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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Outside Language

People seem to have a really hard time thinking for themselves. They're not practiced at thinking on demand at all, especially when asked to think about what is missing. You really can't demand that others "think stuff outside of the box" and then not come up with at least one example right on the spot of what that is all about.

The most interesting idea is to use language to point out how it's possible to think beyond language.

The easiest example is to get out the video camera and film people walking. Then ask them to describe what they actually did as they walked. Or ask people to demonstrate a skill and teach it to someone else in a way other than how they learned it. Some more examples... point out why art exists - because people can't describe the making of art in words. Or ask music fans to describe, in words, what musicians do that allows them to improvise with each other. Ask movie fans how come a series of movie scenes makes people get startled or what really happened in the movie scenes before the whole movie theater just sucked in their breath simultaneously, or offered some other group reaction. ...They can't do it! Only those who work in those fields are conscious of these "nuts and bolts." Even these professionals who do these things don't know HOW they do them well enough to articulate how it works in words.

Many people are able to demonstrate something successfully, but they can't describe what they are doing without sounding trite, inane and fumbling. As a collective culture, we're just not used to observing for ourselves and using our own words to describe what we are experiencing.

Why isn't self-observation taught as a foundation skill?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis - that language structures thought ability - is not merely limited to mere specific word definition. It's also related to how words are put together. It points out the perceptual assumptions within the sentence structure of language also traps us.

For instance, important to English sentence structure is the direct object. This has the whole culture being quite concerned with who is doing what to whom. We are constantly thinking about how much someone is lying, (not whether they are lying or not!) Everyone is constantly having to ask themselves, "What percentage of what so and so says should be believed?" Since the direct object is so important in our language, Westerners so often focus on what we can do to something outside of ourselves. It's all about who does what to whom, who gets whose way and who has to wait and for how long they wait - and does the one who waits EVER get what they might want or need?

This why people are so concerned with status in our Indo-European culture. It's impossible to open your mouth or write without adding to the cultural trance of defining the nature of reality. People are constantly in the position of attempting to determine how much another person is lying, teasing or joking and what their motives are.

Really, how does someone understand what another person MEANS to say? People are confronted by descriptions about what the world "is" constantly - every advertisement, every newscast, every piece of gossip, every narration of the nature of the world, every description, every lesson, every comment - any utterance that involves the possibility of word choice.

All of these constructs of words involve a unique point of view. As a listener, we must reconstruct a workable meaning out of what we hear. Nothing IS what it IS. Everything is "open to interpretation! We all must do this in spite of having little or no knowledge, appreciation, sympathy, empathy or compassion for that other person's point of view and/or experiences. We must guess at all of these or communicate directly.

For instance, although there are many lip-serviced references to an inter-woven body-mind connection, we still combine two words to discuss the feature - and the word is a noun, rather than a verb. In English at least, we are still cramming the concept of psycho-physical into our old mold of the two being separate - even though it it common that our culture now acknowledges that bodies and minds are inseparable in one person.

OK, I'll stop ranting now. Tell me what you think.

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