The Transfiguration

everything is sacred

Notion of the Day #1665

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Notion of the Day #1665

Conversation yesterday drifted to the question of whether language is necessary for thought. It’s an old debate, but I don’t think it’s worthy of any controversy; observation of animal behavior, or close attention to one’s own inner processes, shows pretty clearly that thoughts can exist independent of language. A more interesting subject, I think, is what exactly language does to thought – how it streamlines thought, how it obstructs it, how it changes the actual content of it.

How often do you pay attention to the actual form of your thoughts? Do you have an internal monologue? An imaginary dialogue with a friend you associate with the subject at hand? A visual model of the idea, slowly pressed and molded and refined like soft clay? A visceral manifestation of the notion, like a glow between your ribs or a tingling in your fingertips? A mathematical relation that’s not quite lucid enough to solve? A suggestion of words in the back of your mind, with the rhythm and lilt of actual conversation but no coherent meaning? A six-part musical composition you couldn’t possibly tease apart and put on paper?

Language provides a handle for thoughts, lets you grip your ideas and – most importantly – share them with others, but I’m occasionally disappointed by the whole mechanism. There are times when I have some notion, a little nebula of sensations and feelings and imagery, and I can’t find the words I need to express them properly – often because the words simply don’t exist. Human languages are deep and vast and do a fantastic job of capturing our experiences, but they still have a finite number of words; there’s a certain granularity to even the greatest vocabulary that limits how finely we can represent the fluid unexpressed thoughts flowing through our minds. If words are the building blocks of communication, it doesn’t matter if you’re using Lego or Duplo – you will never be able to build a perfect model of what you’re really thinking. Instead of recreating my thoughts with words, I simply build a frame around them, a rough approximation, and I hope it’s good enough to convey what I really want it to.

And sometimes, when the notion is particularly nebulous, after I’ve tried to articulate it, the original thought has completely dissipated, or perhaps been reshaped to conform to the limits of my words. All I have left is the linguistic frame, a poor facsimile of what I originally felt.

Or written word is thought freeze-dried and vacuum-sealed, insulated from the force of time – but it must be reconstituted with the reader’s mental juices to be understood, and will always lack some elusive flavor that can only be tasted in the author’s mind. Reading someone else’s writing is the closest I can get to another person’s thoughts, but it’s never quite there.

Writing – and music, and art, and every other kind of human interaction – serves to close that gap that divides every mind from every other, and it does this beautifully. So much is still unsaid, though – so many ideas that just can’t escape from the minds they’re born in.

I want to know you.

And I know I had other things to say here, but finding these words has let my other thoughts escape, like birds fleeing a cage while you reach for their one hapless brother.

It’s fine. I have many days yet ahead, and some of these birds will return.

I don’t want to sleep

Written by Umbrella Man

April 14, 2013 at 3:32 am

Posted in geometries, ruminations

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