Monday, June 16, 2008

Words and knowledge

When I just had finished my last blog, I happened to read Martha Nussbaum’s “ ‘Where the dark feelings held sway’. Running to music”. Actually, I started to read it not because I was interested in what she said about the relation between intellectual knowledge and practical knowledge, but in what she said about running. However, her ideas there appeared to agree well with what I had expressed in my last blog. Nussbaum calls “the tendency that all intelligence is essentially linguistic” language imperialism. There are, according to Nussbaum, different ways to express what one thinks, ways different from language: visual art, gesture, dance, music. When I make a photo, I do that because this photo “says” what I want to tell in a way that is different from when I would write an essay describing what is on the photo. The essay can tell “exactly” what is on the photo, and still it is different. Or sometimes it happens to me that I want to say something, but I cannot find the words. I get the feeling that I must make a gesture, and then, suddenly as it seems, I know what I mean. The thought pops up, by way of speaking. Must I say then that the proposition that describes my gesture would do as well? If we describe a non-linguistic expression in words, we must not forget, as Nussbaum maintains, that these words are a translation, not a faithful replication. It is a bit like a translation from one language into another one, I would say: the translation may look verbal, but how often doesn’t it happen that we have the feeling that the translation is actually not exactly like the original. Some linguistic meanings are impossible to translate from one language into another one. This must be the more the case, when we try to translate meanings from other realms of knowledge into linguistic knowledge.And then we are back to running. “The body has its own ways of perceiving the world” (Nussbaum). And it is not only a matter of perceiving the world; I would rather talk of experiencing the world. But in the end it is as simple as this: I know how to run but I cannot say how I do it. I just do. It would be absurd to say that here is no knowledge only because it cannot be expressed in words (cf Nussbaum’s article).

4 comments:

ashok said...

what you are talking about is the amboguity involved in maintaining a distinction between perception and experiance. an identity between the 'subject' and the 'mode in perception' identified is deemed to be 'experiance'in your use of terminologies. how the subject is identified with the act perception is the crux of the problem. this is to assume that the modes of conception in your terms, are not translated as 'experiance. how could one assimilate the nature of "experiance" free from the implications of descriptive-linguistic-component? could you please share some insight..

HbdW said...

Reply to Ashok
Thank you for your reaction. The reason why I made a distinction between perception and experience is that I found perception a too limited concept. It refers to my feeling too much too something that is conscious; to seeing in the first place, but not only to seeing, of course. In order to take away this connotation I prefer to talk about experience here.
This has a relation with the second comment of Ashok, for I think that not everything that can be experienced has a linguistic description. That is just the crux of what I am saying. Think of the famous story by Jackson about Mary. Mary has lived here whole life in a black and white room. She has seen everything around here only in black and white and shadows of grey. However, she has made a thorough study of colours and colour perception. There is nothing in the world about colour and colour perception that Mary does not know. However, everything she knows about it is described in language, for how else could she have known about colours and colour perception? One day Mary leaves her room and comes in our world full of colours. The question is: Does Mary learn something new then when she sees colours for the first time of her life? I think that it would be difficult to defend that she did not. If that is true, there are apparently things that cannot be described in words.
HbdW

ashok said...

Reply to hbdw.
Dear friend, apart from some confusion of ideas on account of the laxity due in using terminologies, we stand on a common ground. I was agreeing that experiance is a composite construct encomposing the three modes of time, wherin perception only is an instance of being conscious, or, the present.I think, as a rule, one should not reduce "perception" to any form of "conception" whatsoever. If you reduce perception to be a too limited concept on the other hand, then, there need be no argument further, unless it is a descriptive context. To me, it seems, that, the apparancy of things that cannot be described in words form the pleanum of experiance (in the "present")as you have rightly pointed out, the ontology of which, can only be ascertained at the instance of being conscious, or, in an act of perception, where 'experiance' is the hall mark. i think, for a proper analysis of experiance, whether it be in a past mode, or in a future mode, involve, these two universally acclaimed, distinct components, that is 'perception' and 'conception'. Strictly speaking all these divisions apply only, and relevant in a deccriptive context alone, where language has its hegemony, ruling the domain of "words and knowledge". Human experiance, laid bare, does not warrent, in any case, a descriptive context, other than simply being in a state of being in experiance,unless it is for the sake of "knowledge" in it's necessary universal sense, for the human kind of experiance, and, there you are absolutely right in your conclusion.

However the consequences of your conclusion need be taken further to endorse the reason that human intelligency is essentially linguistic, while not detracting from the conclusion that there are apparently things that cannot be described in words. The crux of the problem, is, how then such things are made appealing and qualifying to human intelligence?

HbdW said...

Dear Ashok,
Thank you again for your reaction. I want to reply only to the end of your reaction. I think that the rest does not need much comment. Besides language, there are other ways of expressing human intelligence. The most well-known is art. But I see, for example, sport also as a kind of expressing human intelligence. And certainly there are other ways of expression. Some of them can be quite flimsy. Think of dancing, which lasts as long as it goes.
HbdW