Monday, May 4, 2009

A Well-Worn Phrase

I used one yesterday to round out the rhythm of a sentence: “Be in the world but not of it.” The phrase has the smooth, comfortable feel of a very well-worn tool obtained from one of the two main sources for such things in English: the Bible or Shakespeare. It comes from neither. Its logical structure is ambiguous at best, but the meaning is accessible. It illustrates wonderfully how far we really are from mere collocations of atoms. The phrase suggests that we may have a choice: in the world or out. We don’t. And if we opt to be in, it suggests that we may in some sense be of it, in another sense not. But what do these options mean? I’d hate to be the one assigned to teach a computer, destined to serve in Artificial Intelligence, exactly how to handle this string of words, how to parse it, how to apply it in actual life situations. People have no such problems. What a piece of work is man…

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