Our language molds how we think and feel. The very words we use, their histories, subtle interwoven fabrics of shades of meaning, connotations, influences our thoughts and beliefs, which in turn influences how we perceive reality.
Some languages are better at describing some things than others. Languages are not all equal, for example Eskimo tongues can describe the nature of snow and ice to degrees that English speakers could not. Because their environment is snow, and their language preconditions them to notice the differing categories and qualities of snow, where you or I see White puffy cold stuff, or hard crunchy cold stuff.
English is really good for certain things, and not very good for other things.
And you know, as a native speaker, I feel that I kind of have the right to make such a blindingly obvious observation. And as someone who has interacted with foreigners and very multi-lingual people my entire life, I’ve noticed certain subtle cultural quirks, or habits of the mind, of ours, we native English speakers, which seem dependent on aspects of our language that are not present in other languages.
Earlier I wrote on the word “love” and how the way we use it literally poisons our interactions with each other. Today, I’m deeply bothered by the way we use the word “reality” in our language, and how this reflects in culture.
It is sloppy and lends itself to sloppy thoughts that can be dangerous to our mentalities. We are the sum of our beliefs and thoughts, for our actions flow from these, and from our actions are formed our lives. Our mistakes and fuck-ups, and our victories and achievements.
You can think of our beliefs and language like software, we act and do in accordance with our fundamental beliefs about reality, and the language we use molds and constantly reinforces this.
We perceive only so little of the world. By having the word to describe a concept we in a sense have power over it, on the level of mythic language and religious thought, this is the significance in the Quran’s and Torah’s account of Adam being taught the names of all things. Or the significance of the ancient Egyptian belief that knowing one’s true name gave power over such a one. When we know what something is called, when we can articulate a concept, only then does it seem clear and real – to us. Articulation is a power.
Articulation is what separates man from the rest of the animal kingdom. Language is not only a blessing, it can be a curse too, but it is a power. And it is a power over the mind. Every race, every culture, has an echo of this realization.
By words we describe and articulate reality – there are things that we can know – profoundly – without words, but when we put the ineffable into words it changes, even in our own minds.
How we describe a person for example affects how we think of that person, how we experience that person’s reality. Is that persona friend? A spouse? A lover? And enemy? A buddy? How we experience reality, and perceive reality, around that person is altered by how we describe that person.
The idea that we make our own reality is solipstic – and a sloppy sort of solipsism. It basically denies the objective and absolute reality of anything outside our perception.
It is dangerous because it is true. In part, anyway. We cannot perceive directly objective reality, our perceptions are always filtered through our experiences and biases and inwardly we construct a model of reality based on our perceptions. Objective reality still exists, however. But it is just nebulous and outside our grasp.
Some people think that the idea of our creating our own realities is deeply empowering. But it is not, it is lonely. It creates an utterly self centered self focused world in which everything that is, is simply a figment of our imagination. Like most ideas that have an origin in traditional metaphysics, we often take the idea outside its original significance, run with it, and wind up in a world of magical thinking.
In a certain sense we can make our own world, our perceived world. We can choose what to observe, what to filter out, what to react to, what to change, what to act upon, and what to allow to act upon us.
An example; a language that genders all nouns, and has no neuter “it” forces the speaker to personify the world, on an almost unconscious level. If you refer to a book as “he” and a car as “she” and the very names for these things are in either masculine or feminine form, this forces the speaker to see the world around him or her personified.
A language that refers to most things as “it” subtly causes your mind to perceive reality differently. Everything that is an it is an object that can be used, inanimate, lifeless, dead, to be exploited and used at will. You will deep down inside have a tendency lurking, the tendency to see even other humans as “its” – you can do anything to an it. You can incinerate it with remote controlled bombs, you can force yourself on it and take sexual pleasure through it, you can kill it and stack multiple its like cord wood. an it is not human, an it is expendable. You feel little remorse when you snuff out an it. You do not refer to a cockroach as he, or she, now do you? No. You call a roach an “it”
“Ewww, get it off me.”
We who have had the good fortune of speaking certain languages from birth, have lurking in our minds certain possible tendencies that would not be possible for us to even conceive otherwise.
Mastering our language is a lifelong task. The fact that in America we are usually only raised with one language makes it harder. But mastering our own language, and seeking knowledge of other languages, reveals so much of reality, of the world, of each other. It forces us to see things in different perspectives. It also gives us power. By being able to articulate things to a more fine degree than those around us, we can perceive them better, work on them logically, use them, affect them – things, thoughts, ideas.
But they are real outside of us. We do not make them, we only come to know them.
But we do not create reality. Reality is, we are real, what is around us is real, to degrees. Contingent reality, dependent upon and contingent upon other things from which we derive our reality. Our forms emerge into this world and grow, we feed, we metabolize, we breathe, we move, we die and our very forms melt away as we decay. Quite magical in a sense.
We are in a nexus of contingent reality, expressions of an absolute reality. Our emergence into being is a nuanced and strange thing, that we cannot fully understand.
But saying we make our own reality obscures the matter. In a sense we do create our own world, but there are other worlds of experience, independent of ours. Reality is totality. Naught exists but totality, and you or I do not think it into being. It is, and was, and will be, aeons before we were conceived, and aeons after we are but dust.
This is NOT to deny that we have a real degree of agency in the world, in manifesting our will, thoughts, and ideas into concrete physicality. We do, we are absolutely responsible agents here, perhaps not totally free as we are everywhere constrained in some way, by our environments, by our forms, but we have a relative freedom and responsibility for our actions in a world of experience we mentally construct based on our perceptions of an absolute Real which we only partially, dimly, perceive by our meager sense organs, and our intellect.
Solipsism is sophistry, and life has an awful knack of letting people know at very inconvenient times when we hit a boundary or limit. Diarrhea, Herpes outbreaks, heart attacks, hitting a random rock with your tire while you ride your bike down hill, and flipping over on your head, paralysis, being physically restrained by a thug, assaulted, and shot, and other sundry unpleasantries.
But there are also beautiful, pleasant, and awe inspiring times we hit a limit, we realize that we are standing before something ancient, massive, and greater than us. Something compared to which we are but a small fleck of dust. How we respond to it depends on how childish, or mature, we are. What we cling on to and grip, versus what we simply let go of, all is a matter of our wisdom and maturity.
We do not make reality. Reality makes us, works through us. What is real is and endures, we are real to the degree to which we pursue real and true ends, and real and true actions – ends and actions congruent with objective reality, or what little of it we can grasp, through its laws, and traces through phenomenal reality around us.
We describe reality through words which influences our perception of it. Try to perceive the world around you without the chattering in your head. Try to stop it, even if just for a moment.
The worst way to argue with reality is to walk into rush hour traffic blindly or to stick our hands into a campfire. You will rapidly come to an understanding of reality and its boundaries then..