..."Almost overnight," just 50,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans began acting differently, by demonstrating abstract thought in the creation of art and religion. People were talking, not just communicating by gesture and intonation, and things had names. Categories were being defined and ideas were shaping words, filling our ancestors' heads and animating their lives. And now, 2,000 generations later, are our vocabularies rich enough to paint in abstract the real world? Or have we lost or abandoned concepts along the way, as Oldspeak, that could help us see that which may be all about us, but for which we have no meaningful words, and so can't see?
When Tim Russert attempted to dispatch the candidacy of Dennis Kucinich with a question regarding his close encounter, Kucinich replied "It was an Unidenfied Flying Object, okay? It's unidentified - I saw something." Except "UFO" is not a contentless placeholder. UFO is identified with little green men, ET and Mars Attacks. There is no meaningful way to speak about the subject in the English language without reference to its debased and comic acronym, and if language shapes our view of reality, then it may take an effort of will or a boundary experience of our own to see that there is more to the phenomenon than a punchline.
Having the wrong word may be even more a hindrance to our perception of reality than not having a word at all. And that misperception, about UFOs and much else, is almost certainly managed to some measure to keep our vision blurry.
Budd Hopkins shared a story in 2003 about the late UFOlogist Allen Hynek, who got to know Donald Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford. On one visit to Washington, Hynek met Rumsfeld in his office and said, "I have been in this for years looking at the UFO phenomena. I feel like at this point in my life I am in a position of 'need to know' what you know or what some agency might know that I don’t know. I have a 'need to know' I feel." Hopkins said that Hynek told him "Rumsfeld stood up and pointed a finger at him and said, "You have no 'need to know' and then sat down again. That was the end of it."
There are a lot of things we can't know with certainty about that story, not least of which is whether it actually even happened. But we can know that for some things we don't know their true names, and until we do we won't know them, or even see them.
Just another Reality-based bubble in the foam of the multiverse.
Monday, November 05, 2007
One knows with the knowledge one has, not with the knowledge one knows one wants
Jeff Wells on the capacity of language and the limitations of discussion: