More than a hundred years ago, William James wrote,
“Language works against our perception of truth.”
We haven’t heeded the warning. In our efforts to tame the world, the epidemic of pinning experience down with words may be a defense against the proliferation of information. Giving something a name gives us the illusion of knowing it. We label people, things, events, and even sensations and abstract qualities, that are then limited by the definitions of those labels. Every label is an act of separation which in itself is a falsification given the overlapping spectrum of qualities that bleed through the categories. The range of complex individuality often lumped in one psychiatric diagnosis is obscured by the label, which focuses on just a few elements. As Peter Breggin wrote in Beyond Conflict, “Many individuals who become diagnosed by psychiatrists are in reality suffering from oppression.” The diagnosis, by contributing to the reduction of personal reality, may contribute to the oppression.
Nobel prize winning scientist David Bohm felt that many of the world’s problems had to do with the noun based nature of language fragmenting the totality of fluctuating reality. By focusing our attention on things we feel like things ourselves, separate and alienated from everything else. The nature of the quantum level is unbroken wholeness, all interconnected and flowing. In his book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order", Bohm wrote, ”…the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is …what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today. “ Our tendency to take our descriptions as real creates the illusion that the divisions we make are real. My drawing “Explication” attempts to sidestep the traditional figure/ground divisions and point attention to the flow and unfolding as well underlying organizing principles that influence movement. Stanislav Grof, in his book, "The Holotropic Mind", wrote, “In this world where everything is in flux, always moving, the use of nouns to describe what is happening can only mislead us.”
Words divide. Perception unifies. When we want to understand something we need to see it in context, in the mesh of relationships that constitute its meaning. When language is most successful it creates an image in someone’s mind, which connects it to a pattern already understood. Experience is filled with qualities that resist naming. It includes the expectations created by an individual past and the underlying direction that guides our energies into the future. The fluid shifts in the process of growth, which is always adapting to changing conditions, is best illuminated by art. In the mid-twentieth century the philosopher Susanne Langer suggested that psychology had much to learn from art. She said, “Art is the creation of symbols for human feeling.” Now that neuroscience has shown that feeling directs thought, the time has come for the closer examination of how art can reveal the complexities of the human psyche.