The word is not the thing – said Alfred Korzybski.
Homo sapiens learnt and unlearnt many skills as they evolved into civilized social animals. Language is one such learnt skill that has evolved over a period of time from its humble beginning of incoherent grunts. As the experience of homo-sapiens became richer the need for an evolved linguistic tool must have become that much more evident. In order to communicate coherently more structured and logical linguistic tools evolved and took the shape of full-fledged languages with well defined syntax and semantics. For every experience there seemed to be a linguistic representation in the form of a matching word. Consistent usage of words gave it continuity and a permanent place in our memory.
Today language is an essential aspect of everybody’s growing-up process. Today, it won’t be wrong to say that, as a grown up, we see our experiences and situations through a mesh of words and linguistic tools. We recognize a situation only through words and our strength of vocabulary. However, every word suffers from a shortcoming. The shortcoming is of, its usage being subject to an individual’s interpretation. There are plenty of assumptions as well. I’d like to argue that, today we humans are so adept with words that we never come directly in touch with our experience or situations. Most of the times we only come in touch with the word that we decide to call that experience by.
For example in a relationship – what we like and whatever makes us feel good, feel beautiful and feel ecstatic– we call it LOVE. So we are not directly experiencing the feeling but are experiencing it through the word LOVE. The moment something unfavorable happens, when we recognize it is not what we used to call LOVE, and react differently. Thus the word and its limitation dictates what we eventually experience and hence how we react. We are stuck in dealing with the word and try to bucket similar experiences under the word.
One might counter argue saying that, our learning is through these words, it is these words that give us the clarity in understanding and hence our knowledge. While I understand the basis of such an argument, however I also think that it raises a serious epistemological question. As I see it, we experience and learn about the world in two ways – i] sensual (through our senses) and ii] through language. The latter is supposed to be a secondary method through which we make it easier to comprehend what we learn through the former. However, I feel, in due course we experience everything sensual through a mesh of words and thus making our sensual experience a secondary method. Here-in our learning and our reaction to situations become erratic and incoherent.