Our depth of understanding

Over the past few days, I’ve described something that might seem obvious; namely, how we see the world.

But how do we see it — all of it?

Only through memory, surely?

Think of it like this: everything you see and describe is only that way because that’s what you’ve been told or have learnt.

But does the word — whatever your native tongue — describe the thing you’re seeing, sensing and perceiving?

I don’t think so.

I’ve used the slightly banal example of a tree. Absent what you’ve been told, and of course you’d have to understand the word, you wouldn’t know what it was. This is what it would have been like for proto-humans. It’s conjecture, but I guess, if it was important to them, they’d have used (instead of words) sounds, symbols and actions. It was only later as there was a maturation of the brain and language was created that we arrived where we’re at — give or take the fact that if you look at the etymology of words you’ll realise that some, but not all of them, have a long history, often going back to antiquity.

Now you might be wondering why this observation is so revelatory? Because it means that when it comes to not just how we converse but our inner monologue, what we talk about (which appears so often to get us into trouble) isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

For me, this insight, alongside others, radically and forever after altered my relationship with the world. That’s not to say that I’m anything other than an ordinary bloke, doing my thing — as dull as it is, and it is, sadly — but once I saw the enormity of this observation it was impossible to go back to a world where we’re apt to concretise everything, assume that what we’re listening to in our head is true and how we talk about things like mind, consciousness and spirit are even less significant (being so ethereal) than knowing about the things we need to survive.

One other thing that’s worth bearing in mind. When we talk about thoughts, we rarely, if ever, ask ourselves what they are or where or how they arise. We take it that somewhere within us — I assume the brain — there exists a region that gives rise to thoughts (no, you don’t have a homunculus in there!). If I were to opine the fact that we’re not in control of these, they’re no more than a memory trace and absent our language, our native language, we’d never be able to understand them, you might begin to see how much we live in a dream state.

Putting these two observations together may seem ridiculous and, of course, you may have a very different take on things, but all I can say is that there is an amazing freshness to being in a state where nothing I see is what I thought it was and my thoughts do not and cannot describe it.

And so, if I were to ask the question, What is this?, you’ll understand it’s almost impossible to say, other than something of and part of the natural world, much like my body. It just exists, not of course in a fixed state — everything is in a constant state of flux — and moves, shifts and exists in and of itself.

In sharing these few words, I’m not really sure what I’m expecting — it’s much easier when you’re selling something! — but for now, I’d really appreciate it if you’re able to leave a comment with (perhaps) your own thoughts and views on what gives us the feeling that we know what’s happening in this moment or any moment.

Take care.

— Julian