Talbott on abstract thinking
Go back to Talbott on Barfield
If we look at the polarity of language, it is immediately evident that the attempt to define--the
quest for a "dictionary definition"--is driven almost wholly from the pole of accuracy, and
therefore tends to eliminate meaning. Meaning, if you will recall, "is not a hard and fast system of
reference"; it is not definable, but only suggestible, and requires the poetic for its suggestion. The
strict dictionary definition, by contrast, attempts to tie down, to eliminate any ambiguity
previously imported by the poetic . . .
[the definition of "water"] gives me little if any assistance in determining whether a particular
use of the word "water" in a poem, personal memoir, news study, or qualitative scientific study
makes any sense...It does not tell me anything about my actual experience of water in the world...
But what will not be so readily admitted is that [such] experiences contain a good deal of what
"water" really means, which is also to say: what it actually is. Our difficulty with
this thought, one might almost say, is the defining characteristic - the crippling failure - of our
day. It is related to our insistence upon a world of objects bearing absolutely no inner relation to
the human being who observes them. (Talbott 309-310)