Sense and Meaning

“Contrary to what is generally believed, meaning and sense were never the same thing, meaning shows itself at once, direct, literal, explicit, enclosed in itself, univocal, if you like, while sense cannot stay still, it seethes with second, third and fourth senses, radiating out in different directions that divide and subdivide into branches and branch-lets, until they disappear from view, the sense of every word is like a star hurling spring tides out into space, cosmic winds, magnetic perturbations, afflictions.”

Jose Saramago, “All the Names,” translated by Margaret Jull Costa, London: The Harvill Press, p. 115

The root of the word “meaning” can be traced to the Old Saxon menian – “intend, signify, make known,” whereas the word “sense” is etymologically connected to the five senses and may be a figurative use of a literal meaning “to find one’s way.” Consequently, meaning may be understood as a static, atemporal construct of the mind, while sense is more changeable, rooted in the body, constantly evolving, growing and temporal. Sense is bodily, meaning is abstract. Both feed off each other. Sense without meaning is like a colourful, elusive butterfly; meaning without sense can be likened to a pinned butterfly. Together, sense and meaning coexist in harmony in Chuang Tzu’s dream quoted by Borges in “A New Refutation of Time”:

“Chuang Tzu, some twenty-four centuries ago, dreamt he was a butterfly and did not know, when he awoke, if he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly who now dreamt he was a man.”


Katsushika Hokusai, “Philosopher Watching a Pair of Butterflies”

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17 Responses to Sense and Meaning

  1. Brian Carlin says:

    Absolutely, “sense” being changeable, evolving. Which is why, I suppose we MAKE sense of things. whereas when we SEE or MAKE sense, we usually FIND meaning, a revelation, intact.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m still wondering about that dream. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, and I must say I agree that dream is really haunting. In an article on lucid dreaming ( I once read this:
      “When we become lucid in a dream, we realize that who we were imagining we are, the dream ego, is being dreamed by a deeper part of ourselves, what I call the “deeper, dreaming Self.” Jung himself had this realization in a dream that he had during the last years of his life. In the dream he entered a church, and much to his surprise saw a meditating yogi sitting in front of the church. Upon closer inspection, Jung saw that the yogi had his face, and Jung then realized that the yogi was not Jung’s dream, but that he was the yogi’s dream.” Jung describes this dream in his memoirs.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    “Chuang Tzu, some twenty-four centuries ago, dreamt he was a butterfly and did not know, when he awoke, if he was a man who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly who now dreamt he was a man.”


  4. Amy Campion says:

    Love Jose Saramago! Have you read “Death, Interrupted” (aka “Death with Interruptions”)? (Has various names according to the translation) It bewitched me!
    And thanks too for this timely reminder that sense and meaning, though so lovingly intermingled, are as yet not one and the same…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Amy, he is one of my favourite authors – so lyrical, moving and compassionate – the essence of Portuguese spirit with the tender Saudade. “Death, Interrupted” is really beautifully written. The book I am quoting from bewitched me as well – I really, really recommend it. Thank you for commenting.


  5. Indeed, Monika, they feed off one another. Your chosen focus here is an important juxtaposition, especially in today’s increasingly fast-paced world where meaning (the immediate/logical) seems to be the default manner through which many process. Those people who can bridge the two and comfortably invoke their sensory abilities to learn/explore through an alternate lens – seem to be the fortunate ones. Thank you for your grounding interpretation/explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Eric, profoundly true. What is more, ungrounded truths can be really scary, leading to fanaticism, etc. All religions were once grounded in sense, but where is this now?
      Best wishes


  6. herongrace says:

    I have been thinking about and grappling with this issue the last few days whilst working with a builder. Me being very right brain finds it difficult to visualise and quickly grasp technical concepts. I explain to him…I don’t think, I sleep on things and in the morning I have worked out how things will pan out. Lazy person’s solution to solving problems. So yes I have been reflecting on my Neptunian mode of sensing and feeling my way through, slowly magnetising the solutions to me and feeling o.k. about pausing the work whilst I let the info. gradually filter through.It kind of feels organic and places my mind second to the other sensors.
    I did see a rare beautiful butterfly fly past me the other day and took it as some sort of message. Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is really interesting, and I am loving this “slowly magnetising the solutions to me” – what a lovely turn of phrase. I think people actually should operate like this more instead of opting for a faster, default solution. In my case, I think the Neptunian mode that you describe also fits, but even more often I realize it is my body that makes almost all decisions – courtesy of the Moon in Taurus.
      Thank you very much for your comment.


  7. 1weaver says:

    @herongrace: i am similar processor but i wouldn’t call it lazy. just a different kind of wiring…that neptunian energy sort of default-couples with our senses and we just have to wait for the meaning to solidify. the issues that can sometimes cause is because its a process that operates outside of Time. at least thats what i am going with! 🙂 (what else can we do but roll with it, which i think requires a good deal of ‘bridging’ energy?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, absolutely – the unconscious process is ever lazy. It never stops working, and is timeless, as you say. I think @herongrace is blessed to have a direct connection to it – the “bridging energy” as you call it. Sometimes it is an intuitive flash, sometimes it takes longer.The source is always mysterious, coming from the great beyond.
      Thank you very much for your comment.


  8. Jeff Japp says:

    I think when our dormant senses are activated, we will finally evolve as a species.

    Liked by 1 person

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