The Medium–Universe, Life, Language–Is The Message

Conversation Continued
Banff Bar

“Oh, really,” said Mike. “So tell me, what exactly are animals capable
of?”

“Animals communicate. There’s was nothing new there,” Dain responded,
“that is what sensation brings to experience. But the human animal
apprehends sensation through cognitive possesses. Sensation gets
translated through signifier/signified relationships, or the
`identifiers’ that relate `stuff to stuff.’ That is the structural
context of language. The signifier/signified relationship structures
language. Images, signs, symbols, and concepts get piggybacked on
sensation and communicated through language. Dogs, and especially
higher primates, act out some behaviors based on the recognition of
these images, signs, and in some cases, symbols, but they can’t
comprehend the concepts behind them.”

“You make it sound so simple,” replied Mike, “like when God was
supposed to have given Adam and Eve dominion over the Earth. I guess
He gave them language too. Are we really that privileged?”

“I don’t want to get into that,” Dain replied. `Lets just say that
language opens up a whole new range of possibilities that are closed
off to other animals.”

“I’m wondering,” said Mike, “if maybe you’ve got it backwards. Surely,
language distorts as much as it reveals.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Dain said.

“Language, like clothes,” replied Mike, “keeps us from getting in
touch with our `real selves.’ It conceals as much as it adorns, it
limits as much as it permits, it constrains as much as it liberates.
Wasn’t it Freud who told us that the ongoing conflict between Superego
and Id limited our freedom, and, in the process, made puppets out of
us. The way I see it, the mighty puppeteers of this world, the ones
who used propaganda and marketing to tell us `who we are,’ and `what
we can become,’ are the real purveyors of language. If it weren’t for
`their language,’ we would be a `blank slate;’ we wouldn’t know how to
belong to the world we live in. Do you think our Muslim friends
sitting across from us chose their Islamic faith? Do you think all
these bar patrons chose to be Christians? Culture dictates who we are
and who we will become. Disagreement here is tantamount to erasure.”

“Maybe,” said Dain, “I’d have to think about it.”

“Your dog has more freedom than you or I,” Mike continued, “at least
he takes his cues straight from Mother Nature; the same mother who
looks after his health, happiness, and contentment. We, on the other
hand, can only find happiness in secondary sources, like this beer for
instance.  But I’m not complaining. Life is good. Barmaid, another
round, please.  One for the road.”

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About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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One Response to The Medium–Universe, Life, Language–Is The Message

  1. bwinwnbwi says:

    Of course dogs think—no argument there—”in the development of mind, feeling does not remain a static element, constant in form and content at all levels, but is transformed and disciplined through its interplay with other aspects of experience.” Dog’s, as do other animals, make use of connective logic (emotional logic); they respond to–distress, pleasure, hunger, reproduction/mating….not unlike humans. Indeed, if we were dog smart there would be much less senseless violence (think bigotry, prejudice, religious intolerance, etc., etc.). Humans, however, are born into a much larger and richer reservoir of potential freedom, and in this privileged space (if indeed privilege is the right word) advantage and responsibility are joined. Ian Barbour, in his book, Issues in Science and Religion (1966, p.29.) says it this way:

    “In the capacity for abstract thought and symbolic language there is a radical distinction between man and animal. Self-conscious awareness, critical self-reflection, and creative imagination are found nowhere else in nature. In memory of the past, anticipation of the future, and envisagement of ideal potentialities, he transcends his immediate environment. He is unique in his search for truth, concern for moral values, and acknowledgement of universal obligation –and above all, in his relationship to God.”

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