Sunday, July 12, 2009

One Single Impression -- Thinking

Seeking to know
the unknowable,
express the ineffable,
we mark divisions
(head and heart),
draw boundaries
(mind and soul),
posit oppositions
struggling to bottle
experience in the container
of language.

Sunday July 12, 2009

One of the core principles of anthropology and sociology is that language is the primary interface between the human being and reality; that in order to know something, to think about something, we have to be able to capture it with words.

One of my favorite books in graduate school was Structures of the Life Worldby sociologists Alfred Schutz and Thomas Luckmann (Volume I, 1973), a work in phenomenology which painstakingly examines the process by which humans use language to label, process and socially construct reality. Anthropologists/linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf went so far as to suggest that peoples that spoke different languages inhabited different realities -- an idea is called the "linguistic relativity hypothesis." [An aside: a wonderful novel that makes this hypothesis a key plot point is Juniper Time by Kate Wilhelm (1979)].

Twenty seven years of experience since graduate school supports the truth of these assertions about the necessity of language for thinking. But, and this is a big "but," there is a whole world of experience that goes beyond the grasp of "thinking" that cannot be encapsulated in language. The meditative techniques of Buddhism and other disciplines aim for that experience out side of thinking.

Beyond that there is the experience of being in the world. We may not be able to communicate this experience that transcends language, but it is there, we know it in our souls.

Painting "container" by sgreerpitt July 2009, using Corel Painter.


anthonynorth said...

Language is such a useful tool that we think, if we cannot speak of it, it cannot exist. I think we miss out on so much life and knowledge due to this narrow thinking.

Geraldine said...

YOu have brought up many thoughts to ponder here Sue, thank you. Great use of this prompt. I'm going for a re-read.

Hugs and hope you have a great week, G

Qaro said...

Very cool post!

Sandra.if said...

that was interesting..."we know it in our souls"....that is personal and universal at the same time...

Sherri B. said...

Your post has definitely got me thinking...very interesting!

SandyCarlson said...

And it is so nice when experience takes language for a long walk in a strange neighborhood.

Tumblewords: said...

Love your painting! The colors glow... Language is both a boon and a boondoggle. Excellent post!

Amias (ljm and liquidplastic) said...

Sue this is a beautiful poem, indeed, very thought provoking. But I must admit, the dialogue followed captured my full attention; you mated them well.

There are things in life that can not be expressed using "primitive" language. And as you have pointed out, language is not just about using the vocal cords, there are many ways life expresses itself without saying a word.

I first think of a thing, then try and communicate my understanding of that which I am thinking via intuitions and feelings to self --- then I try to vocalize it to help others understand what it is I am thinking --- but I have found doing the interaction between me and my babies, for a period of time, "vocal" language was never necessary. I don't know if I am making myself clear, but I know you understand what I am trying to say --- growing up as a child, there were things my mother never had to vocalize, she just looked at me and I seem to know instinctively what she was thinking and moved accordingly.

Like I said, I loved this post!!!!

gautami tripathy said...

A poem which has to be read and re-read. I can speak six languages and understand 4 more!

that thin line

The Dark Lord said...

Wise words.. Language is surely one of the basic ingredients that has been responsible for the culmination of the wonder that is our existence and development.. To think of a world without words is... well, impossible!

lissa said...

container of language - I like that, I often think of language as something that takes a while to learn but stays you always

Anonymous said...

You did a great job on your container. I agree with Geraldine, there is a lot to ponder here. I will be back.

gabrielle said...

I agree. Language can only go so far in expressing the mystery. But we keep trying. Music and poetry to me come closest. I have noticed that different languages translate nuances of experience and perception particular to place and culture. That’s part of the wonder of travel. Loved your poem and your thoughts on language and duality.

Jim said...

Sue, this is very interesting. I do know we use language to communicate but there are other ways. Had we not developed language then??
When I learned to speed read one of the obstacles to fast reading is thinking in a language. That slows the reading process to the spoken voice. But the mind is capable of transfering the writen page not at a word at a time but a thought at a time. And right away we learned to read from right to left across the page as training for what was to come in the class.
You would be surprised what our minds can fathom in gathering thoughts without worrying about words.

When a child begins to draw we do not want to teach her to conform to what is. Who knows where an unstifled child may go in his thinking and creativity?

Thank you for this very well thought out poem about the 'thinking' prompt. I enjoyed it. And I hope I didn't bore you with the thoughts it provoked in my small mind.
Also sorry I am so late, I have excuses (the dog ate my ...) that I will keep to myself.

I did do a review of your mural work. Things are looking good! Congratulations on having this privelege.