Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dividing Words

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.


bgpayne said...

it feels like i am becoming more aware of this idea recently, and that it might be more powerful than it has been historically. Something about "demographics" and "target markets" signifies the importance of things replacing the individual (who now become defined by those things). Recent trends like big boxes and suburban sprawl are deeply affecting us as individuals, and are evidence of the proliferation of the sterilization of experience into already defined patterns. Things need to be delineated and classified according to their name—sometimes stripping it of all its meaning in the process. so we can boil it down; sum it up; cover a fear of the unknown, absurd and unexpected by jerking away from it and dismiss it as less than it is. Or we can confront it for what it is and let it remain that way. I think that there is growing a strong human reaction against the trend of fake human experience, but unfortunately it might get really out of control before that becomes the new accepted standard...

So why do our brains feel the need to classify and name something based on what we already know? Is it possible to have a thought that doesn't spark an associated thought? Or is complexity just a matter of how far the gap is from one association to the next, or how elaborate the tangle of thoughts become?

Susan Waters-Eller said...

One likely reason we need to name things is we're happier when we're using that part of the brain.
When we were first learning to speak we were probably praised for learning the right words, so the conditioning runs deep.
The deeper level of how we sort things is by feeling, one feeling will pull up other associations with the same feeling. Those patterns are what's most pertinent to the feeling that initiated it.
That's why I think artists are so important right now.
They sensitize people to significant pattern.
It's interesting how ideas about this bubble up in differnt people at the same time.

ashley purciello said...

Language is a disease,
contagious. .

Language is abused .
Language lies. .

There's an over-abundance of language; excess, text-book, media.
It is a trap.
You Make art, to get out.

Jon Marro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon Marro said...

This one always gets me. It makes me look at when boundries/divisions can be a good thing. Take a cell wall for example. It's completeness serves a function for a larger whole. Enough cells can make an organ. And the heart isn't trying to be the liver. It knows it's individual purpose (oxegenating and circulating blood) within serving a larger organized purpose of a body. Obviously lanes in a highway or road are "good" boundries. Lines on a tennis court...Collectively we may be lost because words have served us well. They do help us understand and organize our thoughts, so that we can come together and communicate. Images may also do this, and may do this more efficiently, but both are entirely dependent upon contexts. And i would even argue that words may do a better job of describing more abstract things (ie feelings or sensations -read "The Natural History Of The Senses" By Dianne Ackerman) than pictures can. And images/icons are could be argued as just as dividing. A picture of an apple still communicates a noun. something specific. Regardless, i'm not sure man kind as a collective whole knows or is in agreence of what it's purpose is. A heart knows what to do, and if you give a man a job-he than can serve a "purpose," but if we keep zooming out-what is our purpose as a whole? Perhaps we have all been seperated in our own man or divine-made illusions-so we CAN come together. Either way, if we can trust that our lungs will keep breathing, we have to trust the earth knows how to awaken itself...or if we keep zooming out-our galax-the universe-God-etc. I'm for believing it's all one in the same, and with that, as much as I love and work with images, feel it'd be silly to hail one thing and downplay another. For surely, holier than though notions are what wage wars. To really see meaning, i think it must be first said that we give everything meaning. If it wasn't words than it would be images. we are meaning making machines. it is our quest for meaning that gets in the way of accepting and receiving what is constantly being given to us. the natural flow of abundance in life. what we're after -meaning, enlightenment, etc grows further the harder we look for it. curiosity is killing us the cat. ignorance might not be bliss, but maybe living without expectation. our separation seems to begin as soon as we believe there's an "out there." we're trying to master, control or fix the circumstances. but as soon as we believe its about fixing the problem "out there" -we've trapped ourselves again in the illusion. lately i've been taking the approach "what would love do now?" mastering my being. mastering who i am and what i stand for. being love. being peace. because from there nothing can show up but that. we all have an idea of what world peace looks like. maybe its everyone getting along and helping each other out. well, what if this is it? what if this IS what world peace looks like. that the seeming turmoil and destruction is only "bad" because we've labeled it as such. that we're all still waiting for peace to happen as opposed to collectively declaring/being it. and aren't we all working together right now in some sort of harmony ("perfect harmony" too is made up by us)? isn't there an incredible amount of services our species has brought to each other. paved roads, hot water, farming and shipping of food, maps and signs, travel, the internet...consider that it's all part of the awakening. that there is nothing wrong...only meaning.