sapir, E. (1921). Language: An introduction to the study of speech.
Brace: Harcourt.
Schrödinger, E. (1992). What is life? Cambridge: Press Sindicate of the
University of Cambridge.
Tegmark, M., & Wheeler, J. A. (2003). 100 years of the quantum mys-
teries. Scientific American, 284, 68-75.
Whorf, B. L. (1940). Science and linguistics. Technology Review, 42,
Wittgenstein, L. (1921). Tractatus logico-philosophicus.