You Have to Say Something
Or maybe you don’t. Wittgenstein recommended in his Tractatus that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” But doesn’t this recommendation mean that one should remain silent on matters (odd word in this context) that are at the felt heart of being human? My inclination is toward a judicious [SM1] silence tempered by Katagiri Roshi’s wry observation that, in his role as a Zen teacher, even though he knows that what he says cannot do justice to what he’s speaking of, nevertheless he has to say something.
It seems to me similar for most of us.
Of course, we speak not only in words: our bodies speak for us in our facial expressions, posture, gestures, stride, …. We can “transmit”, however imprecisely, our thoughts, feelings, and reactions in both analog and digital fashion. We can encode them in sentences and/or we can enact them in species-specific mimesis. In both varieties, the multivalent inner states that give rise to them are condensed, redacted and abstracted. For example, I may be exhibiting signs of anxiety but masking (to one extent or another) anger at the situation, or I may be showing happiness at an offspring’s exercise of independence while feeling some sadness at the harbinger of their departure.
The temporal nature of thoughts/feelings existence is also radically changed in communication. A complex feeling state is experienced subjectively in the instant: an attempt to communicate it will necessarily be extended in time, whether that be the relatively short duration over which a changing facial expression occurs or the more extended duration of a verbal description.
Also, any communication from me to you is, at least initially, understood (or not) in terms of your experience (and vocabulary/language). This is not to endorse Sapir/Whorf in saying that one can only perceive or understand that for which one has language, but to say that, e.g., my organism will initially us[SM2] e its existing experience/language to parse your communication. If and when I realise that my understanding differs from your intent, I’ll need to come back to you to improve my understanding of your meaning. And thereby, of course, expand my experience-world which will be my new contextualiser of future communication in which I’m involved.
So, I seem to have a lot to say about saying something. I hope some of you find something interesting in the various posts and I look forward to reading your comments. Please note though that I won’t be allowing through abusive, hateful or rant-ish comments. For rants which boil down to “what a load of rubbish” without supporting evidence or argument, I might just note that the commenter disagrees strongly. Of course, an amusing rant will probably make it through. I’ll be the final arbiter of “amusing”, “abusive”, “hateful”.
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