So, halfway through the last post I forgot my original reason for writing it, as you can tell from the somewhat aimless jabbering. (Could someone at least tell me when I have wandered off the reservation? LOL.) But now I remember. To frame this discussion on paradox within the context of the first few parts, and this blog’s focus on economics, consider the following: We do not need to expand the set of words in natural language to cover every possible bit of information, though we know that we could attempt it forever without success. The reason why the endeavor is useless, however, is that the law of diminishing returns functions as well with words as it does for everything else. In microeconomics, the law of diminishing returns says (from wikipedia):

…the marginal production of a factor of production, in contrast to the increase that would otherwise be normally expected, actually starts to progressively decrease the more of the factor are added. According to this relationship, in a production system with fixed and variable inputs (say factory size and labor), beyond some point, each additional unit of the variable input (IE man*hours) yields smaller and smaller increases in outputs, also reducing the mean productivity of each worker. Conversely, producing one more unit of output, costs more and more (due to the major amount of variable inputs being used,to little effect).

Humans demand words and we use them, like our own capital, to produce and transmit information which gives great utility to each person capable of it. But we really only need so many descriptive words. At the point where the benefit from adding another word is less than the cost (the costs of memorizing, transmitting the word to enough people to be useful), and this point surely exists (take for example the extraordinarily minimal benefit from adding a word that means “soggy paper that could have been wet by any of many sources / ambiguously wet paper” versus the comparatively major cost), the word or set of words will not be added. Language is dynamic, meaning that new demand arises, and therefore so do new words, so this state need not stay forever. (In practice, languages are always changing and a prescriptivist book is archaic two seconds after it is published.)

With most linguistic needs met, the human spirit still needs more. Humans get more utility from moving outside the scope of natural language, giving heed to faith and developing paradox as a method for coping with all the dark corners, nooks, and gaps of natural language. It is not difficult to create a new color word in a language for a particular undifferentiated shade of green, but the need may not be strong enough to do so. The need to describe concepts and ideas that do not fit into one tidy shape requires entirely new words. Languages all over the world have long struggled with these ideas, certainly of paradox. When the cost to storing information went down, our vocabulary commensurately increased in all kinds of fields where it was previously more costly than beneficial (think: color vocabulary) to store such information in the human lexicon. Freed from the onerous costs of information storage, the vocabulary for faith and paradox, that which becomes the bright and ineffable in the human experience, zealously bloom in the art of the race.

Herbert Muller realized this in a way long before I did. In his incredible book, The Uses of the Past, he writes of the majestic Hagia Sophia in a book whose aim is to talk about relationship with history:

Only, my reflections failed to produce a neat theory of history, or any simple, wholesome moral. Hagia Sophia, or the ‘Holy Wisdom,’ gave me instead a fuller sense of the complexities, ambiguities, and paradoxes of human history. Nevertheless, I propose to dwell on these messy meanings. They may be, after all, the most wholesome meanings for us today; or so I finally concluded.

Any interesting and useful theory of economics, linguistics, or art is doomed to immediate obsolescence without considering messy meanings.

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