We are a ‘symbological’ creatures. Our entire world is based on our ability to create symbolism in order to explain our perceptions to ourselves and to others. Symbolism plays such an important role in our lives that I think it would be fair to say that without it we would not be able to exist as we do. In order to make this point clear, let us contemplate typical human perception:
If you were to close your eyes for 5 seconds and then open them to look at all the things around you, you would be met by a variety of different seemingly external objects and perhaps individuals. If you are an adult, then there would be nothing in your line of perception that you would not be able to explain and understand. But what is this ability to explain or to understand? We tend to take it for granted that all our perception is a type of direct observation of the things and individuals around us, but this premise is faulty.
Perhaps in the future we can go over some of the sensory problems that all human beings face but at the moment it is enough that you understand that our perception of the world has many faults. What we see with our eyes is not what is really ‘out there’; our eyes can only perceive a small portion of what is possibly out there because they can only perceive a very small fraction of the light ‘out there’, and what they do perceive is usually skewed as a result of adaptation. You can discover many of these adaptations for yourself by going to a website that has ‘optical illusions’; these optical illusions are all taking advantage of our perceptive flaws. These perceptive flaws moreover are not just visual but they involve all of our senses. There is no need to go deeply into the subject, the thing to remember is that our sense perception is neither direct nor is it very accurate. If you wish to explore this paradigm further I suggest you read the book: “The user illusion” by Tor Norretranders.
But how is it that when you opened your eyes, you understood the world around you perfectly and felt assured that what you were perceiving was accurate and real? How is it that we can function so well in this environment even though our perceptions seem to be so obviously flawed? The reason for this, I believe, is because of symbolism.
Symbolism is the ability to take a perception or a group of perceptions and turn them into a quantified object in your mind. You are essentially taking a chunk of perception, whether faulty or not, and you are turning that perception into a definable and quantifiable separate unit. When I wait 5 seconds and open my eyes, in the room that I am in, I see a chair. Through years of life experience, I have been able to give a name to a set of perceptions that tells me that what is before me is a chair. From the time I was born, I was told by my parents and others, that when I saw a certain set of perceptions, I should refer to this set of perceptions as a chair. I was given a definition as to where this chair began and ended in my perceptive field so I could separate it from all the other symbols that were being defined and quantified in my mind.
After I was able to separate this quanta of perception, I could begin to further refine this new symbol so that I was able to find a chair in any environment. Over time I was able to identify many different kinds of chairs, all falling into the same ‘symbological’ family. Further, and because of many years of life experience, I am able to identify this particular quanta of perception so that I can use this symbol to expand my perception of other symbols and to make correlations between it and other symbols that can become quite complex. For example I can think of a 16th century chair and how its evolution might have shaped the way people of that era spent their leisure time.
In the same way, everything that you see around you is a symbol that you created (or was taught to you). When you open your eyes after 5 seconds, you are very assured of the world that you see around you because you have most likely spent a huge amount of time creating the kind of symbolism that allows you to feel this way. Our language is really symbolism at its best. It helps us to perceive the world around us and it also allows us to communicate our perceptions to others.
Understanding that language is symbolism, and that symbolism is our way of being able to perceive the world around us, we can begin to conceptualize the idea that this highly structured symbolism might not be 100% correct. Some of the things that you perceive out there, some of the symbolism that you take for granted, is not as accurate as you might suppose. What I mean by this is not that you are wrong, or that your perception is wrong but that the symbolism that you have created (or has been taught to you) in order to understand a certain perception, might be different from the symbolism used by another perceiver.
If the symbols that you are using are different from the symbols someone else is using then communication with that individual will be very difficult. Communication can actually turn quite violent if you believe that your symbols are reality and cannot conceptualize the idea that they are just symbolic representations of perception.
Since language is a highly developed form of symbolic communication, is there a way that we can fine tune our language so that we can communicate with others more effectively? The answer to this is yes and we have taken the first step in this direction. The first step in this direction is to be able to understand that our language is symbolism and that this symbolism is based on perception that might be faulty.
Once we make this conceptual jump, which can be incredibly difficult for many of us to make, we can begin to use a language that is more accurate and precise. The benefits of this more evolved language are:
- better perception and understanding
- clearer thinking
- more accurate communication (whether written or oral)
- less conflict with ourselves
- less conflict with others
- the ability to expand our awareness (to begin to perceive beyond our current limits)
A language like this has been established in English; it is called E-prime. It is basically a language that excludes all forms of the verb ‘to be’. It does this by allowing in disallowing certain words:
• is; isn’t
• are; aren’t
• was; wasn’t
• were; weren’t
• Contractions formed from a pronoun and a form of to be:
– you’re; we’re; they’re
– he’s; she’s; it’s
– there’s; here’s
– where’s; how’s; what’s; who’s
• E-Prime likewise prohibits contractions of to be found in nonstandard dialects of English, such as the following:
– hain’t (when derived from ain’t rather than haven’t)
– whatcha (derived from what are you)
– yer (when derived from you are rather than your)
E-prime does not prohibit the following words, because they do not derive from forms of to be. Some of these serve similar grammatical functions (see auxiliary verbs).
• has; have; having; had (I’ve; you’ve)
• do; does; doing; did
• can; could
• will; would (they’d)
• shall; should
• may; might; must
This is a wonderful way to speak and if you wish to do research on it you will find a number of very well developed study aids.
A natural way for you to begin to speak in your own type of E-prime, is to begin to deeply conceptualize for yourself the ideas and concepts that I have mentioned above:
Think about it; if what you see is just symbolism of raw perception and this raw perception can be turned into all sorts of different symbols depending on the perceiver, then what you perceive and I perceive can be completely different. It is also the case that even your perceptions at the moment of one particular quanta of perception might be completely different from your perception of that exact same quanta at a different time. Essentially you cannot take your perceptions for granted and you can’t make the great mistake of thinking that your ‘symbology’ of these perceptions is reality.
Keeping the above concept firmly in your mind, try to communicate what you are perceiving to someone else. Instead of saying something like, “that horse over there is fast” a more perceptively accurate way of saying it would be, “I see a horse over there and to me it seems to be quite fast”. The difference between the two phrases is quite subtle but basically with this new type of communication you are not taking it for granted that the other person sees what you see or that your judgments about what you see are absolute.
This type of communication is not something that you will want to use all the time but it is the type of communication that you should keep in your repertoire because it can help you understand the world around you much better. This type of communication is also very good when you need to speak in what I would refer to as a more ‘impeccable’ manner. If you speak or write in this way, you essentially cannot be wrong. Some might say that what you are stating is wrong; that what you are perceiving is wrong or that you are lying, but you cannot be wrong in the complete sense of the word because you have stated what you personally are perceiving at the time. You are not saying what is or isn’t, you are only stating your personal perception and this perception might be judged by others but it cannot be fundamentally refuted.
Now I do hope you use this language to try and expand your perceptive awareness and not just to win arguments. This language is a language that all scientists should be using whenever they are speaking about their theories. This is the kind of language you should use when you’re trying to explain your beliefs to others. This is the type of language you should be using when you are trying to explain your perceptions to others (this is a great way for example to explain those perceptive oddities for which we still don’t have much symbolism for such as; UFOs, ghosts, crypto zoology, religious apparition, etc.)
If you wish to develop your ability to perceive and to relate those perceptions more accurately, I suggest that you learn E-prime (or your own version of the E-prime using the ideas discussed in this article). Using E-prime or your own semantic methodologies, you can become a formidable debater and a true scientist. I think that if we would all begin to talk to ourselves and others in this manner, we would take a huge step in personal and societal expansion. Perhaps we could all agree to disagree, that we all have the right to our own personal perceptions because they are indeed personal. Perhaps we would not need to be so darn ‘politically correct’ and instead start to experience and describe our experiences more freely. Language is symbolism and this symbolism is quite malleable and never absolute; you must never make the mistake of thinking that your symbols are reality!