Wednesday, May 16, 2007

 

Talking To Myself

posted by Corey Reid

I talk to myself a lot. Pretty much all the time, really. I carry on an endless conversation in my head. I talked to myself about writing this post. And of course, I talked to myself about how I talked to myself about writing this post. I even told myself to write "I talked to myself about how I talked to myself" -- and you can pretty much see where this is going.

I don't think I'm unique in that regard. I think most of us experience the same sort of thing -- we think by conducting conversations in our head. We rehearse what we're going to say. We imagine what we would have said. What we might say if we were asked.

Noqw this kind of ties into a lot of different things I've been coming across lately.

Now recently I read a post by Mr. Brust (who is very clever) where he says

It is nearly impossible to conceive of ideas for which you have no words.


A statement with which I agree, and one which points to the primacy of language in determining our view of the world. How we speak defines how we see, to a very large degree. Colin Falck's book Myth, Truth and Literature engages with a corollary of this notion; namely, if we cannot conceive of ideas for which we have no words, how do we come up with new ideas? Falck, in dismantling the baroque framework the post-strucuralists erected over the work of Sassure, notes that the inability to directly map symbols (such as words) to real-world objects actually means that all words enjoy a certain degree of freedom in their meaning. And the job of literature (previously myth) is to constantly push that freedom, and make words mean things they hadn't before.

Seen that way, literature is part of the basic process of developing language.

Mr. Brust goes on to address a comment I'd made about how we haven't gotten any better at storytelling in the past 3,000 years:

Yes, which triggers something I've given some thought to--the "full range of humnan emotions." I would submit that this range has expanded over the last 50,000 years. Were we always capable of feeling fear? Sure. Anger? I would think so. But what about epiphany? Sublime ecstacy? Wry amusement? Ironic bitterness?

I suspect that Homer was giving generalized expression to emotions that hadn't existed five thousand years before him; that Shakespeare was expressing emotional concepts that would have been foreign to Homer.

What new emotions will emerge over the next five thousand years? I haven't a clue. But I can see no reason to assume that, 50,000 years ago the "full range of human emotion" emerged in a sudden rush, and that since then nothing has changed in the emotional life of mankind.


I gotta say, that's pretty clever. Still not sure if we can see steady progress in terms of story-telling technology, but you CAN make a case that the rules of the game (being that art works within the emotional arena to some extent) keep changing, so maybe it's no surprise that the technology doesn't get better.

Of course, communication technology DOES get better. These days I'm getting deluged with emails from friends entreating me to pay attention to their Facebook presence.

Now, let's be perfectly clear: I like my friends. My friends are, by and large, some of the wisest, kindest, bravest and bestest people around. They're my friends mainly because I admire them.

But I'm not at all sure about this whole Facebook thing. Just like I wasn't at all sure about MySpace. Does anyone remember GeoCities?

Steph brought up the idea of how these sites, these technologies, are really more about enabling narcissism than they are about communication. Back to talking to yourself. But now, it's talking to yourself with the added fun of getting to count your number of friends growing day by day. I suspect that once the majority of the Facebook population sees their number of new friends level off, the crowd will be off to the next variant in this particular field. Because it's really about the self-gratification of knowing your own popularity.

But talking to yourself isn't bad in and of itself. Because of our limitations in apprehend that for which we have no words, we must use words, even inside our own heads, if we're to have any hope of making rational decisions. There's simply no other way for us to compare alternatives.

So talking to yourself is good.

Well. Like the Dilbert cartoon above suggests, it's not so easy to learn from oneself. I got a powerful lesson in this last week at Tong-sensei's class when Ono-sensei, who teaches under Hakateyama-sensei in Montreal (these names might actually matter to you if you know anything about the lineage of Katori Shinto Ryu: the rest of you, don't worry about it), took me through the four Omote Tachi kata. Ono-sensei is very fast, and Hakateyama's style is very agressive, and I was manhandled very effectively all the way through. It was startling to work with someone whose style and whose basic assumptions about each posture and move is so different from my own -- and I learned an enormous amount from our practice.

Because like talking to myself, swordfighting is an arena where it's easy to kid myself. It's easy to think I'm pushing myself, when really I'm just walking myself around in the same old circles. It's always a good idea to step out of where I'm comfortable and get smacked around by a guy who's faster than me, more experienced than me, and not operating on the same assumptions as me.

And of course, in response to Mr. Brust's point about it being nearly impossible to conceive of things you don't have words for, the idea that language is the denominator of how we think, I have to admit that in my own life, how I think hasn't always been the primary director of how I make decisions. So while talking to myself is a chance to practice thinking, I have to remind myself not get fooled into thinking that if I can just think correctly, then I will perforce act correctly.

I have work hard if I'm going to be my own mentor, and to be honest, I'm probably not going to do a very good job.

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Comments:
It is nearly impossible to conceive of ideas for which you have no words.


I just have to fundamentally disagree with this. Might be semantics but. Language is the best way I have of getting close to the ideas in my head, of getting close to expressing my perception, but it _never_ succeeds at nailing it exactly. It's something I put out, others interpret and _every_ conversation is somewhat a game of whisper. Fact is I conceive of ideas for which i have no words constantly. Most i manage to kind of point at using words and others figure out what I'm pointing at but there are some - the concept of true grace, for example - for which i think there are simply no words.
 
Having words for ideas does not imply a perfect correspondence between those words and those ideas. Of course there will always be meaning that cannot be exactly expressed. That's different than saying that one readily conceives of ideas without using language.

And how can say that the concept of true grace has no words? Both "true" and "grace" are words, as far as I can tell. I bet if I asked you to explain true grace, you'd use a LOT of words in your effort to do so. You might feel that there were critical portions of meaning that you couldn't communicate easily, but that doesn't mean that your conception of them makes no use of words.

Language directs the creation of ideas. We perceive the world that we are able to describe. My experience has certainly backed this up.
 

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