Language is Bad Metaphor

How to Eat a Word Salad

What do electrons look like?

This question is made up of words, and probably (to you) seems to have meaning. You probably feel that you know what I’m trying to ask, even if you don’t have a clear answer. But, some of the folks who have spent the most time thinking about words would find this question to be meaningless (Wittgenstein), or even a lie (Derridas).

The thing about spin is that it isn’t spin

It can’t be spin. At least, not what we mean when we say spin, usually — like a ball that is rotating around an axis. For context: we don’t really know how big electrons are. In fact, we’re not totally sure that they aren’t just single points (meaning that there couldn’t be an attribute of “bigness” at all). But, even if electrons were on the upper limit of how big they might be, the amount of angular momentum that would be required for them to produce their magnetic fields would have to be, like, enough that they’re spinning faster than the speed of light. A lot faster. Or they’d have to be larger than the whole atom. Also, like we said before, they may be a literal point in space in which case they lack the necessary dimensions to “spin.” (Don’t @ me about “intrinsic angular momentum” and Larmor processions — I’m making a point here, and this article is hard enough to read as it is.)

What does up and down mean?

It means in the direction you’re measuring, or the other direction. No in betweens, no other directions. So if you take the Stern Gerlach experiment (not gonna go into details, but basically you shoot magnets [or spinning charged particles] through a device and it exerts force up or down on them depending on how tilted upward the north pole of their magnetic field is) a regular bunch of magnets, or spinning charged particles with a magnetic field (which would be oriented in random distribution — which is what you would expect the silver atoms used in an experiment like this to do if electrons were really just spinning [or, properly, looping] charged particles creating a magnetic field) would do this:


What is wrong with language?

Language is a patchwork creation. It was not made by some philosopher god and given to us an an optimized tool to service our needs around communicating and reconstructing relevant information for manipulating our world or creating metaphysical insights: it’s a organically generated set of sounds, and symbols, and symbols-for-sounds, that have affiliated implications that (we think) we mutually agree upon (accurately enough that they have broad usefulness). Language is not only unlikely, based on that origin, to serve a philosopher’s precise desire to communicate any possible thought or feeling he might imagine, but also unlikely to serve everything we encounter and try to reach an understanding about in the physical universe.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Source:

Enter Derridas

Derridas thought this whole thing of thinking that words have specific meaning and that, by using them carefully, we can precisely communicate ideas was (at best) hilariously naive.

This dude. (Source
Rock in a stream. Or, you know, nameless experience with no need for differentiation. Because, I guess, there’s no such thing as a rock or a stream — arbitrarily differentiated “objects.” That was a lie. (Source:

So what’s the point of all of this?

In a way that I plan to explore in more depth in future articles, I’m a big believer in practical philosophy. This pretty much excludes the conclusions Derridas’ lines of thinking would lead us to, and those that Wittgenstein’s first hot take on language would lead us to. Nihilism isn’t useful, and neither is disregarding the vast majority of human speech as meaningless. This doesn’t mean that the question of language isn’t useful to think about: there are practical, useful things to extract from all of these frameworks for our daily lives.

Diogenes is awesome. Google him.