資料圖片,來源:Pete Godfrey @ Unsplash

狂熱後設

Facebook 母公司易名以前,「metaverse」一詞早已傳世多年,並非新創。朱克伯格(Mark Zuckerberg)佔為己用,大抵想先聲奪人。據說此混成詞源出 1992 年的科幻作品《潰雪》(Snow Crash),由其作者史蒂芬森(Neal Stephenson)所構,即指以網絡為基礎再進一步開發的虛擬空間。三十年前的科幻,三十年後的現實,剛好活了一代人。

正如朱克伯格提及,「meta」一字故然可上溯至古希臘文,更添神秘與莊重,只是他的講法略欠準確。此字的古希臘文「μετά」幾乎不曾解作超越,超越一義乃後世之曲折衍生,所以查英文字典就查得出超越一義。拙文謹為補充平實的「μετά」何以變身做超越的「meta」,實與亞里士多德形上學尤關。

超越的「meta」於後世大放異彩,成為文藝界及科技界的潮語,故又有人造出「metafiction」、「metatheatre」、「metadata」、「metaprogram」、「metagame」等新詞。以這批為例,不少近人以「meta」為前綴造出新詞時,其詞義往往又再經歷多一重曲折。查牛津字典的話,會見到「meta」與「self-referential」同義,即自我指涉。如「metafiction」即關於小說的小說,「metaprogram」即能編寫程式的程式。

此自我指涉之義顯屬近世的新發明,如「metaphysics」一詞即不具此意,只可解作「超越自然論」,不可解作「自然論的自然論」。之所以增添自我指涉一義,大抵拜一眾近世學者所賜,如數學家希爾伯特(David Hilbert)首創「metamathematics」一語,數學家塔斯基(Alfred Tarski)令「metalanguage」一語變得通行。可謂兼容古典義及超越義,離開當前、退後一步,以便反躬自省。

記者寇恩(Noam Cohen)曾於期刊《新共和》(The New Republic)上發表〈後設深思:自我指涉的狂熱〉(Meta-Musings: The self-reference craze)一文,同樣指出「meta」的字義先後經歷過兩大演變,即分別以亞里士多德形上學及近世學者的挪用為契機。[1] 而他認為文藝界及科技界之所以陷入狂熱,造出更多自我指涉的新概念,他稱為「電腦上師」(a computer guru)的認知科學家侯世達 (Douglas Hofstadter)當記首功。1979 年,侯世達出版《哥德爾、埃舍爾、巴赫:集異璧之大成》(Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid)一書,大獲好評,書中就出現過廿五組以「meta」為前綴的新造詞,不少乃作者自創。[2]

題外話,拙文提過的「hyper」一字,其古希臘文「ὑπέρ」即具超越之意,既可指空間上的超越,亦可指度量上的超越。時至今天,冠上「hyper」一字為前綴的英文新詞卻多「不懷好意」,諸如「hyperactivity」、「hypertension」、「hyperinflation」等,均取異常或過分之義。相比起「meta」一字,「hyper」一字倒見命途坎坷。

 

[1] “‘Meta’ was first popularized by Aristotle, who, in seeking a name for the sequel to his blockbuster Physics, settled on Metaphysics. All he meant by the prefix – Greek for ‘after’ or ‘beyond’ – was that the second book had come after the first. But since the second book was about what lies beyond physical reality, people mistakenly, though plausibly, gave the word its current meaning: ‘Beyond physics.’ ‘Meta,’ by extension, came to mean ‘a level beyond.’

During the last hundred years or so, academics realized that this concept could open up fresh terrain for disciplines thought to have run their course. ‘Meta’ rejuvenated subjects like ethics, literary criticism, and mathematics with ‘meta-ethics,’ ‘meta-criticism,’ and ‘meta-mathematics.’ These specialties study, respectively, the ethics of adhering to an ethical system, the criticism of criticism, and the logic of logical systems. The self-reference industry had been born.”

[2] “Meta first saw a glimmer of its current faddishness in 1979, when a computer guru, Douglas Hofstadter, published the book Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. In this cult classic – which hundreds of thousands bought but few finished – Hofstadter explained how self-reference had figured in the works of the three title characters. The artist M.C. Escher, for example, was fond of depicting logically impossible drawings, of, say, a drawn hand sketching a human hand, or of a painting that contains the gallery in which it is hung. The book’s index included 25 words beginning with ‘meta,’ many of them coined by Hofstadter, who has a near-obsession with Russian-doll ideas. Thus, ‘meta-language’ (a language used to describe a language); ‘meta-intuition’ (an intuition about one’s intuition); and ‘meta-hiccup’ (a concept illustrated when one of Hofstadter’s fictitious characters says, ‘If you are but a hiccup in my brain, I myself am but a hiccup in some higher author’s brain’).”

原刊於作者 Facebook

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