How did you comprehend the very moment of your birth, when you came into this big and sparkling world from the dark and warm nothing? Do you remember your first breath, and how the air tasted? What did you think about strange buildings outside, about your room, about funny creatures that kept coming in and going out, comforting or disturbing you?
Most people have little memories about those first years of their lives. It’s not only our forgetfulness. It’s simply a very strange thing to recall.
A human baby doesn’t speak any language. Yes, it learns to communicate almost immediately, but words flow around and vibrate in the outside world. Somehow they don’t stay, their vague meaning is unimportant and changeable.
We start to think and to perceive the world around us early, but this thinking is quite different from the usual kind. A few months after our birth we think without words.
It would give us an excellent insight into the life of smarter animals, if we could easily retrieve all that we felt during first months of our existence. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), our memory depends not only on our own experience. It incorporates everything we learn from others: ideas, conceptions, stories, common ways of doing things, words…
Language is a powerful tool for communication. However, it has even more influence on the way we perceive the reality. It shapes both our conscience and the world around us. It makes our conceptions solid.
There is a quite interesting science fiction book, Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany, that explores how much the language we speak may influence our personality. If you think that Delany’s assumptions go too far, stop and think twice. Recall the words that you consider to be bad and ask yourself: why are they bad? Why do we react or even overreact, when we hear those words? What makes them different from the ‘good’ ones?
This ‘good words – bad words’ programming is very simple, and it still defines our behavior in certain circumstances. Then, what about a whole language designed to serve a specific goal?
When trying to recall our early childhood, we automatically apply our notion about what we could see. It doesn’t work, because we didn’t know what we should see back in that distant past. The reality was shifting, and drifting, and changing. The edge between a dream and the reality was very subtle, sometimes we couldn’t tell one from the other. Everything was possible in the huge and mysterious world, so we cried to keep our mama closer.
Language integrated us into the human society and gave us tools to inspect phenomena that we didn’t contact directly. That changed much. First, the world became more predictable and uniform. Second, we absorbed a lot of existing conceptions, right or wrong. We started to see the world through a lens.
If you consider something to be inevitable, remember that it’s your personal lens that makes it inevitable. The same is right for possible and impossible.
From the nature we learn that species adopt not the best ways of behaving/developing, but the ways that have proved to work. I believe, it’s much the same for the human society. We take some pieces from the reality and build a picture in our minds. But it’s not an ideal picture. Something always stays outside it. Something we can go on without.
The world around us is richer than we think it is.
If only we could avoid putting on that lens…
Well, that’s not a good idea. There are more than enough reports about people raised by wolves or other animals, including, for instance, Kamala and Amala story. They prove that we depend on a human society to mould us. Humanity doesn’t belong to inborn features, it’s rather formed by our environment. We learn to be human.
Does it mean that somewhere deep inside we are nothing but animals?
Yes… and no. First of all, we don’t know exactly what it is like to be an animal. Some animals are pretty smart and learn quickly. Chimpanzees can be taught to behave human-like. They can wear jackets and eat dinner at the table. On the other hand, they love to entertain humans. They know what is funny for us. Is their perception too much different from ours?
Second, basic things aren’t able to describe us properly. We all consist of atoms: we, stones, trees, the earth itself. However, this fact alone tells us very little about the nature of humanity. So, what’s the point in the ‘nothing but animals’ part?
Furthermore, are you sure that there is really ‘nothing but’? Maybe, some element is simply missing from our picture?
It’s amazing how quickly an average child learns different things. But what happens when we grow up?
Usually not much. We make us comfortable within a certain niche and try to enjoy our lives. We pretend to know everything we need, and even more. Our lens becomes rigid and constraining.
And what if there is yet another level of perception?
Well, we don’t need it anyway, do we? Life is short, why bother to achieve things that aren’t important? We should catch the moment and entertain ourselves. There will be no second chance.
Maybe. However, did you ever feel emptiness after a certain portion of entertainment? Did you feel that you should rather be doing something else?
We never know what elements are missing from our pictures. Sometimes we can guess, but that doesn’t make us see. Reality is a tricky thing, and our perception is trickier still.
But we can improve our lens to see more clearly. We should simply work on it.